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Using disruptive innovation to grow 4-H

March 22, 2018

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: 4-H,   Andy Turner,   CCE,   New York,   video,   youth,  

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Portrait of Andy Turner

Andy Turner

If you follow business news – and specifically small, up-and-coming companies – you may have heard the term “disruptive innovation.” The theory, developed by Clayton Christensen from the Harvard Business School, describes how a product or process can leap ahead of established market leaders by reducing cost, increasing convenience, and bringing new customers to the table.  Could disruptive innovation help grow 4-H?

Andy Turner, head of the New York State 4-H Youth Development program (administered through and housed in the BCTR) of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) thinks so. He is applying disruptive innovation theory to 4-H.  His dissertation, published in 2016, documented disruptive innovation at Cornell Cooperative Extension and attempted to identify the factors and conditions allowing innovation to grow and be adopted more widely.

Turner was asked to present his work at the Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JCEP) Virtual Town Hall Meeting in Orlando Florida earlier this year.  Turner and the other panelists discussed the challenges and barriers facing innovation adoption and responsiveness to emerging issues in CCE. The presentation reached a live audience of 300 and an online audience of an additional 500 extension staff from across the country.

Cooperative Extension has existed for more than 100 years with established programs and a track record of success, Turner said. But its approaches and organizational culture may not align well with changes in our culture, demographic shifts, and the impact of the internet on all facets of education.

“As a result, disruptive innovation is particularly relevant to Cooperative Extension as its work shifts to new ways of thinking and acting that will appeal to youth with new challenges, different approaches to learning, and markedly different expectations for engaging with educational institutions,” he said.

Dr. Turner is applying his work on innovation at a critical time for 4-H. 4-H offers an experiential learning approach to reach over 6 million youth annually, with programming in nearly every county in the nation.  However, like many large youth organizations, 4-H participation levels have not been growing, and there are many communities and youth that are underrepresented in 4-H programming.

In response, the national leadership of 4-H has embraced an ambitious growth vision, with the goal of using concepts like disruptive innovation and collaborative design processes to increase 4-H’s enrollment to 10 million youth by 2025.  Turner will be working with national 4-H leadership and private-sector 4-H supporters over the next two years to develop a blueprint for change based on identifying promising innovations already underway within state 4-H programs.

Dr. Turner leads a team of 8 program and administrative leaders at the New York State 4-H Office in the BCTR. You can reach him at ast4cornell.edu.

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