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     danielle@aginnovate.com.au
Jeanette Long                   Ardrossan SA      0438 373993     jeanette@agconsulting.com.au

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Helping Adults Learn

Workshop-3

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

April-89

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 www.facebook.com/TheLongPaddockProductions 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.

The ORID

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.

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