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Extension Professionals Unite at Historic Climate Action Convening


“The Extension system is a catalyst for climate science by helping people adopt practical applications for climate actions for their farms, families, communities, and businesses. This convening demonstrated those strengths at every turn, bringing together Extension professionals from every region, from every type of Land-grant university: 1862, 1892, and 1994 institutions, and from all career stages (faculty to county educators/agents). Through individual brainstorming, group discussions, and action planning, participants at the Climate Action Convening identified specific outcomes they will work to deliver, along with the inputs, outputs, and actions needed to achieve those bold promises.

With their deep community connections, Extension professionals understand how the power of human-centered collaboration - underpinned with research-based approaches to deliver practical everyday applications - help people adapt, mitigate, and build resilience to a changing climate, allowing individuals organizations, and communities to thrive.”

                                        - Dr. Jason Henderson, Climate PAT Co-Chair

As an atmospheric river intensified by climate change bore down on the West Coast, more than 40 Extension professionals from across the U.S. and outlying territories gathered in Tucson, Arizona for Cooperative Extension’s first national Climate Action Convening.

A central question guiding the gathering was: “How can we mobilize the U.S. Cooperative Extension system to quickly and effectively contribute to climate change solutions?

Hosted by the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy’s Climate Program Action Team (Climate PAT), the event’s primary objectives were to:

  • Gather and strengthen the network of climate-focused leaders in Cooperative Extension,
  • Formulate a climate action plan that will empower Extension, and
  • Provide CES with direction to seek funding to develop climate change programs.

The Climate Action Convening was a coordinated effort between Climate PAT leadership team members, with the Extension Foundation providing support. The planning team included Climate PAT Co-Chairs, Roy Beckford (University of Vermont) and Jason Henderson (Iowa State University), Sylvie Brouder (Purdue University), Laura Edwards (South Dakota State University), Ros McCann (Utah State University), and Carrie McKillip (University of Illinois). This convening was supported through a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program award number 2024-67019-41467, Foundational and Applied Science Program 2023-08732. Iowa State University Extension provided additional funding through a generous sponsorship.

The gathering brought together individuals from 1862, 1890, and 1994 institutions and leaders from the USDA. Through focused conversations, participants identified opportunities in three areas where Extension is uniquely suited to deliver climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions: communities, natural resources, and working lands.

Virtual Pre-Conference Events and Responsive Planning Created a Successful In-Person Gathering

The planning committee held two virtual events before the convening, featuring presentations from climate change experts and grounding discussions designed to orient attendees to the purpose and desired outcomes. Participants shared their goals for the convening, which enabled organizers to optimize the event to deliver on those objectives.

At the in-person event, participants broke into groups focused on communities, natural resources, and working lands. Facilitators guided attendees through activities designed to capture co-created insights and identify areas of opportunity.

Using Insights and Feedback to Create a Climate Action Plan

Using insights gathered at the Climate Action Convening, Extension Foundation and collaborators will co-create a series of logic models. These logic models will be incorporated into a white paper about the outcomes Extension believes it is best positioned to achieve through active and new climate programs, projects, and resources. The anticipated release date for the white paper is Spring 2024.

The white paper will be accompanied by a communications plan that answers this question: "How might Extension best communicate about its climate change vision - specifically, the ways in which Extension can be a solution - both internally and externally?" The communications plan will include a combination of key messages, processes, and strategies. The materials are being drafted by Nate Birt, the 2024 Climate PAT Fellow. Birt shared, “It is encouraging and exciting to see leaders across Extension coming together for climate action by co-creating key outcomes they can work toward. Extension has unparalleled scientific, outreach, and engagement expertise and a proven track record of multi-stakeholder collaboration and measurable positive impact.”

Finally, a distribution strategy will articulate intended processes for soliciting feedback on the white paper and the communications plan. This will ensure that Extension professionals - those who attended the convening, and many who did not - are able to quickly begin making progress toward the outcomes identified in the white paper.

Future convenings are envisioned to maintain and build momentum. They will bring Extension professionals together to assess progress, identify opportunities, and communicate to USDA and other key partners and funders about the work underway and the impact it is having. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Regan Emmons, Climate Partnership and Development Assistant, at

Key Takeaways

There was consensus that this moment represents a key window of opportunity for Extension to make climate impact and to secure significant investment to advance these outcomes. Collectively, participants identified nine climate change outcomes that they feel the overall system is best positioned to work toward.

One participant noted:

"This was a historical convening as it included representatives from the 1860s, 1890s, and 1994s PLUS key leaders from USDA. These key leaders - Bill [Hohenstien], Kevin [Kephart], Lynne [Knight], and Adam [Wilke] - not only presented but remained throughout the convening and actively participated in the ideation and group discussions.

The planning committee and Extension Foundation did an exceptional job taking this enormous task and developing a format that required individual participation and "presence." These individuals also set the tone for respectful sharing of ideas and concerns, and facilitated the groups with patience and focus on the outcomes. A superb job by all involved! Thank you for making this happen and for your leadership on our next steps."

Another participant said,

"I went in with few expectations but many hopes. I think the planning committee did an excellent job of guiding the conversations, with emphasis on the overall conversation. My primary hope was that we could find enough agreement to move forward with the findings of the convening. I believe we did and will."

Dive Deeper

The Climate PAT has developed a suggested reading list, which was shared with Climate Action Convening participants. Click the links below to learn more.

Related Reading:

The Extension Foundation suggests these titles from its Publications Library:

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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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