The Cooperative Extension System as a Force Multiplier for Communities

What is a force multiplier?

Force multiplication, in military usage, refers to an attribute or a combination of attributes that dramatically increases the effectiveness of an item or group, giving a given number of troops (or other personnel) or hardware the ability to accomplish greater things than without it. The expected size increase required to have the same effectiveness without that advantage is the multiplication factor. For example, if a certain technology like GPS enables a force to accomplish the same results of a force five times as large but without GPS, then the multiplier is five. Such estimates are used to justify an investment cost for force multipliers. 1 Examples of force multipliers in the military include: training/experience, morale, mobility, technology, and geographic features.

Although the term was coined for military use, force multipliers can come in many forms – such as a hammer multiplying a physical force, allowing a nail to be driven into something solid, or a social media platform that allows a voice to be heard by thousands of people for little to no effort. Force multipliers are often expensive, the more effective they are, the higher the investment to access the force multiplier. Factory production and distribution systems are large scale force multipliers that make it possible to deliver value to thousands of paying customers in a very short time.2 The costs to these systems are high but allow capabilities that would be otherwise out of reach. Investing in force multipliers often frees up time, energy and allows one to focus attention elsewhere.

In the realm of community capacity building, there are often organizations within a community that act or have great potential to act as force multipliers. Land-grant system and subsequently, the Cooperative Extension System, are great examples of this.

A Brief History of Land-Grant Universities and the Cooperative Extension System

To provide some background, in 1862 under the Morrill Act, each state was given public lands to be sold or used for a profit to create at least one land-grant college. The college would specifically focus on teaching agriculture and mechanical arts. In 1890, the Second Morrill Act was passed, which provided that federal funds be appropriated annually to each state to support their land grant college. Today, there is a land grant college or university in every U.S. state, territory and even the District of Columbia. The philosophy behind the appropriation of these funds is that each state would hold an institution that could act as the backbone of scientific research and at the same time disseminate the most current information through its educational programs.

In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act was passed, which allowed the colleges to take on another function, the “extension”, which was designed to further extend the knowledge generated by the college out to the farms and consumers around the state. Extension was to be a cooperative activity between the federal government (through USDA) and the states. 3 The extension agents of this time could be found educating farmers on improved techniques to increase farm productivity, and investigating issues that were a risk to U.S. agriculture. It is also worth mentioning that a decade earlier (1902), 4-H was founded, and became a national organization with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act. The activities conducted by 4-H mirrored the education provided by the extension agents, extending the research based practices to youth in counties across the U.S.

Cooperative Extension System, by County

Extension Today

Today, the land-grant system and cooperative extension system continue to lead the way in providing access to current research and information across federal, state and county lines. The Cooperative Extension System has evolved significantly and may operate differently on the individual, local level, but their mission is the same: Extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to people throughout the country — to farmers and other residents of rural communities as well as to people living in urban areas. It emphasizes taking knowledge gained through research and education and bringing it directly to the people to create positive changes.4 The role of Extension agents & educators has expanded beyond agriculture and mechanical arts, the Cooperative Extension System now has the resources and capacity for education in many content areas.

Capacity Pools of Cooperative Extension

Translating Research into Action

University faculty members, who are disciplinary experts, translate science-based research results into language — written, verbal, and electronic — appropriate for targeted audiences. County-based educators work with local citizens and interest groups to solve problems, evaluate the effectiveness of learning tools, and collect grassroots input to prioritize future research. By living and working in communities, county educators are able to rely on existing relationships to respond to local needs, build trust, and engage effectively with citizens.5


So there you have it – the opportunity offered by the land-grant system and Cooperative Extension System are too great to pass up! Contact your county extension office today to find out how you can utilize this system as a force multiplier in your community!





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *