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Implementing extension in natural resource management: NR&M the Agency, NRM the business

Greg Leach

Department of Natural Resources & Mines, Queensland


Whole systems approaches; integrated planning and action; participatory and interdisciplinary team approaches; reinvigoration and acknowledgement of extension; development of strategic alliances; extension as a way of doing business; Where does this occur, one might ask? An opportunity for the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (NR&M) has been created by the implementation of “New Extension” within the department.

‘Contemporary extension’ approaches have been used to successfully develop an Extension Strategy in NR&M. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, the task was not without significant opposition. At the beginning there was scepticism and a school of thought that said there was no place for extension in the then Department of Natural Resources. Many disapproved of the possibility of new or better ways to approach things. An extension team worked hard to ensure a successful outcome, ‘New Extension’, and turn these opinions around.

This paper outlines the process used to develop the New Extension Strategy Framework and the groundwork that precedes its implementation in NR&M to improve our approach to doing business.

Origins of the need for an NRM extension strategy

The compelling need

‘Extension’ as a concept and discipline has had an identity and function for well over a century across the globe. Its origins are in agriculture and agricultural development and can be traced back to advice given to Irish farmers affected by the potato blight in the 1840s (Zijp, 1992) and subsequent developments in the USA, Canada and Europe through the 1860s (Penders, 1971).1

In Queensland, extension has been located primarily in the Department of Primary Industries (DPI). As in other states (and countries), DPI has been using extension approaches and practices to improve primary production and in 1992, it undertook a refocus of its extension efforts with the development of an extension strategy. Although reviewed in 1998, this Strategy has been implemented until the present day.

In 1996 a change of Government saw an amalgamation of the natural resources sections of the DPI with the Dept of Lands (DoL) to form the Queensland Department of Natural Resources. It also saw the later formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many of the DPI staff involved in the DNR merger carried the label “extension” officer in their title and bought with them their experience of the DPI extension approach. They understood and practised extension in that light. The DoL never had an extension history. By default, extension in the new department DNR continued to operate with the philosophy and practice of extension that had been predominantly founded in agricultural production.

During the next two years 1997-1998, growing evidence emerged that the department needed a more collective understanding of the role of extension in achieving DNR business outcomes, and what constituted extension practice for NRM. In fact, there was a host of issues that led to a growing formal need to define NRM extension:

  • A lack of integrated extension support and direction for employed ‘extension officers’ and advisory officers
  • A recommendation to develop Extension Strategy proposal arising from the joint DNR/DPI Extension Forum in 1996
  • Lack of understanding about extension from many sectors of the new department, including management and the ex DoL, who felt extension, was not their role or business.
  • Increasing awareness that a coordinated approach to communicating, learning and working with resource managers is necessary for most DNR business
  • An awareness that even as a regulator, there were other ways to conduct business to achieve successful change and business outcomes.
  • Recognition that planning and delivery across existing extension, service delivery and departmental programs was poorly coordinated
  • The development of a draft extension strategy by the Land Protection group within the Department
  • The recommendations of the Philipson Review of Advisory Services in 1997/98 which found no place for extension within DNR

It all came to a head late in 1998. The Director General endorsed a proposal to develop a DNR Extension Strategy. The brief was to evolve extension in DNR to respond to community needs, support the Department’s Mission and demonstrate world’s best practice in Extension. Nominations were then called for head office and regional representatives interested in working together to take this forward. The Extension Strategy Working Group began to materialize.

The development process

Formalising the working group and structural arrangements

It was agreed that a ‘structure’ of professional staff and reporting relationships, including DNR staff and external stakeholders was essential to progress the extension strategy. From this point forward the process of deciding upon and effecting a structural arrangement for the development of the extension strategy became an adaptive exercise. The need to identify NRM extension began to grapple with the organisational manoeuvrings of the ‘new’ Department of Natural Resources.

In November 1998 the 5 Regional Service Directors were asked to nominate representatives to join a Steering Committee and a Working Group. Letters were sent from the Director General to his counterparts in DPI, DEH, DLGP and QFF seeking nominations for the Steering Committee.

Nominated representatives from agencies and industry participated in a workshop in January 1999 to acknowledge the outstanding work done by departmental officers in the recent past and to clarify issues to be considered in the development of an extension strategy.

The Working Group formed. It consisted of regional, head office and science precinct representatives. Included were a forestry officer, two land management and use officers, one landcare officer, one waterwatch coordinator, one land protection officer, two officers from natural resource sciences, and one from marketing. One officer was employed full time and the remaining staff undertook strategy development tasks as an adjunct to their normal workloads. The working group decided on its own name - the Extension Strategy Working Group (ESWG). Its first meeting took place in March 1999.

By July 1999 the ESWG cemented the structural arrangements and the Terms of Reference for developing the Extension Strategy. The team crystalised what it saw as the best model to meet these terms. The ESWG defined its role and function as a clearing-house and synthesiser of information and perspectives on NRM extension. An Extension Strategy Board with the power to endorse ESWG actions was suggested to oversee the strategy development process. The ESWG reported to the ESB. The ESB also had the responsibility of managing upwards to the Director General and the Executive Management Group. Regional Extension Teams were put forward as key for regional input and for developing an accepted and shared vision.

This model is represented below including the major contributors and information sources.

Figure1: The DNR Extension Strategy development structure

This structure served its purpose well for identifying and positioning extension in the department. Each group met on a number of occasions draw together the New Extension Framework.

Putting the extension strategy into context and managing overlapping initiatives

At the same time, two other significant initiatives were underway within the Department – Community Engagement and a project investigating institutional arrangements for community based natural resource management (CBNRM). These were exploring DNR’s capacity and skills required for undertaking community support and consultation, and the manner in which it should “engage” community in taking responsibility for community based natural resource management (CBNRM). These initiatives and the extension strategy developed mostly in isolation of each other.

The ESWG took the lead and clarified the boundaries of these initiatives by developing a ‘Links and Terminology Table’ that highlighted the differences of extension, community engagement, service delivery and capacity building in DNR business. This table endeavoured to highlight the subtle differences, key philosophies and applications. It was circulated through a wide cross-section of managers and interested stakeholders at several stages throughout the extension strategy development process. It became evident from these interactions that the place of extension within the department needed to be defined.

A clearer understanding of the purpose and functioning of Community Engagement - CBNRM and extension came to a head in late 2000 with the proposition that CBNRM is the what and New Extension is the how.2 To extrapolate, the understanding reached was that CBNRM is the formal planning procedures and relational structures that DNR is involved in when doing business in partnership with community. New Extension is the human dimension of learning and decision making process necessary for NR&M business.

The process we adopted

From the genesis of the idea to develop the position of extension in DNR an extension approach was proposed as an effective strategy development process. ESWG agreed to ‘work with all staff’ to develop the strategy.

The group adopted a model developed by Richard Clark and Janice Timms titled
“A process and framework for change process and project design, management and evaluation.”3 This was coupled with a strategic planning model to collect and synthesise data in the process step of Timms and Clark’s framework .

  • Set Goals
  • Analyse – internal and external environmental scan
  • Identify Options
  • Decide on preferred options
  • Implement options
  • Review and evaluate
  • Replan

These two models underpinned the development of the ESWG’s process and provided an ‘unspoken backdrop’ to group progress.

The group also identified core principles that were to drive its method of operation and gave an ‘unspoken backdrop’ to group progress:

  • Focus on outcomes
  • Focus on sustainable resource management
  • Focus on supporting DNR’s mission, goals and values
  • Use collaborative processes (inclusive, flexible, equitable, client focussed)
  • Use participatory and inclusive learning processes
  • Ensure consultation and collaboration with all stakeholders and interested parties, both rural and urban. Evolve with clients.
  • Build on intuitive and expressed needs
  • Build on the current organisational structure of DNR
  • Engender a process/analysis approach
  • Engender a planning and participation ethic for client delivery
  • Take a whole ecosystem approach
    (social, technical, ecological, economic and political)
  • Focus on achieving committed participation and ownership of outcomes
  • Foster continuous improvement
  • Practice what we “preach”

The development and use of these principles and philosophies was a learning process in itself for the ESWG and are reflected in the Extension Strategy.

Participatory strategy development – the extension dynamic in action

Certain senior staff had difficulty reconciling the use of an extension process to develop an extension strategy. This was quite removed from conventional practice within the department, and this opinion was simply indicative of the more ‘top down’ policy development philosophy embedded in the department.

From June 1999 to December 1999 the focus was to work with as many people and collect as much data/perspectives as possible. Considerable effort was put into running regional workshops and working with Regional Extension Teams. In Central West and South West the role of the Regional Extension Teams, was pivotal in engaging staff from a range of business groups in the participatory process. This took considerable time and effort, but the rewards were good staff attendance, a sense of ownership in some regions, development of trust, relationships, and the sharing of experience and ideas. Parallelling the workshops, interviews, case studies and literature reviews were undertaken, and a concerted effort was put into meetings with different levels of NR&M management. A number of techniques such as presentations, fish bowl exercises, focus groups, morning tea round tables and interactive workshops proved very effective.

Key elements in this exercise were:

1. Use the framework process (as per Timms and Clark above)

2. Compile a list of key stakeholders to target

3. Organise regional, metropolitan, and head office workshops

4. Set up voluntary regional extension teams to assist where possible

5. Conduct 40 interviews of internal and external stakeholders

6. Develop a web page on the DNR intranet

7. Communicate progress and process with staff and key stakeholders

8. Conduct a global literature review on extension

Synthesis of information and perspectives

In early December 1999 the ESWG met for a week in what was dubbed “the lock-up” to begin drafting the first extension strategy document.

The group processes were very dynamic over the five days resulting in quality outcomes. The first two days were spent sharing collected information with the rest of the group. As the information ‘dump’ concluded and the picture of extension in DNR became more complex and fragmented the need arose to order this in a meaningful way. The group found it invaluable to de-construct the Department in terms of its operation and service delivery needs and then reconstruct it in terms of extension needs to achieve these outcomes. It was at this point the group very clearly moved beyond the agricultural extension paradigm.

The group often broke into pairs and trios to complete tasks and would then reconvene as one group. Discrete elements important to the contemporary and future NRM extension system were identified and grouped. The future was at this time also being affected by senior managers’ re-alignments of the department in response to output based management within the Queensland government.. To make sense of these groupings and the large amounts of information in the context of this re-alignment, a number of documents were written. These were presented to the Extension Strategy Board and executive group to help in their deliberations on the organisational restructure that was taking place.

This process of deconstructing and reconstructing the basic reasoning’s of what makes up NRM extension in Queensland, was an invaluable step on the path to proposing a new way for ‘how DNR does business.’ Key outcomes of this exercise can be seen in another paper presented at the conference: The New Extension Framework.

The development of the framework “planks”

Early in 2000, the ESWG summarised the data onto ‘post-it’ notes and placed them on a large wall. The intent was simply to ‘view it all together and try to find common threads.’ This process of summarising and placing data on the post-its was an invaluable ‘sense-making’ step in this exercise. It was important to keep the post-its simple and yet adequately cover the point in question. The post-its were then randomly attached to the wall with no thought given to links or relationships of any one post-it with another.

The act of viewing this wall was very enlightening. Each person proceeded to read all the post-its, and sought clarification for those that they were unsure of. Some time was then spent, looking for areas of commonality or ‘threads’. Then the chatter started and boundaries were quickly drawn around key areas. It was astonishing at the speed with which distinct areas began to coalesce and emerge. The post-its were joined into one of nine separate areas.

The end results of the post-it exercise were nine collections of ‘like themes’ that were given the following titles:

  • Know the Role of the Department of Natural Resources in Managing Land, Water & Vegetation
  • Know Our Clients
  • Work Together
  • Take a Holistic Approach
  • Develop and Share Knowledge
  • Support Development of People’s Skills and Capacity
  • Ensure Accountability
  • Provide Leadership
  • Support A Community Stewardship Ethic for Land, Water and Vegetation

These unlinked ‘planks’ were committed to paper and the assembly of post-its relating to each plank were recorded. The process of writing a draft document was simply one of redrafting post-its to sentences and bullet points, and then wording these so that a clear message was articulated. It was realised at this point that the emerging philosophy of extension and diversity of business groups and approaches would be best served by an adaptable framework rather than a prescriptive strategy. The Extension Strategy Working Group met again in January and March to finalise and release the draft framework in April 2000.

The draft was distributed internally and externally. The review process included regional and head office workshops, interviews with a wide assortment of key people, an ‘Extension Specialist Critique Workshop’, and anecdotal feedback. The ‘Extension Specialist Critique Workshop’ allowed experienced practitioners and academics to add value to the Extension Strategy. Participants strongly supported the direction of the strategy and highlighted some key changes that would give the document a sense of purpose and make the logical progression of the framework clearer.


A presentable model

The following figure shows a model of the New Extension Framework. The framework can be strategically applied at several levels. It is an approach to doing business or operationally it may guide the development of group or a project. The fundamental focus is on seeking continuous improvement in the human dimension of natural resource management. It is both a philosophy and practice.

Where will it be used?

  • Efficient delivery of services
  • Output & Operational plans
  • Extension practice as a tool /support
  • Project management teams across all areas
  • Strategic planning
  • Evaluation and reflection

Figure 1: The New Extension Framework model

The above New Extension Framework was presented to an Extension Strategy Board and then the NR&M Executive Management Group in September 2000. The Framework was endorsed and given a green light for implementation across the department as ‘the way we do business in NRM.’ This was presented to the then Minister for Natural Resources Hon Rod Welford in November 2000.

This framework was the result of a participatory review process to round off an innovative, inclusive and comprehensive strategy development agenda.

What changed?

For the Department:

  • Recognition and inclusion that all in the department can practise New Extension
  • A move toward a whole systems approach to client interaction - internal and external to NR&M
  • Integrated planning and action for all NR&M business — internal and external
  • That participatory team approaches within the department are proven to be an effective way to develop strategies and policies because the policies are owned by those who have to implement or abide by them
  • A move toward interdisciplinary teams working within landscapes
  • Re-invigoration of extension, the strength of the New Extension influence resulting from and cultivated by the inclusive approach that involved a wide cross-section of staff in a participatory strategy development process.
  • The effective strategic development of alliances. This was a conscious exercise whereby members of the ESWG strengthened their relationships and used the capability of influencers within different sections of NR&M to chart a course for effectively networking and gaining support for different phases of the strategy. (Note: This course has been an evolving though. The networking route was not predetermined.)
  • The ESWG had a unique opportunity that few in the department were afforded. The ESWG had inadvertently manoeuvred its way into a situation where, if even momentarily, it had a good vantage point from which to consider the general business of the department.

For members of the Extension Strategy Working Group:

  • Each individual elevated their understanding of extension and capacity to ‘practice what we preach’ as a result of being involved in this process
  • The agony and the ecstasy of being part of a self-managing team, where each member had to apply their knowledge and experience in how teams function. At times this was quite painful, but the old adage “no pain – no gain” applied. At times the ESWG had to stop and go through a process of reflecting on how the group was working. Many games of “scruples” at night during the lock-up helped this process, although the rest of the group are not too sure about the scruples of some members!!!
  • All have gained professionally and personally from participating in an effective self-managing team.
  • The recognition of the importance of building relationships and trust and how this philosophy can extend across NR&M business. These interdependent attributes took considerable time and effort to build but are foundation elements in the group’s success. For this team, trust became very strong, and still remains so.
  • The opportunity to improve extension philosophy and practice and to advance NRM extension.
  • The rapid ability for the members to be able to move through group formation processes quickly. In a short space of time the group was able to ‘storm’ and ‘perform’ at an effective capacity. On reflection this was largely attributed to all members having had prior experience and training in extension principles and philosophy.
  • Through time, New Extension principles were developed and validated as a ‘group culture’…. as the second-nature approach of the group to dealing with tasks and issues.

Learnings and reflections

Defining the New Extension framework:

  • New Extension is ‘whole-systems’ in both philosophy and practice and is necessarily a ‘way of doing business’ for NR&M
  • Extension is a mechanism for working with change and enabling organisational response to change.
  • There is room for greater use of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams within the Department.
  • There are strong opportunities for stronger relationships between the department and non-government providers in delivering extension services.
  • There are many excellent extension initiatives currently in progress that need higher recognition

Understanding the importance of perception and involvement:

  • Staff have diverse views about NR&M’s core business, role and purpose.
  • Staff have contradictory views of who is/are NR&M’s primary client(s)
  • The people component of doing business is vitally important and more emphasis needs to be placed on this

Using an extension process to develop Government strategy:

  • Participative processes may be slow and arduous, but result clearly in shared learning, help determine collectively considered ways forward, enable new ideas to be explored, and gain commitment and action.
  • It is essential to take time out to reflect intensively on the current situation; what will make a difference, and the implications for the future.
  • It is essential we improve networks and access to decision makers, encourage critical thinking, and establishearly links to key strategies and developments to ensure relevance and integration.
  • Considerable benefits are gained from using project teams that are multi-level, multi-disciplinary and cross-representative of regions and business groups.
  • Genuine relationship building is vital both internally and externally for success
  • Awareness and inclusion of different levels of power is essential in achieving effective contribution, ownership and support.

Implementation continues

The key changes that the extension strategy process is bringing about, are potentially quite radical for the direction and function of NR&M and many of its staff. The true test of effective change will be the successful re-adaptation and application of New Extension philosophy and principles to general NR&M business.

Significant changes will include:

  • A re-orientation and broadening of extension as a whole systems strategic framework to improve the way that NR&M goes about its business
  • The placing of a larger emphasis on social science and the social realities of NRM in balance with economic and physical aspects

With the unique vantage point that the Extension Strategy Process was afforded, many staff have seen the Framework as a good ‘business repositioning model.’4 This is far above the initial expectations of the ESWG and serves as an excellent opportunity for advancing the extension discipline in natural resource management and beyond. Organisational learning and development within NR&M will be well served by New Extension philosophy and practice.

New Extension will provide support for recent whole-of-government direction where a new division, the Community Engagement Division, has been created within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.5 New Extension will provide NR&M with a Framework for how community engagement can take place, giving all Queenslanders’ a better chance to contribute to NRM policy and government decisions.

The current challenge for NR&M as a Department is the ongoing implementation of the framework. This requires the following things to happen:

  • the negotiation of the New Extension Implementation Team
  • the re-negotiation of Regional Extension Teams and / or regional support officer’s to drive the implementation of New Extension and oversee community engagement processes
  • a reporting mechanism for New Extension in NR&M
  • a move toward more effective partnerships with the community and external providers

The task will be to facilitate the adaptation and advancement of ‘New Extension’ philosophy and practice within the department in partnership with community.

So, Like Saul6, will people with a stake in NRM in Queensland to see that New Extension is not a threat, but rather the fulfillment of all that they hold true??


2 Clarification between the Community Engagement Policy Unit & the ESWG.


4 Spencer, S., Pers Comm 2000.

5 Beattie, P; Sectorwide, Queensland Government, May 2001


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