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EVOLVE|University of Wyoming Extension
People have the right, the capacity, and very often the desire to participate in community decision making. Community leaders are everywhere—schools, churches, neighborhoods, civic organizations, and government agencies. If communities are to enjoy the quality of life they desire, they must first invest in the development of their people.

What is EVOLVE?

EVOLVE is a community-based leadership program that helps to build a critical mass of informed and capable leaders. By investing in the development of leaders a community can grow and become stronger.

Each EVOLVE leadership institute is guided by a local steering committee composed of representative community residents. This committee designs the curriculum and selects the class participants. While the specific objectives set by the steering committee vary from institute to institute, ccomponents core to each leadership institute include

  1. increasing human capacity by developing individual leadership skills,
  2. increasing social capacity using community-based experiences that strengthen the understanding of resources and issues, and
  3. incorporating a group project to practice what is learned.

The underlying motivation behind the core components is to provide experiences through which class participants may understand issues, become aware of the resources available, develop leadership skills within communities, and increase involvement in the community.

What does EVOLVE stand for?

EVOLVE stand for Extension Volunteer Organization for Leadership, Vitality and Enterprise. The words capture the intent of the program by tying the UW Extension Service to a volunteer organization that creates a community leadership development program based on community needs, issues and resources. Vitality is the necessary physical and mental vigor important in community development. Enterprise is the readiness to engage in a planning process to identify, at a grass roots level, what type of leadership program best suits the community.

What is the UW Extension educator’s role?

The role of the UW Extension educator is primarily as coordinator, working in conjunction with the steering committee. The educator might also teach specific elements of the curriculum the steering committee builds.

What is the target audience for an institute?

Emerging and existing leaders. We have had participants from age 17 to 65, from diverse backgrounds, professionals to service workers to volunteers.

How long does an institute last?

EVOLVE leadership development institutes are usually eight months in length and consist of monthly day-long classes on various topics of importance, opening with a retreat to facilitate participant bonding and to develop enthusiasm for the rest of the institute. Often a year of assessing needs and planning by the steering committee is required before an institute occurs. The program is also available for UW undergraduate and graduate level credit and graded in the Spring semester. 

What does the core curriculum look like?

There are four basic components. Any institute must include the four basic components, however it is up to the grassroots steering committee to determine what is included in each component. In this way, the curriculum can remain fresh, state-of-the-art and reflective of current issues and needs.

1.    Skills building. These are class days that focus on leadership skills, i.e., communication, conflict management, decision-making, critical thinking, planning and more. The steering committee may conduct an employee survey or interview people to determine what current needs are and use this information to determine the skills to be developed in any given year.

2.    CBEs. These are community based experiences which last up to two hours. On an CBE participants make on-site visits to community organizations and businesses. Some institutes choose to include them during the class day, others between the sessions. In one institute alone there were over 30 offered, four to seven between classes, throughout the eight months. CBEs highlight industry, health care, education, human/social resources, major employees, gas/oil, government, and so on. The steering committee determines which CBEs to include. There are often so many requests to provide a CBE than we have time.

3.    Group Project. Each institute selects a project on which they work. The facilitators help participants get started through several group processes aimed at choosing one project. From then on, the intent is to practice, utilize, try out and experiment with the skills they are learning during the group project. At graduation, the class presents their group project.

4.    Fish Bowl Day. Using trained observers, students participate in four simulations while being observed. Observers note leadership strengths and areas to be strengthened. The observers prepare a written report, then sit down one-on-one to share their observations. Three people observe each participant and reach consensus on the major points. Feedback sessions last about an hour. Nobody forgets Fish Bowl Day, and everyone loves it after it is all over. 

We also provide a textbook, currently “The Leadership Legacy” by Posner and Kouzes. The institutes also integrates the six pillars of ethical behavior from the Josephson Institute.

The program has been used successfully in different parts of Wyoming and other states. The key to the program is its adaptability to any community because it is based on core components rather than a curriculum.

How many people may be in an institute?

The maximum number per institute is 25. We find that institutes of this size lead to a better leadership experience. 

How do you evaluate an institute?

Qquality is very important to us, and we evaluate ourselves with numerous tools. Classes are held monthly and evaluated each time for immediate feedback. This gives us an opportunity to make adjustments if necessary. Participants also complete a final evaluation on graduation day which includes all aspects of the course since some of the components are done outside of class. Finally, we do a survey one year after graduation to measure impact. Our most recent results show statistical significance in several areas.

How can we get started?

To bring an EVOLVE leadership institute to your Wyoming community, contact one of the educators on the Community Development Education team.

EVOLVE Programming

EVOLVE Background

·         Brochure 1 (.pdf) (html)

·         Brochure 2 (.pdf2) (html)

Park County Leadership Institute

Washakie County Leadership Institute

Leadership Big Horn County

Leadership Jackson Hole

"Participating in the Leadership Jackson Hole program encouraged me to pursue a Master's degree in Public Administration and I'll be graduation Dec. 2008. I would encourage anyone who would like to build or improve their leadership skills to give it a try." Emily of Teton County Wyoming


Are you an educator interested in knowing more the EVOLVE program? Read this article from the Journal of Extension.


The results of a survey of EVOLVE graduates – Impacts from Participation in EVOLVE



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