Select Page
Case Study

National 4-H Leadership Circle


4-H Cooperative Extension System




Organizational Development


How can we strengthen the impact of a large, national system on the lives of young people across America?

4-H is one of the largest and most complex multi-sector partnerships in the United States. We were tasked with engaging the 4-H system, as it is known, in a strategic dialogue about its future.


The engagement began in the Fall of 2011 when we were invited to join 4-H leaders from the three major parts of the current national partnership structure when they met in Alabama to discuss the future of 4-H. The individuals chosen to participate in the Summit were selected by their peers and they represented perspectives from State-level Cooperative Extension/4-H Units, National 4-H Headquarters (USDA/NIFA), and the National 4-H Council. At the conclusion of the Summit in Alabama the representatives unanimously agreed that a change was needed. We were hired to help them create a unified, common vision for a new 4-H partnership, to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the partners, and to develop a new partnership agreement and/or structure.

Over the course of 2011 and into 2012, we worked with senior leaders from all parts of the partnership to develop a new partnership model. Through two design labs that we facilitated, we were able to help them construct a new partnership model that would:

  • Create a framework that enabled cohesive leadership among the three national partners
  • Strengthen and elevate the 4-H brand identity
  • Communicate the value and impact of 4-H to local and national leaders
  • Offer true strategic direction for 4-H that aligns with national priorities
  • Increase resources (both financial and human) to sustain a high-quality 4-H experience

Once the new partnership model was developed, we traveled around the country with the Summit representatives to present the new model to various parts of the 4-H system. Our role included fielding questions, as well as supporting the Summit representatives as they made the case for change. We designed the change management strategy and helped Summit representatives troubleshoot as challenges surfaced.

As part of the strategic communications effort, we designed, developed, and hosted an informational website. The website allowed individuals around the country to learn more about the new proposed partnership and to engage in a robust discussion about the pros and cons of the model. In addition to the website, we facilitated some very candid conversations between the Summit team and various stakeholders throughout the 4-H system. These conversations were often held as part of national conferences, with some groups as large as several hundred people in attendance. We facilitated strategic discussions that included executives with major corporations, deans and presidents of land grant universities, and two former heads of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With our assistance the 4-H system is now engaged in a strategic conversation about the best way to collectively elevate positive youth development around the nation.


Through our work with this client, we demonstrated a number of our core business capabilities. The research and consulting engagement included: (1) an extensive literature review of volumes of both historical and contemporary documents on 4-H and its relation to the USDA; this included a benchmarking analysis of 4-H as compared to other youth development organizations in the United States; (2) an ecosystem mapping workshop facilitated by a Symphonic Strategies team member; (3) customer segmentation exercise that identified new customer segments; (4) in-depth interviews with more than 50 individuals from all parts of the 4-H “system”—from USDA, Cooperative Extension, Land-Grant University leadership, State 4-H Programs and Foundations, and 4-H youth members; (5) a custom-designed, online survey that fielded responses from more than 500 individuals across the country; (6) seven focus groups with representatives from each of the client’s core external stakeholder groups; (7) data analysis, including the use of regressions to identify statistically significant trends; (8) an organizational assessment of the client’s current service offerings, including SWOT and PESTEL; (9) a gap analysis that compared existing offerings to the results from the customer needs assessment; (10) more than a dozen facilitated strategic planning sessions with members of the senior executive team; and (11) the writing of a comprehensive, 3-year strategic plan.