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.
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
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.
- 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?
- 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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I 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.
A common topic of discussion in many workshops, and a concern of researchers, farming groups, RDE corporations and others – How do we get farmers along to events?
Research carried out by Rod Strachan looking at farmer personality types found that rural industries attract people with a preference for Introversion. (Beef 62%; Cropping 58%; and Intensive Industries 63%) when compared with the Australian sample (55%). Rod goes on to say “The challenge facing rural extension is that persons expressing a preference for Introversion are not attracted to attending meetings. Moreover, if they do they may have difficulty becoming involved in the absence of a skilled facilitator.”
I have incorporated the Myers Briggs Type Indicator into many workshops with farmers and consultants over the years and asked the following two questions “How can we attract and engage Introverts in events?” and “How does your personality type like to have new information presented?”
Today I will share with you some of the thoughts of the many introverts who have attended these workshops to attempt to provide some insight into the first question.
- Group size is important – Introverts have reported they prefer either a small group (under 12) where they feel comfortable to contribute or a large groups where they can hide in the crowd.
- Introverts dislike being singled out without warning – if you are presenting and would like a comment from an introvert – give them prior warning.
- In small groups, make sure everyone speaks in the first 20 -30 minutes, Introverts are more likely to continue to contribute if they have spoken in a safe environment.
- A direct invitation from someone they know encourages them to attend, particularly if they are able to attend with that person.
- Many introverts have told me they hate bus trips. They would rather follow in their own vehicle for some time out and ability to leave when they like. Bus trips can create a “trapped feeling”.
- Introverts like one-on-one time with advisers or a few trusted significant others in preference to large group activities.
- Time for private reflection after an activity, to think about how it fits in with their system, and then follow up support to implement was important.
- Allow time at field days for the Introverts to talk one-on-one with the speakers. Instead of rushing from one trial plot to the next allow a break between speakers for discussion and contemplation.
- Introverts like to know what is expect when they arrive at the event – clear expectations and agenda.
I would love to hear some comments and experiences from farmers and advisers about how they attract and engage farmers in events. Please post some thoughts in the comments.
Some findings from the second question “How does your personality type like to have new information presented?” will be in a future blog.
Rod Strachen, Myers Briggs Type Indicator Preferences by Industry and Implications for extension. Published in “Shaping Change – Natural Resource Management and the Role of Extension.” (2011) edited by Dr Jess Jennings, Dr Roger Packham and Dr Dedee Woodside, (APEN)
The GRDC Extension, Adoption, Training and Support project is open for expressions of interest until October 30th. This project builds the skills of experienced advisers and researchers in adoption, extension, evaluation and communication processes. It aims to reduce the time frame from from research to farmer practice change.
In it’s third year 8 advisers will be selected to participate in the program which includes
- 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.
Applications are open for the 2013 group, expressions of interest close on the 30th October. To download the EOI form
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