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Workshop 2 Summary: Are Groups Defunct?

Collated by Julie Brookman

Opening Discussion

Group 1: The Debating Team

Group 2: Illth or health

Group 3: Questions for Group Facilitators

Group 4: Addresses the other people’s topics from top to bottom

Group 5: Addressed the other people’s topics from bottom to top

Closing Discussion

Participants contact list

Opening Discussion

The beginning of the session started with each of the participants introducing themselves and where they were from. Twenty minutes was then spent discussing what we wanted/thought we were going to cover in this session. A total of 430 years working with groups experience was totalled in the room. After deciding how we were to tackle the topic, the group of 30 or more people was split into 5 groups. We proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes to an hour in the smaller groups discussing assigned topics. In the last hour of the session, each group presented their findings, providing a basis for the closing discussion.

One interesting point brought to attention early in the discussion was about the group synergy and how it could be encapsulated with 3 different sums:

2 + 2 +2 +2 +2 = 10

Where the ten people meet and their energy and output is equal to ten people, no more or no less.

5 + 3 +1 + 1 = 5

Where the ten people meet and their energy and output is only equal to 5 people. In this group, the synergy is quite low and the group is relying on a few people to get the tasks accomplished or the group is loosing energy because of differences or lack of purpose or direction.

5 + 3 + 1 + 1 = 15

Where the 10 people present meet and their energy and output is equal to 15 people. This group’s synergy is greater than the number of people present. All the members pitch in and they produce more than 10 people’s worth.

Group 1: The Debating Team

There was a group of people who wanted to debate as to whether groups were defunct or not. Their presentation was in the form of two lists, "What makes them defunct" and "What makes groups useful and functional ". The group stressed that they were also looking at the statement from two different levels and when you review the following notes from the debating team, please keep this in mind.

What makes them defunct?

  • Lack of $ support
  • Agency driven formation
  • Limited tools for evaluation
  • Groups not addressing priorities
  • Groups being used by programs (could use field days etc, after all)
  • When costs exceed benefits to participants
  • "We" assume that that is all we need to do
  • Continue beyond their usefulness
  • We make assumptions about why people participate
  • Groups don’t have common goal
  • Group process skills are deficient (of community)
  • They promulgate ‘status quo’ (power plays, elitism)
  • People are over grouped
  • Misses a large proportion of the population

What makes groups useful/not defunct

  • Opportunities of information sharing and learning
  • Common purpose/goal/objective
  • Individuals supported
  • Groups form (self-organising)
  • Synergy does come via groups reaching goals beyond individuals
  • Progress happens
  • Self management - Goal

- Group process

  • - Learning process
  • - Information process
  • Social function - Outlet/meeting

- Community cohesion

  • Review of achievements
  • Save time and money compared with individuals
  • Groups get people – away from their businesses mentally and physically
  • Outside look
  • Contemporary
  • Common topic – interest specific
  • Look at wide networks for knowledge and information
  • Credibility in peers
  • Internal leadership

The next four groups looked at different sections or view points on whether groups are defunct

Group 2: Illth or health

Group 2 looked at the causes of illth and health of a group, what does it mean to group and discussed ignoring the life cycle of groups.

What are the underlying causes of illth or health?

Illth Health

  • Lack of ownership -Action packed
  • Agency driven -Have a problem to resolve
  • Lack of integration amongst agencies -Perception of benefit
  • Feeling disempowered -Balance
  • Relevance (boring) -High priority
  • Low priority -Integrated, co-ordinated and
  • Bombarded by information matching of information of farmer
  • Loyalty
  • Community spirit
  • Social interaction

Meeting not grouping?

  • Different purpose for meeting and grouping
  • Groups formed for agency purpose, or farmer purpose?

Ignoring the life cycle?

  • Focus on end or output rather than the journey of the group (a sunset clause compared with life cycle)
  • Set up common vision and review and reiterate
  • Crisis groups – only active in disasters
  • Funding cycle = life of group

Group 3: Questions for Group Facilitators

Group 3 tackled questions in regards to group facilitators.

Do you understand your competing roles? (Facilitator, sheep dog, secretary, technical informer, leader)

  • Yes/No
  • Human nature to change

Do you need more tricks and tools or practice using the available tricks and tools?

  • No comfortable, with already available information
  • Yes always a better way to do it

Do we need more groups doing less things? Do we need less groups doing more things? Do we need less groups doing less things? Do we need more groups doing more things?

  • Fit for a purpose
  • Specialist to start
  • Diverse once established

What is the place of e-communication?

  • E-groups – no feedback (body language, visual signs, higher chance of ticking people off)

Groups 4 and 5 had the task of addressing the topics that were raised by the fellow participants who wanted to address these topics during the opening discussion. The topics raised were:-

  • Burnout – have groups as we know them reached used by date?
  • Flexible ways of using groups
  • Groups and 60% of population – where does the ‘non groupies’ lie?
  • Government policies and agencies in tune with groups?
  • Rules and old models still apply?
  • Establishment of groups in a relative new area
  • Different and new ‘tricks’

Group 4: Addresses the other people’s topics from top to bottom

Groups reached their used by date?

  • Yes
  • No
  • How to recognise?
  • What to do?
  • Continual process
  • Depends on industry health
  • What can we do?
  • Review original plan, is it time to finish? And that’s okay
  • Find out why some keep going, why they don’t why they finish
  • Recognise social function of groups
  • Develop indicators of decline and strategies for addressing them
  • Get the group to say what they want
  • Flexible ways of using groups
  • Facilitator becomes participant
  • Use groups for social change
  • Using existing groups -tennis groups, fire brigades -maybe more dynamic
  • give $ to spend on R and D / decide what is to be done
  • go on a trip
  • different rules for operating the group – more varied/flexible
  • make more accessible – child care

Non groupies – how to get them

  • Intermediaries e.g. consultants
  • Who are they? Why aren’t they coming? What can be done?
  • Use farmer peers to get them
  • Is it worth the effort?
  • Personal conflicts – family history – hot to deal with these?

Government Policies in tune with groups?

  • Subsidies attract them, but when not there, farmers go home
  • RDC’s – are they in tune with working with groups? Linear approach
  • Government want rural development by local people – is it resourcing this so is can happen?

Rules and old models

  • Linear model of extension being used by RDC’s
  • New rural population with new needs – hobby farmers
  • Involve all people in food chain and service chain
  • Old fashioned chairing of people
  • Client much more demanding because more educated
  • More options available for technology
  • Groups don’t have to be geographically based
  • More accepting of diverse approaches to management
  • Therefore can be as prescriptive – have to teach learning processes

Establishing groups in a new area

  • Get local knowledge – issues and people
  • Use existing groups rather than new ones
  • Bring in new and useful people e.g. Chemical resellers
  • Select suitable facilitator for task (e.g. social vs. technical)
  • Have a clear long term plan and outcomes

Different tricks

  • Where can you find out? – new trick development officer
  • Organise a gathering to bring all your tricks and share them – blindfolds, jigsaws
  • Set up email group – put tricks on it
  • Allow the time to surf the net and read books to get the info
  • Make time to learn
  • Adapt others tricks to your situation
  • Need to report on extension more often
  • APEN could develop a book of tricks

Group 5: Addressed the other people’s topics from bottom to top

Different tricks

  • Look outside "our" square
  • Training/learning culture
  • New needs/constraints = new tricks

New groups – new areas

  • Use existing forum to decide future dynamics
  • Groups deciding how to form
  • Group empowerment to set objectives

Old group rules/models

  • Numbers of people outcomes isn’t the best measure of ‘success’
  • Shift focus to achievements
  • Clear roles/participation levels
  • Group structure appropriate to purpose
  • Sharing jobs around; shared responsibility – building skills

Government agencies and policies – are they in tune with groups?

  • Counting bums on seats, number of meetings etc – need more appropriate measure
  • Requirements for group incorporation- cumbersome structure - $’s for insurance etc – no recognition

Where do non-groups sit?

  • Have a good group network
  • Have a rounded extension program

Closing Discussion

Once all the participants had presented their findings to the collected groups, a general closing discussion was held where participants held a conversation on the topics and ideas raised. The topics discussed are listed below.

  • Expand groups beyond just farmers to include the food and service organisations and sectors
  • Value laden language
  • Groups are being used as the reason for being an indicator of extension programs
  • Social clubs versus transfer of technology, social animals – will e-commerce cut this out?

What is the relevance of Abraham Maslow to groups?

It is useful , for people who are concerned about groups which don’t function well to think about the diagram below.

If a number of the individuals in the group are really concerned about the long term viability of the business then those individuals may be "insecure".

Maslow suggested that if people are insecure then they are unlikely to move up the ladder. If we are dealing with groups and trying to get people to think long term but they are stuck at the insecure level we may have to think about ways of addressing that insecurity before we go further.

If Maslow prevails is Bennett relevant?

Bennett measures the outcome of a project by looking at outcomes. He describes KASA change as the necessary step to get any real outcomes.

The notion of thinking about Maslow at the same time as we think about Bennett is that if people are at the bottom of Maslows "ladder" then are unlikely to be able to clime up to Bennets KASA level.

The workshop was confronted with the major challenge of trying to create a group environment with 70 people. There were real time constraints on the activity. However the result was useful in that many of the participants were exposed to new concepts while the remainder had the opportunity to revisit ideas and concepts with which they were familiar.

In the end it is fair to claim that the workshop agreed that groups are not defunct if they have:

  • Clear well defined goals,
  • They are member driven,
  • They agree on common purpose,
  • They know how to make decisions and to deal with conflict,
  • They have good leadership and facilitation, and
  • They understand the lifecycles of groups.

Participants contact list




Stephanie Andreata

University of Melbourne

Lyndall Ash


Vicki Bates

Agriculture Victoria

Geoff Bulow


Shankar Chamala

University of Queensland

Greg Cock

Rural Directions P/L

Sally Dickinson


Ann Doak


Rebecca Dunstone


Kathryn E-Warburton

Agriculture WA

Richard Etherington

NSW Agriculture

Amabel Fulton

Mathew Hall


Megan Hill

Jess Jennings

Uno of Western Sydney

Adam Kay


Terry Lewis


Chris Linehan


John McKenzie


Kate Mirams


Daniel Mudford


Ruth Nettle

University of Melbourne

Heather Shaw


Sam Simpson


Tina Smith


Mike Stephens

Mike Stephens and associates (Facilitator)

Tran Thanh Be

University of Sydney

Peter Van Beek

SyTREC Pty Ltd

Katrina Wansink


Mary Ward


John Whiting


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