Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Extension virtually

In this time of Covid19 we are all looking for ways to deliver our traditional extension services in the virtual world. I’ve had lots of discussions about the possibilities and to make extension effective. A time of challenge results in change so let’s stop and think about how we can do this really really well and enhance our extension tools rather than just replace what we would have done with another on-line seminar talking at people! 

I thought I would share a few of my tips to assist with the planning and creativity. Remember engagement and learning is key so think “interactive”, take a “I’m experimenting” approach and keep it simple.

  • Define the workshop outcomes and then design the best approach, just like you would if you were face to face. Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the “virtual tools”, make them work for you. Good quality capacity building/ extension principles should apply regardless of the delivery medium
  • Resist using the word “virtual” in your promotion or title, the learning outcome is key, the virtual bit is a by-product of the times we find ourselves in.
  • Aim for small groups ie 12 people
  • Use an interactive approach – farmers like to learn from farmers and attend events to catch up with each other as much as they do the content. 
  • Set up the “How we will work together” so everyone knows how to use the mute button, put up their hand, use the chat box etc. 
  • As with any session facilitation principles apply – ask everyone to introduce themselves, use a short icebreaker. 
  • Ensure you use very very good power point presentations – maximum number of photo’s, minimum words and content –  As Peter Newman always tells me “the information comes out of the presenters mouth not the slides”.
  • 90 min chunks of time on-line is enough for each sitting (plan for 60 and allow 90 for flexibility, technology challenges and good interaction)
  • If the focus is delivery of content – aim for 15 mins of delivery followed by interaction/ discussion/ questions.
  • Use Breakout rooms so smaller groups can “make meaning” of the content they have heard and then come back with questions or comments to the whole group. Breakout rooms can be managed by an Agronomist/ facilitator who has pre-determined questions to guide the smaller conversations.
  • Don’t be afraid of sending people off to find something in the field, taking photo’s and send it in for review. Short video’s also work well, use the phone – it’s not about high quality -its about engagement. 
  • Use the Chatbox, encourage people to post comments, questions and share experiences. Save the chat and use this to provide follow up on a discussion forum or email.
  • Have a facilitator to work with the presenter, they can monitor the chatbox, assist with technology and keep close track of the time.
  • There are some great tools to assist with the virtual environment, use the ones that add to your event, be wary of cluttering or confusing with too many tools.  

Coo-ee Collective

COO-EE-Main-Version1Living in the country for most of life I have often been envious of the professional development opportunities and professional association meetings available to my city counterparts. The ability to finish work and join an event with like minded professionals when you work in regional areas requires planning, travel and time.

For years I have been using web based “on line rooms” to deliver training, facilitate and run meetings with regional participants. My first attempt was in the early 2000’s when we ran a Government funded trial using the school of the air system to provide training for rural women in South Australia. The success of this pilot and the seeing the excitement for women being given an opportunity from the home office inspired me to persist with the technology – which still often lets us down.

As the technology is getting cheaper, easier and more accessible to use I have decided to combine my passion for mentoring and developing people with this virtual technology.

And so the Coo-ee Collective has been founded! Initially Coo-ee will focus on providing virtual mentoring for groups of people in agriculture and regions, other products will be added over time.

Our pilot mentoring group is well underway with seven rural women from across Australia and one from New Zealand meeting once a month to provide support, inspiration and share ideas with each other. Susie Green from SA is one of the participants – her comments are below…

“Coo-ee Collective has overcome geographical barriers to provide me with a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded rural women from across Australia and New Zealand. It provides a safe, structured and supportive environment to share experiences and emotions without judgement, competition or jealousy. It allows participants to be vulnerable without fear of shame and support each other as we work through challenges.” – Susie Green

For more information about Coo-ee Collective follow us on Facebook  and to sign up for our newsletter 


Childlike Learning

12659575_10208358894587816_1720965870_nIn 2013 I wrote a blog about learning a new skill and related it to my attempts to learn to ski. Well I’ve been back in the snow – this time to South Korea at Yongpong reluctantly having another attempt to ski.

Sitting at the bottom of the slopes in the morning watching I reflected on what I learnt last time, three years ago. I’ve only had one practice for an afternoon in those three years in NZ so my skills have not improved greatly!

Two things came to mind

  1. The importance of practice – not surprisingly! As adults we often attend a training course and expect to walk out the door with all the skills to take on something new. In reality training course open our eyes to all there is to know about the topic and we often leave feeling like we have a whole new journey ahead. The only way to integrate these new skills into our subconscious is to practice, practice and practice some more. We also need good constructive feedback from someone we trust who has the skills we are looking to gain, someone who is able to not only “do” the skill but also able to teach. Who can you find to mentor you to fast track those new skills?
  2. The ability to be vulnerable and even “childlike” when learning something new. Being prepared to behave like a child and let go of our adult preconceived ideas – learn in a child like way. Be vulnerable – who cares if we get it wrong, it looks funny, we are not perfect or even hopeless when we start‽ (Like me on the skis) The only person that really gets concerned about this is us. Change the frame of mind to one of “this is fun and it doesn’t matter as long as I’m learning.”

2015 was a very full year for me and something had to give. Unfortunately that something was my blog. 2016 is shaping up to be similar to 2015. I will endeavour to find some reflection time throughout the year to pen some ideas and thoughts for Workshops With Wow.

I hope you have all had a great start to the year and 2016 full or learning!

 farm board

by Danielle England, AgInnovate, and Jeanette Long, Ag Consulting Co

What are Farm Advisory Boards?

A farm advisory board is a group of six to eight people who get together regularly to help manage a farm business. It is generally made-up of members of the family plus one or two of their key, trusted advisors.

Farm Advisory Boards provide a structured process for farm families to discuss key business management decisions such as finance, land purchase or leasing opportunities and machinery replacement, just to name a few.

Advisory Boards are different to Boards of Management (required for company structures). In an Advisory Board, members are there to provide ‘advice’ only, and it is up to the business partners/legal owners to make the final decision. This provides some level of comfort for farm family members, as all the final decisions still remain the responsibility of the farm business owners.

How often do they meet?

Farm Advisory Boards will meet three to four times throughout the year to discuss the strategic management of a business. The timings of these meetings will depend upon the availability of board members and farm operations. (For example you don’t want to schedule them right in the middle of seeding!)

What might a Farm Advisory Board discuss?

Agendas for farm advisory board meetings are set by the chair in cooperation with the farming family, and should be circulated to all advisory board members at least one week prior to a meeting.

Key reports should also be circulated to farm advisory board members at this time. Each farming business will be different, but the reports may include:

  • Minutes/notes from the last meeting
  • Operational reports (cropping and livestock)
  • Financial reports (benchmarking, actual to budget reports)
  • Special reports on strategic opportunities or threats to the business

How do I know if I need a farm advisory board?

Farm Advisory Board meetings provide the business with a dedicated forum where time is spent discussing the business in a structured way.

If you find that you

  • do not have any spare time because you are too busy doing operational ‘stuff’,
  • have the next generation entering the business,
  • are not spending the time to consider the future direction of your business and family, or
  • if you are not adequately meeting the legal responsibilities of the business, then a farm advisory board may be the answer.

What are the advantages to establishing a farm advisory board?

Farm Advisory Board meetings provide farm business partners with the rigor and time to strategically review the direction of their business, and time to prioritise the key tasks for the business, outside operational deadlines.

They provide an opportunity for all members of the farm business to have a say in a formal environment, on key strategic decisions for the business. They also provide a place for the next generation to learn the ‘business side’ of the farm, with the full support of the older generation and their trusted advisors.

Boards of management are key risk management tools for many businesses outside of agriculture. Boards, advisory or management, mean that more than one person knows the direction and operation of the business, and there are processes and plans in place to ensure business continuance should something happen to key family members.

What are the disadvantages to establishing a farm advisory board?

Often as sole operators, the thought of sharing the decision making in a family farming business is uncomfortable. This is perceived to be one of the biggest disadvantages in a family business, but once in operation, most farm families with boards, believe this is one of its greatest advantages.

It is often the time pressures on collecting the relevant information and hosting a board meeting that is the hardest issue for businesses with farm advisory boards. If you are committed to the process, then the benefits of creating these reports, and spending the time, far outweigh the hassles.

Do I need to pay the independent advisory board member?

Yes. Most professionals will charge their normal daily rate for preparation and meeting time. Meeting expenses, such as board room hire, independent board member travel, morning and afternoon tea costs, should be met by the farm business.

For more information contact:

Danielle England               Narrogin WA       0429 676077
Jeanette Long                   Ardrossan SA      0438 373993

A workshop too far

Rural Women-5Using technology for workshops is something I have been doing for many years, running webinars and having guest speakers Skype into a workshop session. Earlier this year we attempted this differently with one of our participants, Jeanette Gellard,  joining on Skype from South Korea for a full two days. Quite an achievement for Jeanette when the rest of the group were all face to face in a rather noisy room in a city hotel and the workshop was very interactive!

We simply connected the iPad to a speaker and had a headset on hand for practice activities. Fortunately the internet didn’t let us down and the participant enjoyed the experience and the interaction with the group.

Here are Jeanette’s comments about the experience…..

When is too far away, really too far way? Over the last few years I’ve come to realise that the answer to that question is, Never! Thanks to the development of our communications technology, distance no longer needs to be the barrier that it once was. Skype, Facetime, Viber, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, GoTo Meeting and a plethora of other software programs and applications make it relatively easy to stay connected to others. Whether its video, audio, text or image based our capacity to communicate with others and participate in events is really only limited by our access to a good quality internet connection and a device that runs the relevant program or application.

Living in South Korea I have the privilege of being able to access some of the fastest internet connections in the world. What this means in a practical sense is that I get high quality video streamed through my computer or smart-phone which allows me to participate ‘virtually’ in a range of activities from workshops and study tutorials to conversations with friends and family ‘over a cup of coffee’. Over the past six months I’ve ‘attended’ two workshops in Adelaide, South Australia from the comfort of my apartment in Busan, South Korea, some 7,853 km away! Both events were successful from my perspective due to the following key elements.

  • The openness of the workshop organisers in considering the inclusion of a ‘virtual’ participant
  • The setup of the workshop area which enabled me to see presenters and also for other participants to be aware that I was ‘in attendance’
  • The delivery of presentation material prior to or during the workshop via email so that I had the same information as everyone else
  • Having a ‘buddy’ who checked up on me throughout the workshop (Could I hear? Could I see? Did I want to say anything?)
  • The acceptance of the other workshop participants in having a ‘virtual’ classmate and their willingness to engage with me on a one-on-one basis using the available technology. This included participants randomly ‘dropping by’ to chat with me during workshop breaks.
  • Being included in group photos!

From my end there were a couple of things that I put in place to ensure that my participation would be as positive as possible.

  • I set myself up in a quiet spot away from distractions and noise
  • Used the mute button on my microphone when I wasn’t speaking to make sure any background noise at my end (paper shuffling, typing, heavy breathing…..) wasn’t distracting other workshop participants
  • Kept my device on charge throughout the workshop

So next time you think something is too far away to attend, think again! Ask the organisers whether it’s possible to make a ‘virtual’ appearance. Jeanette Gellard, Innovative Influences


Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 4.19.11 pm

When it comes to getting the word out there, social networks like Facebook offer a great way to engage with potential customers and stakeholders.

Not only is Facebook the second most visited website in Australia, it boasts the greatest audience engagement of any site, giving you access to a market that has a higher reach than even commercial tv.

On top of this, as a platform Facebook offers paid advertising tools that are second to none, which can give you feedback and metrics that will help you better target an audience as well as learning how effectively you’re conveying your message.

To help you communicate online, I’ve compiled a few tips to get you started.

  • Engage with your audience. Ask questions, promote discussion, and prompt people to share or like your posts. By doing this, you’ll improve your engagement with your audience, and increase the likelihood that they will see future posts that you make. Facebook displays messages based upon what they think each individual user will want to see – making likes and comments an important metric for building your brand online.
  • Think about mobile users. The average Facebook user checks the website 14 times a day on their phone alone – so if your post or content is too long, or too hard to read on a phone, you’ll never connect to them.
  • Use multimedia! Video and well produced photography are incredibly popular formats on Facebook. With more than 4 billion video views on Facebook around the world each day, putting out interesting content will get people interested, and will mean that they’re more likely to spread the video or image to their friends – which is free advertising.
  • Mix things up. Change your cover photo regularly, and keep a stream of fresh content coming. Cover images especially rate highly in the Facebook newsfeed, and help give you more visibility.
  • Use the timeline to your advantage. Add major events and dates for your business – this will help people search for and find things related to your business, and makes you look more legitimate in terms of search engine visibility.

Happy Facebooking!

Guest post by Alice Long, Communications and Marketing Coordinator at Ag Consutling Co.
For more information about how Facebook can help your business contact Alice at or via the Ag Consulting Co Facebook page

Helping Adults Learn


When planning any training or extension events for adults consider what’s important for them to learn. The pioneer of adult learning was Malcolm Knowles, he identified the six principles of adult learning provided below.

1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

  • Encourage adults to take an active role in their own learning. Recognise their individual motivations for participating and remember we resist learning when we feel forced to participate.
  • Time spent establishing the group at the beginning to build trust is time well spent. It builds rapport with you as the facilitator/trainer and with the other members of the group encouraging participants to be actively involved. It can also provide an insight into the individuals motivations for attending.
  • Encourage participants to share and explore ideas before providing the facts.
  • Give constructive useful feedback – however, before doing this check in with the participants to ensure they are open to receiving it.
  • Choose activities that are relevant to the participants work and life.
  • Consider preferred learning styles of participants and cater for all types  –VARK Learning Styles 

2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences. This may include work-related activities, family, previous education and general life experience.

  • Ask them to share their experiences about the topic and help them to connect their learnings with their work/life experiences.
  • Listen carefully to the experiences shared and relate this to the theory.
  • Adults learn as much from others in the room as they do from the trainer – provide opportunities to talk and share experiences.

3. Adults are goal-oriented

  • Ask them about their personal expectations / goals for the activity. Record these and reflect back on them during the workshop – are their goals being met? Check in at the end of the workshop to see if they have been achieved.
  • Be clear about your goals and outcomes for the workshop/activity.
  • Show them how specific learning experiences may fit with their goals.

4. Adults are relevancy-oriented

  • Provide choices for participants where appropriate so they can choose what they consider to be the most relevant to their circumstances.
  • Explain the relevance of activities you ask participants to do.
  • Relate theory to practical experiences and outcomes.

5.  Adults are practical.  They like to be able to apply their knowledge

  • Provide them with opportunities to visit trials or demonstrations – get them out in the field.
  • Include speakers who have been successful in applying the theory to explain or show how it worked in their circumstances.
  • Include practical activities where ever possible.
  • No-one likes to sit and listen all day! Especially farmers who are used to being active and outside.

6. Adult learners like to be respected for the considerable life experiences they bring.

  • Treated them as equals.
  • Provide opportunities for them to voice their own opinions.
  • Let them plan their next steps and take responsibility for their learning journey.
  • Provide support through coaching and mentoring.

Finally adults come along to training events and activities to network and meet other like minded people. Ensure everyone has the chance to introduce themselves to the group, provide clear easy to read name tags and allow time in the breaks for networking.


Do you think about your target audience?

In agriculture we are often guilty of thinking in terms of industry types and then lumping farmers into one group. We then provide information to “suit all” instead of thinking about how people vary and how to most effectively target communication or extension information.

“They are farmers so don’t they all have the same problem and same needs?”

In the marketing world a significant amount of energy is spent defining target markets in order to be effective with a limited resource. Common segments include

  • Geographical
  • Demographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavioural

How can we apply this is the agricultural sector?

1. Geographical – in terms of agriculture we do this quite well. We think about the location, rainfall, soil types of the farmers we are working with and whether the practice/ innovation we are encouraging them to adopt will fit within their system.

2. Demographic

  • Consider the stage of life cycle on the farm – is the business in wind down mode, or building for the next generation, how many families are being supported by the business? Is the next generation coming home or is this the end of the line for that farming family.
  • Education level will impact on approaches to analytical thinking vs intuitive thinking which in turn impacts on decision making processes.
  • Are we targeting a particular age group? Different age groups vary in their preferred means of communication, perspective and engagement methods.
  • Gender is another important consideration, not all farmers are male and the women on farms play an important role in farm decision making. Has the female been considered and included.

3. Psychographic – These are important considerations which are often completely overlooked.

  • They include the farmers status in the community, is he respected (a champion) and how important is it to be seen “doing the right thing”?
  • Values, beliefs and attitudes play a very important role in marketing. What are some of the generic values of the farmers we are working with and how can we tap into these to attract their attention?
  • Personality type analysis has been carried out in agriculture, this has been discussed in an earlier blog. Farmer personality types
  • Lifestyle grouping – are they a commercial farmer, a lifestyle farmer or perhaps a traditional farmer?

4. Behavioural

  • Think about where farmers sit of the adoption curve – how open are they to new innovation? Are they the first in the district to jump on board with a something new or do they like to sit back and watch until the early adopters have overcome any problems.
  • How loyal are they to a particular service, commodity and approach?  The stronger the loyalty the more difficult the change.

Next time you are considering a communication or extension program spent some time thinking about your target audience and plan a strategic approach rather than  jumping in with a generic one. I’d be keen to hear about the impacts!

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SharonGuest Blog by Sharon Honner

Am I the right person for the job? This question is always at front of mind when accepting a facilitation role.

It can be a little more complicated when asked to facilitate a group you are part of as a volunteer. The complication or conflict occurs because a facilitator should be clearly differentiated from a participant.

When being asked to facilitate as a volunteer I ask myself the following questions:

  • What is more beneficial – for me to facilitate or participate?
    • It is really important to spend the time to assess the impact of being removed from the group as a facilitator.
  • Do I have the right facilitation skills to be an asset to the process?
    • There are many facilitation methods and processes, do I have what is required to meet the groups outcomes in a timely and professional manner.
  • If I do facilitate, can I leave my personal agenda’s at the door?
    • When I am part of a group, I am there because I am passionate and have points of view I may wish to share.

It is not only being able to leave my personal agenda’s at the doors, there may be other concerns within the group to make it difficult to facilitate, for example:

  • Is there an air of distrust or bias exists within the group? When this exists individuals will be more concerned with having their point of view heard rather than understanding others
  • Do some members of the group feel intimidated and as a consequence will not participate?
  • Are there any personal rivalries?
  • Do set decision making processes are in pl, when a group has been together for a while they may already have processes that work well for them
  • What are the time restraints on the outcome
  • Some of the group believe coming together is often a waste of time as the meetings are unproductive

Filling the role with the right person will make decision making and problem solving go smoothly. If any of the above sound familiar, it is often preferable to use a facilitator who is not a group member.

Happy facilitating

Managing Change

changeChange is hard… we resist change and whether you like it or not change brings an emotional cycle, the grief cycle. Sometimes we can move through this very quickly and not even be aware that it is happening, at other times we will get stuck in the process somewhere along the way.

It takes time to adapt or accept a new situation or circumstance. From an agricultural or natural resources management perspective when we present farmers with new data, new information and new ways of doing things we are asking them to undergo change. We are often excited by the opportunity and wonder why they don’t jump on board and get excited too.

We need to particularly careful when the change is forced as this tends to cause immediate resistance – it’s not wanted or expected.

However, if you’re the one making the change, this emotional cycle is much simpler because of acceptance.

Reactions to change are often unconscious and there are three basic elements.

  • The head element, the thoughts or logic that apply to the situation
  • The heart element, the beliefs and emotions you feel toward the change
  • The gut element: the reaction to the change

Depending on the scope of the change, people may feel their basic needs are being attacked:

  • Distortions of perception: “Did he say what I think he said?”
  • Previous experience: “Do you remember the last time they did this?”
  • Fear of the unknown: “How will this affect me
  •  Need for knowledge: “Must I relearn everything again?”

These factors form the core of resistance to change. Change won’t be accepted until a good deal of effort has been expended on providing both information and dealing with the emotional reaction. Until this is dealt with people who resist change will expend a great deal of effort resisting.

Involving people from the outset of any change process is the best way to create lasting change and early acceptance. More ideas about managing change to come in a later bog.

Welcome to 2015! I hope you have had a good start to the year. I look forward to sharing more blog posts with you throughout the year.

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