The art and science of networking extension

Noelle Harden, Jamie Bain, Stephanie Heim, Laura Bohen, Emily Becher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


As Extension professionals are increasingly tasked with moving beyond program delivery into the murky realmof systems change, networks represent an essential organizing framework for this transition. In this article, weexamine the ways in which networks are becoming a modern mode for social change. By providing examplesfrom our work with food networks, we demonstrate how these collaborative approaches can produce a greaterimpact for Extension and the communities we serve. Lastly, we discuss the critical characteristics of successfulnetworks and the role Extension can play in their optimization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Extension
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MFAN has achieved systems-level results in three significant ways. First, through a comprehensive planning action team, the network supported local units of government to include food access language in their comprehensive plans. By including this language, multiple local governments across the metro region began to formally operationalize efforts to increase food access in their areas. Second, through MFAN, hunger action team relationships among a diverse group of cross-sector partners led to the creation of an intervention for increasing healthful food options and improving client experience at food pantries. This novel approach, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, has resulted in food pantries increasing their ability to distribute healthful food and transforming their environments into dignified, welcoming spaces that center on the choices of clients. Lastly, MFAN hosted a series—Critical Conversations on Race—to help network members learn about and address the deep connections between racial inequities and health disparities. This initiative led to increased understanding among partners that racism is a system that infiltrates every aspect of food access (Metro Food Access Network, 2018; Minnesota Department of Health, 2014) and prompted network partners to begin addressing issues of bias and promoting inclusion within their own organizations to better address racial disparities in food access. Each of these three examples effectively changed a policy, environment, or system in a way that also bolsters existing direct education efforts to reinforce positive behavior change.

Publisher Copyright:
© by Extension Journal, Inc.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cross-sector collaboration
  • Food system
  • Grand challenges
  • Networks
  • Wicked problems


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