Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Executive Leadership

First Supervisor

C. Michael Robinson

Second Supervisor

Luvelle Brown


Cooperative Extension (CE) faces significant challenges as it attempts to adapt core business principles to a rapidly changing 21st century landscape. Disruptive innovation (DI) is a powerful organizational change theory that emerged in the private sector but is now being increasingly utilized in the social sector. The study utilized grounded theory methodology to identify examples of programmatic innovation in CE that align with the characteristics of DI and to look for common building blocks supporting and sustaining innovation in CE. A purposeful sample of nine Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) program innovators were identified in three categories of innovation: youth development, agriculture economic development, and innovation connected to the Tompkins County CCE office in Ithaca, NY. Data was collected from the CE innovators through face-to-face interviews. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed through qualitative methods to determine if the programs shared common building blocks that help to explain how the innovation emerged across multiple community settings and different programmatic focuses. A preliminary theory, The Ecology of Innovation in CCE, emerged from the data analysis process and is presented in detail, supported by the interview data. The implications of the findings are explored and connected to the original questions about the challenges facing CE and the broader nonprofit sector. The study concludes with a discussion of the relevance of the findings to organizational leadership.

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