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Navigator: A different approach to initiating change in agriculture

Katherine Boon1 and Patricia Murray2

1 Horticulture Consultant, PIRSA Rural Solutions, South Australia 08-8389 8800, boon.katherine@saugov.sa.gov.au
2
Rural Sociologist, Adelaide University, 08-8303 8717,
patricia.murray@adelaide.edu.au .

Abstract

The Navigator extension process has been developed to promote cultural change, through the development of human capital, continuous learning, and new thinking patterns to assist producers in dealing with their constantly changing circumstances. Navigator is designed to assist producers in determining areas in their enterprise which need improving and develop strategies to make these changes. In Navigator there are no preconceived outcomes, directions or boundaries that can be seen in other programmes or models. Navigator provides a defined process through which producers explore all aspects of their enterprise, including the social, environmental, economic and production to market contexts in which they operate. By following the process producers identify their most pressing problems, determine their own agenda and design projects they carry out themselves. As a result of this process producers extend their networks and develop a broader outlook. Thus changes are achieved in the ways producers seek, manage and use information. Greater independence of thought evolves which leads to cultural change and personal development.

Background to Navigator

In 1999 the Navigator extension program was initiated by Primary Industry and Resources South Australia (PIRSA) and Adelaide University in response to two major concerns by PIRSA. The first being the rapid expansion of the South Australian wine industry, which included a large input of new producers. PIRSA recognised that if it was to maintain the state’s national leadership in the production of Australian wines, it must assist new and existing winegrape producers to acquire more skills, knowledge and confidence in running their business. This in turn would maintain the environmental and financial sustainability of both the South Australian wine industry and extend benefits to the broader community (Murray and Boon: 2000).

Second, the South Australian government wanted to move away from the notion that research, extension, education and training were separate activities with discrete outputs and move towards “building community capacity and leadership development” which is all about “knowing the right questions to ask, not the answers” (Cornish: 2000), to build self-reliance. These statements, which are in line with Clark’s (1979) predictions from some 20 years ago, that extension services should be broader in their outlook, by serving the rural majority rather than the minority; include problem identification and solving; and move away from agricultural extension to human extension. More recently, Rling and Jiggins (2000) have advocated that “fostering discovery learning” which involves the acceptance and development among farmers of new complex behaviours should be used. Leading wine companies have also identified that producers need to become more self-reliant as more specialist knowledge is required (Gifford et al: 1997).

The Navigator process was developed using an iterative evaluative process by PIRSA and Adelaide University staff and trialed by trained government and wine industry personnel with groups of winegrape producers since 1999. More recently wine grape producers have also been trained to facilitate groups. Each group is at varying stages of the programme and through our extensive evaluation of the process, have proved that the developed Navigator process is robust and works independently of varying facilitation styles.

Essentially Navigator has evolved into a structured process which is looking to stimulate cultural change and develop a well-informed and more independent winegrape producing industry. Thus the producers identify their own areas of need, gain an increased knowledge and access to resources, and develop projects to meet their needs, this empowers the producer giving them responsibility for their own future.

The deep structure of Navigator

Navigator can be understood as having at least two sets of outcomes. One set are those decided by producers themselves in the course of the process and embodied in the projects they devise and undertake. The second are those which address emerging changes in extension approaches and practices. They include the empowerment of producers, the development of their critical skills in gathering, interpreting and managing information, clear and holistic thinking, and strategic planning. Together with these go overarching issues identified by government as desirable to do with cultural change, continuous learning, personal development and self-reliance.

Central to achieving this ‘deep structure’ is the way the process is not only designed but implemented. The process is highly participatory, and increasingly moves responsibility for all aspects of the process, from the facilitator to the group. Thus, for example, producers are not told about holistic thinking, developing critical skills or planning, they are obliged by the process to develop these areas. This is in the best traditions of both Action and Adult Learning, that is to learn by doing. While we recognise that planning, critical thinking and so on are often objectives of other programmes, these are rarely deliberately incorporated in the process and are more frequently supplied by the organiser or facilitator.

Hackett and Martin (1993) have defined a good facilitator is one who is capable of facilitating a change or improvement and can bring order and focus to allow a group to be successful. It is through this process that the group is able to perform through the sharing of decision-making authority (Hackett & Martin: 1993), also known as ‘empowerment’. The concept of ‘empowerment’ is problematic for the facilitator, in that to empower someone is to stand back and let them have control. Indeed there is a strong sense in which empowerment is in reality self-empowerment. One person cannot empower another, all one can do is try to provide a set of circumstances in which others will take up the opportunity to empower themselves. This is what we have tried to achieve through the Navigator process.

The Navigator process

Navigator assists producers in determining areas that need improvement in their business, planning, designing and carrying out their own projects. All activities and sessions are highly participatory and are designed so that producers become independent of both the process and the facilitator. Producers unconsciously absorb the structure of the process which they can then apply to new projects. Because the process guarantees producer direction at all stages, high levels of commitment are common. All this leads to cultural change and personal development. Participation in Navigator develops in producers, what for many will be a new thinking pattern, a way of dealing with problems, and strategies for finding and using information in their businesses. The process has been developed to be relevant across several ethnic groups, differing age groups and varying levels of education so that all participants could be actively involved. The Navigator process consists of four major components, which are built around the planning cycle (see figure 1), these include an Exploration workshop, Project Development, Implementation and Review sessions.

Figure 1. Components of NAVIGATOR

Exploration Workshop

The Exploration Workshop determines how the group is going to operate by establishing rules and defines the role of the group and the facilitator. This is the first step toward group independence, one of the key aims of Navigator, and the beginning of the strategic planning process.

The workshop goes onto discussing their regional vision for the future. It establishes and clarifies producers’ business direction and where they currently sit in terms of their vision and/or goals. It is during this part of the workshop, that producers explore their internal and external environments, which enables them to look more broadly at their industry and consider the social, environmental, economic, production and market contexts of their operation. They also develop an awareness of a range of considerations that influence their operations, identify those which are in their control and acknowledge those that are not.

In the final activities of the Exploration Workshop the individuals’ social, environment, economic, production and market needs are clarified. From this the shared needs of the group are determined, forming the focus of the group’s project area. This meets the needs of the individual by placing them in a supportive and continuous learning environment to tackle their identified areas which need improvement.

Project Development

The Project Development session is designing the project, whose broad outlines have been identified in the Exploration Workshop. Here the group is ‘pushed’ to clarify and define their project intentions by identifying the information and resources required to meet their intended outcomes through strategic planning. As noted above, they are not told about it, they, not the facilitator, do it. Through this method they achieve focused planning which ensues that their outcomes are achieved. Mapping out of an action plan and timeline are completed and tasks assigned to willing volunteers. This promotes the development of self confidence and begins the implementation stage of the process.

Implementation

Here the group takes action on what it has decided in the project development session. This involves actioning at each session, constantly reviewing the project progress and direction and ensuring that next meeting dates, times and locations are set. All group members are encouraged to participate and be involved in the project activities. This part of the process is highly reliant on peer pressure. It is here that the development of cultural change in building human capital, creating continuous learning, strategic planning by gathering, interpreting, and managing information, and increasing networks really happens.

Review

Here the group reviews its project by reflecting on their project activities and design, recognise their achievements, identify areas for improvement for their next project, and determine their continued direction. The group is faced with five options during this session: 1. do the next project on their priority list (developed in the Exploration Workshop) 2. expand or refine the existing project, 3. identify a new project through the refocussing workshop (modified version of the Exploration Workshop), 4. continue the current project if not complete or 5. disband the group.

Evaluation of Navigator

Qualitative evaluation was used to assist in developing the Navigator process and determine if the process was achieving cultural change and self-reliance. Evaluation for group projects, by the group, has been addressed by asking the group to question if they want to evaluate their project during the project development stage. Because of the way Navigator has been designed, the group will informally evaluate their project by default, so often a formal evaluation by the group is not required.

In developing the Navigator process close collaboration between the project developer and evaluator was required to determine if the process was achieving its objectives. A set of indicators related to objectives were developed and refined over time. For example, changes in behaviour of the group or particular members were noted as means of identifying and systematically recording evidence of group development. Similarly the levels of participation in discussion can change over time, indicating that participants are more or less comfortable in the group. Other changes have included the nature, focus and content of discussion. Facilitators also look for ‘counter instances’ such as, “most people were engaged in the discussion, were there some who were not”. Post session feedback from participants is also used, with questions constructed with the precise purpose of developing and understanding the operation of the processes employed in the session, rather than whether the participants enjoyed the session. In addition, outputs of group discussions were recorded, analysed and correlated with the facilitators’ indicators. Analysis of such information tells us not only that change is taking place, but also how and why it occurs in relation to process.

Further evaluation has been done on groups that have completed the full cycle of Navigator. Direct questions on their opinions of the process and what have they achieved as a result of being involved in a group, are asked to clarify our interpretation of the data collected above. The results so far have indicated that Navigator is meeting its objectives.

Navigator is different

One of the main differences between Navigator and other programmes or models, is that it is a highly participatory structured process, not a set of modules on specific topics. This means Navigator has no specific agenda, boundaries or pre-determined outcomes, such as to increase production or improve sustainability, as can be found in other action and adult learning programmes, nor is it used to gather information for researchers and policy makers on rural issues. From the evaluation information collected so far producers see choosing their own direction important and commented on being able to discuss issues that were relevant to them, and in “their own language and style”, rather than a training course that did not meet their needs (Redden: 2001). They also commented that they were able to explore any topic that they thought would be useful to them, and valued the discussion and exploration with other group members on topics of interest.

In Navigator the direction of the group is not clearly defined from the outset. The process enables producers to ‘navigate’ the complex and multiple issues in the social, environmental, economic, production and market contexts affecting their businesses. Navigator enables producers to ask their own questions and provides a process for finding their own answers. As a result, producers make decisions from the beginning of the process. Each project is unique to the group, as the project topic and direction are producer determined, driven and achieved. We have found that producers’ enjoy identifying matters of concern for themselves; determining where it is important for them to concentrate their efforts and develop a course of action to proceed. They believed that by being in the group, had provided better access to a broader range of guest speakers than as individuals. The producers commented that they had extended their networks within their region. They felt more in control in being able to apply new techniques in a group environment than on their own, and were more likely to obtain answers to their questions faster, so they could initiate change quicker. For one group they believed they had more credibility as a group and that the age differences, cultural backgrounds and different ways of learning in the group was valuable (Redden:2001).

Another difference is that the process has been consciously designed to allow producers to absorb the learning process principles, such as strategic planning, without being aware of it occurring. This is achieved through the highly participative design and specific structure of the process. Unlike other approaches, the process itself is central to the deep structure learning that is occurring. The facilitator’s task is merely to assist the group in working through the process. The process is iterative in its approach and by the second or third time, the producers may well decide that they can do the sessions on their own. Navigator was developed in this way so producers become independent of both the process and the facilitator. The self-direction that is in-built into the process has meant that producers become more self-reliant and better able to make decisions about all aspects of their business. Groups valued the trust and sharing of information that occurred within their groups and felt confident that they would be able to continue with their own trained group facilitator rather than a governmental facilitator. One group commented that ideally a Navigator group would involve a broader range of variously skilled people to enhance the group decisions. This reflects the increasingly holistic worldview of participants, as well as their recognition of the importance of networks

Peer pressure is used as a key ingredient to the success of the Navigator process, to foster a cohesive environment. Groups have commented that they relied on peer pressure to hold the group together. Developing cohesiveness is usually seen as a responsibility of the facilitator (Sustainable Land and Water Resources Management Committee: 1999), however, in Navigator we have found that successful groups were those that formed themselves, in contrast to, those which have been pulled together by the facilitator. Groups of approximately 10-15 producers were the optimal size, as anything larger than this causes difficulties in lack of cohesion (Hamer: 1997), as it becomes difficult to coordinate meeting times and to spread responsibility amongst the group. With the small size and continuity in personalities it is more likely that each participant will “pull their own weight”. Because Navigator intends to have self-reliant groups, it has been designed so that all tasks and roles are rotated to prevent one person from performing the majority of the tasks. Where only one or two people take responsibility for tasks, these people may be empowered, though more likely they will end up ‘burnt out’. In the end it is more likely to result in general disillusionment of group members and the demise of the group.

The main difference between Navigator and other programmes or models, is that it has a defined structure which allows the group to continue to formulate, develop and reassess both its group function and its projects. Groups appeared to enjoy the planning and rotation of tasks to limit overwork (Redden:2001). Some producers commented that they had achieved greater personal development in being involved in a group and learned to focus information, increase their awareness of issues and achieve their goals.

Conclusion

In essence what we have developed is a structured process where all the decisions made are producer determined and the tasks solely completed by the producers. Navigator was specifically designed in this way, to maximise producer ownership of projects and create self-reliance, to give the producers a sense of worth and achievement in “doing it for themselves”. Through their achievements they develop a desire to continue to improve their businesses and structure new programs to move them forward.

Navigator is a process in which producer needs are met because the outcomes are determined and undertaken by them. Simultaneously producers absorb new ways of thinking and dealing with issues without being aware it is occurring. It is through this method that producers can concentrate on what is important for them, not what may be believed to be important by outside government or industry ‘experts’. The cultural changes that the process encourages are crucial to the development of long-term sustainability in the industry.

References

  1. Clark, G.C. (1979) Agricultural Extension a new look required. In 1978 – Training for Agriculture and Rural Development, Volume 14, Economic and Social Development Series, FAO, Rome, Italy, pages 5-11.
  2. Cornish, J. (2000) The Future for Extension a South Australian Government Perspective, Australasia and Pacific Extension Network Forum, Melbourne.
  3. Gifford, D., Hall, L. and Collins, R. (1997) Case Study 8 - Securing Supply through Improved Grower and Processor Relationships: Orlando-Wyndham Pty Ltd In Competitive Performance- Australian food producers and processors achieving success through innovative business strategies, Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE), Canberra.
  4. Hackett, D. and Martin, C.L. (1993) Facilitation Skills for Team Leaders Crisp Publications Inc, Menlo Park, California.
  5. Hamer, K. (1997) Leading a Group: a practical and comprehensive handbook Kerrie Hamer, Maroubra, NSW.
  6. Murray, P. and Boon, K.F. (2000) Navigator- stimulating cultural change in agriculture. In the proceedings of the Regional Development Conference, October, Ballarat.
  7. Redden, M. (2001) Riverland Wine Grape Growers Navigator Group. Case Study for Creative Rural Learning Networks, Monica Redden Consultancy, Adelaide.
  8. Rling N.G. and Jiggins, J. (2000) “The Ecological Knowledge System” in Rling, N.G. and Wagemakers, M.A.E. Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture Cambridge University Press.
  9. Sustainable Land and Water Resources Management Committee (January 1999) A National Strategy for Facilitating Change Management for Family Farm Business Sustainable Land and Water Resources Management Committee, Canberra.

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