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APEN 2001 International Conference

Toowoomba, 4th-5th October 2001

Report No:


Title of Topic:

What’s the Point? Why do we do what we do? Theory for Extension.

Name of Leader:

John McKenzie

Names of Participants:

Unknown/ many >50

Main points of discussion

  • Extension staff are often driven by activity. Thus a need for theory will build a reason for action.
  • Need to know the questions to ask as a means of building theory
  • Education is theory rich – extension is theory poor. We need to know how to use theory better
  • Need to be clear about the scale of the theory - grand, mid-range etc. Distinguish between espoused and actual theory influencing practice
  • We can’t make sense of why techniques are not working without using theory
  • Better theory will help us differentiate between practices and why they link
  • Extension as an intervention is confronting – we need theory to better represent what we do in a positive light
  • We need to be informed by other disciplines
  • We are only using theory for answering “how” questions – we need to ask “why” questions
  • Extension has a history of being theoretically informed eg 10970s = diffusion of innovations - 80s = participatory action research - now = ?
  • Innovation failed ⇒ PAR, participation poor ⇒ what next?
  • Theory must be practical
  • People are tired of extension just being about extension – funders are questioning the value it adds Theory can add new direction and identity
  • Balance between theory and practice – not obsessed with theory
  • Can extension differentiate itself from TAFE and other “change management “ organisations?
  • Need to be aware of the values that drive theory and hence extension

Major outcomes (what have you achieved from this discussion; how can this make a difference; what else do you need to do?)

Guiding rules for publication that state the why of what we do as much as the how ie state the assumptions that underpin eg ask Jeff Coutts to outline the theory underpinning his extension dimensions and REC could question the theory that informs its approach to action learning etc.

Make the link between theory development and a culture of writing in extension (upgrade refereeing process to include more positive critique)

Link theory development with development of extension identity eg representing ourselves in funding debates relative to health and education

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