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Conference Summary

Sally Marsh

Department of Agricultural Economics, Sydney University, NSW 2006

It’s very appropriate to come to Melbourne to talk about "creating a climate for change". After all, it is renowned for having four seasons in a day. So where have we been over the last two days? On a roller-coaster ride through issues facing contemporary extension.

  • We’ve dealt with the unexpected. Here on the 2nd floor of the Melbourne Convention Centre you need to go up first before you can go down to ground level.
  • We’ve adapted to local technology – trams proved an ideal transport to the dinner.
  • We’ve seen the problems that can arise with "inclusivity" – 8 speakers on the first morning (and still GRDC and MLA, two of the biggest players, were missing) and 11 on the second!
  • We kept getting stopped just when we were really getting into it.
  • We’ve learnt from individuals in our profession who have shared with us the work they have been doing both overseas and in Australia –thanks Elske, Alice, Kathryn and all the workshop and poster presenters for your contributions.
  • We’ve been called a "basket case".
  • We’ve retaliated – and images of RDC helicopters dashing around in each other’s air space will be hard to eradicate.
  • We’ve been fabulously gender-balanced.
  • There’s been too much information to take on board.
  • We’ve got a real buzz out of the networking.

Basically, it’s been a great Forum – but what will I be taking away?

  1. Extension is right there on the agenda of the RDCs and the state agencies. The words (and I believe the knowledge) and the desire to recognise the value of and need for good extension as an integral part of R & D are there. If practice is lagging behind the rhetoric, then as Peter van Beek says, "This is normal." This is our challenge – we need to be more subversive (like Amabel’s paper - pointing out the discrepancies between rhetoric and practice), more questioning, more challenging, and above all more constructive. We need to be actively building the processes that will help institutional practices change. As individuals and as an organisation we can take some credit for the fact that extension is so obviously right there on the agenda. But extension professionals are clearly still not seen as professionals in the same vein as scientists. The talks by representatives of the RDCs and the parliamentarian indicate this. This is a situation that APEN needs to actively continue to address. While we remain an organisation with only few private sector members we will be, like Ruth’s one-winged bird of agriculture, a one-winged organisation.
  2. There needs to be more dialogue - more listening, more talking, more "creating a shared meaning" rather than "getting a message across" (as Dale Williams suggested to me). There needs to be more respect for other positions, and this only comes from having time to share experiences and perspectives. A real need for this exists between RDCs and extension professionals, and the between those working in the public and private sectors.
  3. I want to think more about some of the challenges about achieving behaviour change presented in Anton’s talk. The challenge of the DOs – do be shocking, do be emotional. Science-based people like me are challenged by the idea of deliberately using emotion and shock to achieve change. I also think that Anton’s presentation suggests that we should be thinking more about reaching and working with young children if we are interested in achieving some of the major cultural changes that are needed in natural resource management.
  4. We need to think more about the roles and responsibilities of extension. Jeff’s "domains" have been helpful for me in thinking about this. This could be a useful approach to help sort out just where we are operating in this many-faceted activity generally known as "extension" and what this implies in terms of role and responsibility. Along with this there also needs to be some thinking about the language we use to describe the work we do.

In the countryside in WA in March-April every year, there is a lot of preparation going on. Fertiliser and chemicals bought, tractors and machinery overhauled – some serious time being spent in sheds. Farmers are getting ready for a climate change, and they don’t fail to recognise it when it comes. When the season breaks they’re out there working round the clock.

APEN and extension science in Australia have been doing a lot of preparatory work over a number of years. I think that this Forum has presented us with ample evidence that we have been successful in "creating a climate for change". It’s happening. We’ve got to rush out and put the crop in!

We don’t have to create a crisis. Extension is back where the TAC were in 1989 with over 800 road deaths a year in Victoria. We’ve got a triple-bottom-line crisis – rural communities throughout Australia are facing severe economic, environmental and social difficulties.

At this Forum, as extension professionals and as an organisation, we’ve been clearly begged to get in there. As individuals - to actively seek funding, to challenge institutional responses. As an organisation APEN should be writing policy briefs, and working on a strategy to play a major role in these challenging times.

I’ve had a great time! Thanks APEN Melbourne for putting it on.

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