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TRIED and TRUE or just plain TIRED?

Rosie Hannah1, Mark Downey2 and John Whiting3

1 Department of Primary Industries-Mildura Centre, PO Box 905, Mildura, Vic 3502
2
Primary Industries Research Victoria, Department of Primary Industries-Mildura Centre, PO Box 905, Mildura, Vic 3502.
3
Department of Primary Industries-Bendigo Centre, PO Box 3100, Bendigo Delivery Centre, Bendigo Vic 3554.
www.dpi.vic.gov.au
Email rosie.hannah@dpi.vic.gov.au

Abstract

The Department of Primary Industries Victoria has become more focussed on optimising the outputs of extension programs through implementing better planning processes. The DPI Horticulture extension team has developed a planning process to be trialed on several projects. The stepwise process will assist staff develop extension plans through posing a series of questions to guide the process. Because the research is primarily industry focussed and funded, the extension plan will specifically involve the researchers in its design, along with end users, stakeholders and other partners. The specific allocation of resources to extension within the research project represents an opportunity for the industry funding body to see the adoption of outputs to meet specific outcomes from the project. Some of the more traditional options for conducting extension are discussed in the paper along with their limitations. The project also plans to implement some more innovative processes for delivery of information and engendering change among end users.

Three key learnings: (1) The value of using a framework for developing an extension strategy is that it provides rigour to the extension component of a project; (2) There are many ways of extending research results;(3) New and innovative extension packages may be a way of re-energising information.

Key Words

Extension strategy, communication, adoption, innovation

Introduction

The Department of Primary Industries in Victoria has a long history of extension. Recently there have been more resources committed to extension research and this effort is resulting in closer examination of extension models and approaches.

Various models for extension have been developed and will continue to be developed. For example, Coutts et al. (2004), have proposed four models of extension. These are i) group facilitation empowerment, ii) programmed learning, iii) information access, and iv) individual consultant/mentor. The underlying principle of group facilitation is that participants are best served by being provided with a facilitative approach to allow them to define their own problems and solutions. They then seek their own avenues to address these problems. Programmed learning concerns specific technological (including managerial, landscape and environmental) change and requires a focused effort and all stakeholders should be involved in the process. Information access recognises that people require different information at different stages of their decision-making processes in a form that suits their individual needs. The purpose of an individual consultant/mentor is for one-on-one exchange of information.

In addition to using these models, extension staff must be proficient at using a range of extension tools to achieve a range of outcomes. Perhaps one of the most important tools of a good extension officer is communication. Mass media may be employed to promote coming events and develop awareness of issues whereas discussion groups enable participants to gain the confidence and technical detail required to change practices. Skilful communication with each target audience begins with knowing their concerns, views on the issues, resources and attitudes. The extension person who knows what is on the mind of the audience can deliver the right message with the right tone at the right time.

Some researchers have viewed “extension” or technology transfer as writing a scientific paper or presenting at a conference. While such forms of communication achieve peer recognition for the scientist, they often do not address the needs of many in the industry. Papers and conferences are often highly technical, expensive to attend, contain much that is irrelevant to industry, and frequently fail to discuss the industry implications of the research outcomes.

Scientists at DPI-Mildura have developed a large viticultural project in conjunction with the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation that includes developing and implementing an “extension strategy”. The project funds 30% of an extension specialist as part of the project team. With extension strategy milestones to meet, project extension officers will examine the effectiveness of current extension methods; are they TRIED and TRUE or are they just TIRED? In addition, a process for developing an extension plan has been developed by the Department of Primary Industries to assist delivery of current extension methods.

Method

In order to document the process of developing an extension strategy and to enable evaluation of both the process and the final strategy, a series of questions were formulated. These questions assisted the extension team to identify the information that would be required i) to develop an extension strategy; and ii) to evaluate the effectiveness of the extension program.

Based on this process, a framework for developing an extension plan has been proposed (Figure 1) and this will be piloted with a research project on tannins in winegrapes. The process outlined aims to get a clear idea of the situation precipitating the required change and an opportunity to clearly establish the issues involved. Not only was it important to look at the current situation and the future (and so determine the change that needs to occur) but it was also important to understand the issues and triggers that brought the situation to pass. In order to progress the plan, engagement with a range of stakeholders is required, resulting in a statement of the current situation. It may well be that in some cases it is concluded that it is not justified in proceeding with developing an extension plan. As outlined in the framework, desired outcomes need to be determined and the required change identified.

Figure 1. Framework for an extension strategy.

Inputs to bring about change need to include identification of resources and capability, understanding the clients and engaging partners. Once risks associated with the anticipated change are identified, activities and tactics used to generate the change are documented. The extension process can then be tested using a theory of action, e.g. Bennett’s Hierarchy, and monitoring and evaluation components can be included (for example the initial consumer behaviour survey could be followed up after the program has been conducted to evaluate changes over time). A communication plan will identify ongoing and final reports as well as an exit strategy to wind up or pass on the project.

Discussion

This framework provides a backbone into which existing extension processes and methods may be incorporated. For example, with the research project on managing tannins in winegrapes, consumer behaviour studies are included in the design of the extension strategy. This will assist in defining grower needs and required outcomes from a cross section of industry. . Also, it will allow some market segments to be defined and to identify the key drivers and messages to precipitate the required change. Combined with other processes, the potential market size can also be determined.

The on-ground extension delivery strategies and the messages are specifically designed on the basis of participatory problem identification. Thus, it is needs-based and demand-driven. Activities are focussed on building knowledge and changing attitudes and practices in the target audience. This bottom-up planning provides a high level of relevance in meeting the interests and needs of the targeted audience. The strategic planning approach to programming and managing activities allows for maximum outputs, using minimal inputs in the shortest time possible. Activities can also be integrated as a system.

Non-adoption must also be taken into consideration and can be related to non-technological factors such as social, psychological, cultural and economic factors. With end users, only the most relevant and necessary pieces of information are used to avoid information overload, hence minimising problems of non-adoption.

A combination of mass, personal and group communication channels will need to be used to get the message across. The purpose of the communication should be determined before deciding which communication channel to use. The results from a survey of knowledge, attitude and practice should also be considered at this time. A guide to the level of information required when designing an extension program is provided in Table 1.

Table 1. General and simplified guidelines on utilizing the results of a Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) Survey for planning and development of extension campaign strategies (Adhikarya 2004)

Situation

I F

T H E N

Level of Audiences

General/Broad Extension Strategy Priority

Communication Channel Emphasis for Multi-media mix Usage

Supplied Inputs and Services Availability

K

Knowledge

A

Attitude

P

Practices

Main Approach

Main Purpose

Information Positioning

Mass

Inter-personal

Group

1

Low

Low

Low

Informational

Create awareness and increase knowledge

“What”

High

Low

Low

Desirable

2

Medium

Low

Low

Informational

Increase knowledge, explain needs for and benefits of adopting the ideas

“What” and “Why”

High

Low

Low

Desirable

3

High

Low

Low

Motivational

Explain benefits, rewards and usefulness of suggested ideas, inform consequences of non-adoption

“Why”

High

Low

Moderate

Important

4

Medium

Medium

Low

Motivational and Educational

As above

“Why”

High

Moderate

Moderate

Important

5

Medium

Medium

Medium

Motivational and Action

Change unfavourable perceptions, neutralise negative attitudes and belief, counter-attack misconceptions

“What” and “Why”

Low

Moderate

High

Essential

6

High

Medium

Low

Motivational and Educational

Inform consequences of non-adoption, correct misunderstandings

“Why” and “How”

Low

High

Moderate

Very Essential

7

High

Medium

Medium

Motivational and Educational

As above

“Why” and “How”

Low

High

Moderate

Essential

8

High

High

Low

Educational and Action

Provide logistical information for action, demonstrate and teach proper use of the recommended technology

“How”

Low

High

High

Very Essential

9

High

High

Medium

Educational and Action

Demonstrate and teach proper use of recommended technology

“How”

Low

High

High

Essential

Note: The classification of KAP levels (high, medium, low) depends on the type of innovation/idea promoted, size of population, cost/effort required, etc. This is an arbitrary judgement as to what criteria to use to classify these levels, but normally low level is 0-30%, medium level is 31-60%, and high level is above 60% for knowledge and attitude, and 0-20% (low), 21-40% (medium), and above 40% (high) for practice.

Traditional Extension Delivery Programs

There are different types of extension delivery programs. These programs have three main streams based around facilitative or persuasive extension (Table 2). The facilitative program builds on the needs of the participants and is more process based. Persuasive programs can involve mainly informational processes or institutional methods associated with training.

Table 2. Different types of extension delivery programs (Botha and Weatherly draft)

Facilitative extension

Persuasive extension

Developmental

Informational

Institutional

Bottom-up orientation

Top-down orientation

Top down orientation

Process oriented

Participants are recipients of information

Training and instruction developed from a field of knowledge and from the educator

Objectives are based on needs and problems of the participants

   

Extension methods commonly used include mass media, talks, demonstrations, folk media, group discussion and dialogue. The various functions associated with these methods of extension are listed in Table 3. Depending on the type of change required different extension mediums are employed to optimise the level of change.

Table 3. Functions, advantages and disadvantages of different extension (van den Ban and Hawkins 1996)

Medium is suitable for or has the characteristic of

Mass media

Talks

Demonstrations

Folk media

Group discussions

Dialogue

Creating awareness of innovations

Creating awareness of own problems

Knowledge transfer

Behavioural change

Using other farmers’ knowledge

Activating learning processes

Adjustment to farmers’ problems

Level of abstraction *

Cost per farmer reached *

The number of crosses indicates suitability, except where marked with an asterisk (*) which indicates the level of abstraction or cost. • = unsuitable.

Common approaches currently used to extend research to industry include:

  • Study tours
  • Discussion groups
  • Seminars
  • Newspapers
  • Magazine articles
  • Open days at research facilities
  • Field days
  • Radio

Group work can compliment face-to face contact and mass media. Meetings with groups allow dealing with subjects in depth, giving a degree of detail. The discussion and questions that occur can help all participants develop a deeper understanding of the subject and reveal aspects of it that may otherwise be neglected.

Well planned and conducted field days or farm walks are effective forms of education. People readily learn as they can see and discuss practices in an informal atmosphere. In the field setting, participants can debate the practices demonstrated with peers and experts.

Newspapers articles can be used to advise readers of an upcoming event, occurrence or practice. It can also encourage people to think and prompt them to seek additional information. The whole story may not be told but enough information needs to be told to whet the readers’ appetite.

Radio still has a role to play in entertainment and communication despite the prevalence of television in Australian homes. Radio is often a companion for lonely or isolated people. Unlike other media, radio doesn’t command 100% of the audiences’ attention with listeners usually doing other things while listening.

While these methods have a time and place in extension, we ask, are they TRIED and TRUE or just plain TIRED? To answer this question and to develop an effective extension strategy, the limitations of these methods need to be considered.

Study tours offer great benefit to the people fortunate enough to attend, however numbers are often limited. While participants are able to see new technologies or practices first hand, the dissemination of this information and experience rarely extends far beyond the participants and is not extended to the wider industry.

While members of discussion groups can gain from pooled experiences, not all people will readily share or participate in group activities. Further, not all topics lend themselves to the formation of groups, such as financial issues or where information might represent a competitive advantage. Groups generally have a short life, often after a group has fulfilled its initial purpose interest declines. At this stage it is better to disband the group than to allow poorly attended meetings to continue.

Seminars, conferences and workshops are often highly scientific making much of the information inaccessible to much of the target audience of extension programs. Nevertheless, a small proportion of all extension recipients also find this form of information delivery useful and effective.

While writing newspaper and magazine articles is great for project and department publicity, often the whole story is not told due to word constraints. Editors may also change the content of a story (often unintentionally) during editing. In addition, it is also very difficult to get stories into the high circulation metropolitan newspapers.

Open days are a great way of promoting a research institute. However, little information can be given to attendees in the short period of time they are there looking through the Centre. Thus any information needs to be supplemented with handouts.

Field days give project staff direct access to members of the target audience where they can gain valuable feedback and input on their research. However, they are really only good for promoting a project. There is generally not enough time to provide in-depth information to attendees.

Radio only appeals to one of five senses: hearing. As the ear is unable to assimilate information as quickly or in such qualities as the eye, this limits the amount of material that can be imparted. The audience is unable to ask questions or re-listen to a piece of information and rarely do they stand around with a pen and paper taking notes.

Innovative Extension Delivery Programs

The challenge is to come up with new and innovative ideas that can add greater impact to a project.

  • Other approaches that are seldom used include:
  • Video conferencing
  • Information centres
  • Recipe box
  • Demonstration farms
  • World Wide Web and CD-ROM
  • Internet transcripts of radio programs
  • Podcasts – audio & video

Video conferencing allows people in one area access to an expert from another area. For example, the Australian Wine Research Institute recently ran a seminar in Mildura entitled “Transforming Flowers to Fruit”, which was broadcast to Western Australia and Queensland. While all the speakers were present in Mildura, the video conference provided an opportunity for attendees in Western Australian and Queensland to interact with the speakers and attendees in Mildura.

Information centres contain a range of manuals, proceedings, pamphlets, leaflets and newsletters. They can also provide education on relevant topics. Information centres such as these have been successfully utilised in National Parks, providing information at a number of levels combined with interactive learning opportunities. The potential exists to establish a similar information centres at both metropolitan and regional Departmental facilities. The limitation of this approach to extension is that it relies on members of the target audience coming in person to DPI/DSE centres.

The recipe box is an extension tool designed for users with a low level of formal education and uses non-technical language. One such “recipe box” was created by the University of Kentucky (USA) of Best Management Practices for developing an Agriculture Water Quality plan for limited resource farmers. The box contains a series of cards with the front cards directing growers to the relevant sections of the box. As the grower reads through the questions on the relevant sections, they are directed to various Best Management Production cards. They can then take these cards out and file them under a section entitled “My Plan”.

Demonstration farms are an effective technique for encouraging growers to implement new practices. Adoption can be greater if farmers can see things being done when they look over the fence. For example, the Viticare On-Farm-Trials project is addressing regional viticultural priorities through the implementation of vineyard trials. The team is working with grape growers, regional associations, liaison officers and suppliers on more than 20 trials in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. The aim of the project is to accelerate the adoption of technologies arising from viticultural research and to demonstrate through the trials how these technologies can be implemented in a commercial vineyard to suit local soils, practices and climatic conditions. Examples of some of these trials are a nutrition trial, irrigation management and floor management using native species.

The World Wide Web and CD-ROM are potentially the most effective media for extension because they can be accessed directly by extension recipients in their own homes or offices. They are also generally cheaper and more approachable than classroom training. For example, Washington State University (USA) delivers some of their courses through online collaborative learning environments (e.g., WebCT). Components can include a variety of media (videotapes, CDs, or DVDs), online and print materials (course guides and/or textbooks). Students are expected to maintain regular contact with their instructors via electronic mail (e-mail) or Web-based interactive media.

While radio programs are informative, as previously identified, the listeners’ ability to absorb and record this information is limited. Therefore transcripts of radio programs available on the internet allow the radio listener to access key information at a later date. Thus they can listen to the radio program and keep a copy it for future reference. For example, ABC radio has transcripts available for selected programs.

An emerging technology with potential for exploitation by extension programs and extension providers are Podcasts. Podcasts effectively re-run radio or television programmes, or other pre-recorded material, which can be delivered straight to your computer. Currently most examples of this technology are free, with radio and television Podcasts delivered the day after each episode airs. It's perfect if you've missed an episode, prefer to watch the program in your own time or want to keep it for later use. There are versions available for iPod's and Sony PSP (Play Station Portable). SBS is the first in Australia to offer video Podcasts. The ABC regional radio website has selected audio podcasts of their programs. For example, the following URL link (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/feeds/science.xml) links to a Podcast of The Science Show, while http://www.loomia.com/media/audio?cp=881327 links to a Podcast of an interview on American Grape Radio, with John Casella of Casella Estates, makers of Yellow Tail wines.

In employing any of these approaches and technologies, the importance of an extension strategy is to design a program that delivers a range of learning goals to stakeholders and end users. Table 4 indicates which learning goals can be achieved by which method. Thus the learning goal to be achieved will determine the chosen method of delivery.

Table 4. Strategies and methods to reach different learning goals (van den Ban and Hawkins 1996).

Nature of learning goal

Strategy

Preferred methods

Knowledge

Transfer of information

Publications and recommendations in mass media, lectures, leaflets, directive dialogue

Attitude

Learning by experience

Group discussions, non-directive dialogue, simulation, certain types of films

Practice

Exercises in skills

Methods which encourage action = training, preparation by demonstration or demonstration films

Conclusion

While current methods still have their place in extension, the project team at Mildura feels that the tannin project provides an opportunity to develop an innovative extension package that focuses on meeting the needs of the investors and end users. This can best be achieved by using the described framework for developing an extension plan, and considering both traditional and alternative approaches when delivering extension programs.

It is important that project staff keep abreast of new, changing and emerging technologies. These will often provide the future opportunities for extension of project outcomes. The tannin team feels there is much opportunity in the development of an interactive website. There would also be the opportunity to receive feedback from the target audience to direct the project. It is necessary to develop a mechanism for getting feedback from target audience/users to determine that project outcomes are being achieved.

References

Adhikarya R (2004). Strategic extension campaign: A participatory-oriented method of agricultural extension, FAO/United Nations, Rome.

Botha N and Weatherly J (draft). APEN policy statement/document. Extension as a discipline. National Extension Forum 21-22 July 2004. http://www.extensionpolicy.com.au/papers.php?Arid=21 . Accessed Dec. 2005.

Coutts J, Roberts K, Coutts A and Frost F (2004). National Extension/Education Review Summary. National Extension Forum 21-22 July 2004. http://www.extensionpolicy.com.au/papers.php?arid=30. Accessed Dec. 2005.

Leeuwis C (2004). Communication for Rural Innovation. Rethinking Agricultural Extension. Third Edition, Blackwell Science, Oxford.

van den Ban AW and Hawkins HS (1996). Agricultural Extension. Second Edition, Blackwell Science, Carlton.

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