Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Posts tagged ‘change’

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 challenge of change

Working through change can be challenging – this includes changing a practice and/or taking on a new technologies with new skills. A framework I am finding useful is the stages of attitudinal change.

This simple model is highlighted in the photo in this blog.

When think about a new technology we are initially Ignorant of it, next we become Aware, followed by Intent to do something about it. We then reach a critical point where a decision is made to step over the line and Perform or not. Finally we maintain – continue to use or reject the technology.

The key to this model for me is how we present information at each stage of the model.

Ignorance – At ignorance people are not aware; we need to capture their attention. This is not a time to bombard them with fact sheets and information, these will most likely end up in the bin. We need to be thinking about the emotional hooks, what can we do to create attention to create the awareness.

Awareness – This becomes a time for information and fact sheets. However provide people with what they REALLY need to know, not every piece of information you have on the topic. Keep the information succinct, easy to follow and neatly packaged. Provide links to more information so the data hungry person can research themselves.

Intent – At this stage the thinking will be “how will this work for me?” , “How would I integrate this into my current system?” Provide coaching to assist with the decision making process so the ownership lies with the decision maker rather than the facilitator or coach.

Perform – Once the decision to take on the change has been made people move  to the “doing”. Support through mentoring is an ideal way to ensure the new skill is maintained. Further information and research may be required and the change may need to be “tweaked” to fit in with current systems or thinking.

Maintain – It is now necessary to evaluate the change, and modify or reject if required. In this fast paced world evaluation is a step that is often overlooked, a coaching or mentoring approach works well here. Further support to maintain the change may also be required.

This framework has been modified from by Bruce Howie whom I co- facilitated with in his workshop “How to drive adoption of technology.”

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