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.