Educator and Institutional Entrepreneur: Cooperative Extension and the Building of Localized Food Systems
AbstractCooperative Extension Service educators work within an established network of offices throughout the United States and have the potential to tap both structural and relationship networks to foster collaboration and catalyze institutional change in food systems. The prerequisites and processes to generate systemic change, however, challenge the established logic of information transfer that has dominated Extension Service practice. This paper considers the nature of Extension's engagement in food systems both conceptually and in practice, based on a two-year train-the-trainer professional development project in North Carolina designed to support the emergence of local food systems. Extension initiatives are examined in light of two social change models: diffusion of innovations, based on knowledge transfer and spatial diffusion; and institutional change, based on inter-organizational relationships and mutually held cultural understandings. We suggest that the work of food systems change is more usefully viewed through an institutional lens, with extension educators serving as "institutional entrepreneurs" to address and leverage the concerns of the communities in which they are embedded into lasting food system change.
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