Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Archive for the ‘Extension and Adoption’ Category

Understanding Farm Advisory Boards

 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

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.

Defining your target audience


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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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.

The “Carbon Resolution”

Twelve months ago Bill released “The Wild Radish Song” to raise awareness of herbicide resistance. This week he has released his next song “Carbon Resolution”.

The song aims to encourage advisers and farmers to have a conversation about how farmers can reduce green house emissions and slow global warming. The lyrics address the small changes farmers can all make, that accumulatively as an industry, could have a big impact on emissions.

This song has been a family affair in our house with son Will playing the lead guitar, daughter Alice putting the video together and Bill writing the lyrics, playing acoustic guitar and singing. It was inspired by John Butlers Revolution.

We have also embarked on a social media campaign to promote the song with Alice running a Facebook page, tweeting and releasing videos of Bill talking about the video in the two week lead up to the release.

The Facebook page reach over 300 likes in the first week. As a social media extension experiment we are looking forward to seeing how far and wide the song will go. After nearly 12 months the Wild Radish Song has reached over 24000 with Bill receiving emails from across the world.

The song has been produced as part of a Carbon Extension and Outreach program to raise awareness about the agricultural sectors impact on climate change funded by the Australian Government. The Building Farmer and Advisor Knowledge in Carbon Farming Project aims to train farm advisers and improve their understanding of carbon farming.

Please share this with your friends and industry colleagues to raise awareness of carbon farming and to see how powerful social media and song can be as an extension tool! Send us your thought too.

What is extension?

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.38.13 amI have recently taken on the role of President of the Australasia Pacific Extension Network (APEN) and I am often asked what does extension mean. Extension is a word commonly used in agriculture and natural resources management but not often used elsewhere.

APEN defines extension as working with people in a community to facilitate change in an environment that has social, economic and technical complexity. This is achieved by helping people gain  knowledge and confidence so they see the need for change and provide support to ensure it is implemented effectively. APEN goes on to say that an important part of extension is capacity building.

A recent paper published by the Australian Farm Institute defines Extension as – activities by both the public and private sector to transfer knowledge to and between farmers about ways to improve farm productivity and sustainability. The knowledge may be transferred either directly to farmers, or indirectly through farm service providers.

Traditionally extension was seen as a transfer of knowledge, what I like about the APEN definition is it highlights the importance of people and capacity building. People make change and adopt new practices based on the information they receive and how well that data fits with their personal values, beliefs and attitudes. Without a good understanding of people, decision making processes and the impact of change data alone can pile up on the desk.

As the model suggests the extension process is about people and technical information. To ensure the research and development carried out on farmers behalf is adopted farmers it is best to engaged them in the process. This enables ownership and understanding to be developed throughout the research rather than data being provided at the end.

If the data has been generated in relative isolation from a farmer audience then the people working in extension need to think about how they can engage farmers with the data to help them develop that ownership. Let’s become more creative in our methods – add some marketing and basic psychology skills to our extension practices.


2013-02-05 13.13.52The ORID technique came into my life during the first facilitation workshop I ever attended and I have found it to be an extremely useful tool.

As described by R Brian Stanfield in his book, The Art of Focused Conversation, the ORID provides a framework for conversations to solve a problem, make a decision, evaluate an event, generate commitment, explore options or to build on a vision. His book provides 100 examples of using the technique in our everyday life.

I find it particularly useful as a review or evaulation process and to assist with decision making. So how does it work?

O Objective question – these are the questions to analyse the facts and external reality. I often think of this as the ‘head’ or logic questions. Examples include :

  • What are the topics we have talked about today?
  • What is the financial position?
  • What are the key facts?
  • What were the most important facts in this report?

R Reflective question – this checks in with how we feel about the situation or the facts. It focuses us on the personal internal reaction. I think of it as the heart question – what emotions or feelings do we have.

  • What surprised you in the presentation?
  • What challenged your thinking?
  • Where have you been frustrated by the process?
  • What’s it like to be in this situation?

I Interpretive question – these questions aim to examine the meaning, the values and the significance of the topic. Interpretive questions provide the opportunity to draw out the significance of the O and the R. For me it’s the gut question – what does this mean for me?

  • What does this mean for the organisation
  • What challenges need to be resolved?
  • What are the key messages in the workshop?
  • What alternatives are worth considering?

D Decisional question – aim to bring a resolve to the conversation, a consensus, create an action plan or steps forward.

  1. What will you differently as a result of this workshop?
  2. What is the first step?
  3. What kind of future situations could these learnings be applied to?
  4. What would you do differently next time?

It is particularly important not to overlook the impact of the reflective questions – the feeling and emotions when we are making a decision. We are comfortable dealing with logic and often go straight from facts to interpretation without dealing with the  feelings as we perceive them to be more challenging to quantify.  Feelings and emotion are an important part of decision making and when overlooked actions are often not followed through on or decisions are regretted later.

For more information on the ORID I highly recommend Brian Stanfields, The Art of Focused Conversation – 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace, (2000) published by The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs. My well worn copy has been a valuable facilitation and coaching resource.

Questions questions questions

2014-03-11 13.49.56How can we ask more effective questions?

Asking great questions is an important skill for a facilitator, coach and mentor. It’s something that takes practice and planning.

We all know the difference between an open and closed question … The answer to a closed question is yes or no…. and open questions begin with  -What Why, How, When, Where and Who. A very simple concept, however how often do we catch ourselves asking closed questions? Admittedly most people give more than yes or no as the answer, however the question is …how could we be even more effective with our questions?

What about the Why question? From a human communication perspective think for a minute about the impact of questions starting with Why? 

Why questions can make us justify and become defensive, they can shut down open communication rather than open it up.

If we have been trained to analyse Why will be a common question – and certainly have a place, however be aware of the impact when working with people.

Another way to think of Why is in terms of a time line Why questions take us back into the past and make us justify why we did something. 

In contrast a good What question will more us forward into the future and open up possibilities, create brainstorming and solutions.

  • What are the options?
  • What might be a solution?
  • What outcomes are you hoping for?

How is a great start to a question for action planning.

  • How might you start that project?

Tone in questioning is also very important as facilitators we are aiming for questions that are non judgemental, neural and genuine.

A few other tips

  • Keep the question short and succinct
  • Ask one question at a time – if we ask two we often only get an answer to the second one.
  • Be careful about leading questions … This is where we give a solution in the question.
  •  Ask the question and allow for the person to think …. There is nothing wrong with silence. Often the best questions are the ones that really make us think and we do need processing time. If the question was not understood trust the person will ask you to repeat and/or reframe, don’t assume silence means they have not understood.

I will leave you with a challenge …. Next time you catch yourself asking Why reframe the question to start with a What. Reflect on the impact it has on the conversation.

Grab attention with song!

IMG_0919What do we typically do in agriculture when we want to attract attention to a topic?

We data dump! We write a fact sheet or an article to publish and try to  deliver as much information as we can on the issue.

If we compare this to other industries …. when they want to grab our attention they use marketing and incorporate emotional hooks to really make us notice.

Its called advertising.

Look at the latest car advertisement. Where’s the data? Sure. it’s available but to grab your attention, the marketing team has hooked into some emotional link you have to the vehicle that will make you feel good about your decision to purchase.

My husband, Bill , a farm consultant and farmer has tried a similar approach to communicate the serious issue of herbicide resistance – by using a video parody of the Gotye hit “Somebody I used to know”.

Bill has combined two very basic elements that we all relate to and enjoy, being  humour and music , to alert people to an impending herbicide  resistant weed issue that is on the doorstep of every farmer who has wild radish on their property.

Follow the link below …..

We would love to have your feedback on the parody! Please post your comments on the blog or email me

Please share the parody with your networks. The video has been produced for the Ag Excellence Alliance Social Media project funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Landcare program.

This will be my last blog for 2013, thank you for your interest and feedback during the year. I will start posting again in late January.

All the best for a wonderful Christmas and start to 2014.

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Do we need Extension training?

2013-04-04 16.21.18Evaluation of projects is not always done well. Good quality feedback not only provides information for reporting it also shapes the future of programs.

As part of our GRDC Extension Adoption Training and Support Program we work with Jeff Coutts and conduct regular surveys to monitor progress as well as developing case studies with participants. The information collected has assisted us to modify the content of the program and improve relevance to our audience.

Mike Roberts has been preparing the case studies for us and has put together the following article as an overview of the outcomes from our program. I thought I would share this with you as an example of an evaluation method which can  then be used to promote a program and also because we are very proud of the outcomes that are being achieved.

Rave Reviews

Are you an experienced advisor or researcher interested in practical ways to turbo charge your effectiveness in adoption, extension, evaluation and communication processes? This GRDC funded course is about to open up its fourth intake and if the rave reviews from the first three years of operation are anything to go by then you’d better be quick to apply for one of the eight places available for 2014.

This program aims to reduce the time frame from research findings becoming available to actual changes in farmer practice. Successful applicants can expect the following:

  • A three day workshop in Canberra where participants develop a comprehensive understanding of GRDC and build skills and knowledge in personality types, adoption, evaluation and extension theory and frameworks.
  • A three day field tour providing exposure to new technology and research as well as an opportunity to apply the theory discussed in Canberra.
  • Webinars to further develop skills and discuss learning and outcomes.
  • Mentoring and coaching with the project team
  • Participants will develop an action plan and apply their learnings in the field as well as mentoring a younger member of the industry.
  • An ongoing network will provide the opportunity to continue sharing skills and knowledge amongst the group post training.

Here are some comments from participants who have already completed the program:

Brendan Green is the Technical Business Development officer for Roberts Ltd based in Hobart in Tasmania.

  • After learning about the role of Social Media in the course Brendan has been instrumental in setting up 12 Facebook pages for various branches across the state. “We are having an impact from the messages we are posting. Whatever the topic, we are now able to create more awareness than we could have previously. The message is getting through to a larger number of clients and they are finding out about things that they wouldn’t necessarily know about just because of social media.”
  • After learning about communication skills Brendan reflected thathe used to “give a lot of technical information. Now it is about trying to get staff to simplify the message so it will be easier for the farmer to understand.”
  • “Success in the relationships that you build is very important. People skills are the most important things.”
  • “It is a very good program well worth the time and involvement. You will get a lot of things out of it that are very beneficial for your business.”

Bob Ronald is an agronomist employed by Landmark in Albury, NSW. He deals mainly with broadacre clients on both dryland and irrigated farms.

  • It really helped my ability to deal with my growers one on one and then as a group.”
  • “The people skills offered in the program were a major attraction. This program hit a whole lot of triggers that I had been thinking about. It’s not just about killing weeds; it is dealing with humans.

Kent Wooding is the General Manager of Agrivision Consultants based in Swan Hill in Victoria. He manages a group of 15 agronomy consultants who assist farmers with farm and paddock planning, general agronomy, implementation of weed and pest control and precision agriculture.

  • “We have often been critical of people doing research and not effectively communicating results. The course taught me that we were falling into the same trap, as we did some great research but we weren’t always getting it all out to the people where it mattered the most. We are now addressing that.”
  • After learning that not everyone has the same preferential learning style, Kent now actively varies the elements in presentations. “So if I can deliver it in several different ways then parts of it will appeal to most people.”
  • “I have changed the way I mentor staff since doing this course. I think our agronomists are now developing skills at a faster rate as a result.”
  • “The EATS program has given me a better understanding of who I am and how I can deal with people. It has certainly given me a lot of motivation and invigorated me to go out and make changes in the business. I have made some good friends as well along the way, which is good!”
  • “I have successfully established a social media strategy for the business. This was something I have been thinking about for a long time but the course gave me the information and confidence to go ahead with it.”
  • “I would say that it is valuable and a must attend!”

Felicity Turner is a private agricultural consultant and the facilitator for the MacKillop Farm Management Group in the Upper SE of South Australia.

  • “The topic on personality types and extension methodology changed the whole way I think about delivering information.”
  • Prior to attending the course, Felicity says that surveys were ‘the bane of my existence and I hated them. Where I used to do surveys just to satisfy funding bodies, I now know how to actually extract the information I need to make changes to improve the project and get better outcomes.”
  • “As a whole it has really made me re-think the way that I extend information to people. I now know that I need to look at different methods to take into account different people to try to get the message across.”
  • “I think if I had done this ten years ago I would have changed so many things. Now I look back and think gosh, what was I doing? I could have been doing it so much better!”
  • “One of the most valuable parts of the course was the chance to spend three or four days interacting with other participants on the field trip to WA. The geographical and occupational mix of the participants really added value. That is where you really learn from others and it was fantastic.”

If you are interested in the GRDC Extension, Adoption, Training and Support program or know someone who could be please contact Ag Consulting Co for more information: 

Applications close 30 October 2013

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