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Five Domains of Extension– a Queensland Perspective

Jeff Coutts

Rural Extension Centre, PO Box 1000, University of Queensland, Gatton, Qld 4345
Email:
couttsj@dpi.qld.gov.au

Introduction

Extension was once referred to as the handmaiden of research. Over the last decade or so however, extension has emerged as a discipline in itself. In so doing, practitioners and academics redefined the meaning of the term extension as going beyond technology transfer (Coutts 1994). In the late 1980’s, Rling (1987) wrote a book entitled 'Extension Science' which provided a watershed in the way extension was viewed and used. Since then, extension’s role with respect to research has been renegotiated.

The baggage of the metaphors associated with extension (that is: an extension of university teaching; extending research; extension lead or ladder etc.), however, means that debate about terms, definition and function continues. Some practitioners are shying away from the term extension and reaching for names such as innovation specialists or development officers. On the other hand, other groups are beginning to associate themselves with the term as they recognise what the discipline has to offer them in their work, industries and communities.

What has been missing is a clarification of the domains in which extension now operates. By clarifying these domains we can take the discussion further and better position extension in the policy and the total Research, Development and Extension (RDE) environment.

This paper explores extension’s relationship with research by describing five distinct, though complementary and sometimes overlapping, domains of extension.

The Queensland extension situation

It is difficult to give the Queensland perspective on matters relating to extension. The extension situation in Queensland is diverse and dynamic – and never dull!

In the public sphere there is the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the industry sphere, there is the Bureau of Sugar Experimental Stations (BSES) extension service, the dairy extension teams, horticultural industry development officers and others. Private consultants still appear to be rare commodities in Queensland and mainly sitting in the cotton industry. Amongst this northern mosaic, there is the Rural Extension Centre and the emerging Centre for Rural and Regional Innovation!

DPI, traditionally the largest provider of extension services in Queensland, has gone through another re-organisation – this time consolidating its industry institutes and associated RD&E into a mega-business group called Agriculture Food and Fibre Services (AFFS). The focus is shifting to the ‘marketing chain’ rather than agricultural production alone, and there is some soul searching about the term ‘extension’ and its function. Future Profit (PMP), Building Rural Leaders and Financial Counseling sit in a separate Business Group (Rural Industry Business Services) and are looking at restructuring in response to new realities (for example changing funding with FarmBiz). With the incorporation of the Queensland Office of Rural Communities, DPI appears to be torn between an holistic extension role facilitating community development on one hand, and privatised advisory services across the marketing chain on the other.

DNR, the next largest extension provider, is just completing the development of a comprehensive Extension Strategy using a very participative process. The draft strategy is underpinned by the philosophy that '…extension not be established as a compartmentalised internal group, but be integrated as a framework for the routine conduct of business' (DNR 2000). There appears to be strong political support for DNR to strengthen its extension capacity and skills and to enhance its ability to engage positively with clients. EPA/Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is on the verge of developing its own extension strategy (Millar 2000). The Department has a distinct extension arm and function with stated Ministerial support. Miller (2000) reported that '…the Minister attended the meeting (State Extension Meeting) and indicated his support for our work which he sees as the front line of the portfolio (ie interacting with the public and achieving long term protection of biodiversity).'

Within the State departments then, the role of extension is being reviewed and re-focused. What is missing in the policy and practice development, is the lack of discussion and understanding about the different domains in which extension can and does operate.

The Rural Extension Centre (REC) is broadening its clientele beyond traditional departmental extension providers as it develops links with the emerging Centre for Rural and Regional Innovation (CRRI). The CRRI is an initiative of the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne and involving a number of other universities and institutions. The REC is delivering a Rural Community Development course as part of the pilot for the CRRI. Community leaders, local government and government agencies involved in youth and other community issues are key participants in this course, as well as extension officers from departments of agriculture and natural resources. As the inclusiveness expands, clarity about extension domains becomes critical in positioning capacity building in extension.

Extension and its relationship to research

Extension domains

As asserted in the introduction, the relationship between extension and research has been renegotiated. Extension is increasingly being seen as having a role independent of research (as well as interdependent with research). An overarching role for extension has also emerged – that of monitoring and evaluating the RD&E processes for development. I believe that these different roles can be captured under five distinct though complementary domains of extension. My thinking about these domains was inspired by Owen’s 5 forms of evaluation (Owen 1993) where evaluation was shown to have an overt role at all stages of a project rather than just as a tack-on at the end. Likewise, in the past, extension had been viewed as coming in after the research had been completed. We now need a framework to think about extension which is occurring beyond this limited domain.

The domains I propose are:

  1. Domain P: Defining (policy and) RDE needs and Priorities
  2. Domain L: Facilitating Linkages with formal (policy and) research
  3. Domain X: Facilitating information eXchange and access
  4. Domain I: Facilitating Informal research and learning
  5. Domain M: Researching (policy and) RDE Methodologies and processes.

These domains will be dealt with in more detail later in this paper.

Policy

At the risk of increasing the complexity, I have flagged policy in some of these domains. RD&E occurs within a policy and legislative context, and extension is increasingly seen to have a role in interactive policy development (Van Woerkum 1995). Morris et al. (2000) in their paper 'Negotiating environmental and production outcomes in practice' brought attention to work they were undertaking in New Zealand at the interface of extension science and political science. They pointed out that '…in both agricultural and environmental areas, policy processes involving discussion documents, proposed policies, submissions, hearings and appeals through the courts are familiar to us…But whether these processes are leading to effective policy that will deliver sustainable outcomes in economic, social as well as environmental terms has been questioned, particularly by land managers.' (p6) Extension’s role in such policy processes is increasingly being recognised and sought after.

Players

The domains of extension move away from the public/private divide. Players in each domain can come from the range of groups involved in extension at some level. These players include: public extension (increasingly directed at natural resource management issues) [Pub]; privatised/commercialised or user-pay extension services [Priv]; industry based extension services [Ind]; consultancy services [Con]; and community extension [Com]. Also, as the Queensland Department of Natural Resources extension strategists are showing, the extension function is not necessarily limited to those staff with designated extension roles. Likewise, landholders and community persons fulfil extension functions in a number of these domains.

Domain P: Defining (policy and) RDE needs and Priorities

Traditionally, extension was ‘out there’ working one-on-one with the farming community. Government RDE programs informally received the information they needed to determine farming needs and research priorities from this source. With the reduction of such close association with day to day activities in the community, new processes have been needed to work through and capture needs and priorities of landholder and community groups. Increasingly, the ‘needs’ and priorities of a highly urbanised nation need to be brought into the equation as society attempts to come to terms with multiple claims on land use (Roberts and Coutts 1996).

It is in this domain that extension skills and processes are providing the breakthroughs. Morris et al. (2000) provide an example of the role of extension applicable to this domain. The context was farm dairy effluent and the interplay between practices – farming; advising; researching and policy. Practice theory formed the basis of the investigation. Techniques including (modified) Rapid Rural Appraisals, workshops, surveys and interviews were used to highlights issues and gaps. These techniques found '…significant misalignment between researchers’, farmers’, extension and policy agents’ perceptions and expectations of factors required for effective farm dairy effluent management' (p.9) and '…provided a process that identified opportunities to improve stakeholder competencies and alignment, and agreed strategies that would enable continual improvement and strengthening of the technological change.' The authors concluded that:

'…further development of this model has the potential to break through into a policy development paradigm that fits much much better the collaborative, multi-disciplinary, integrative way of doing things that is essential for making progress on many of today’s policy programs' (Morris et al. 2000, p.9) (my emphasis).

Domain L: Facilitating Linkages with formal (policy and) research

Traditionally, research applications to funding bodies had to nominate how the extension component would be carried out. A survey of final reports and new proposals carried out by Woods et al. (1993) concluded that '…most activities described in the technology transfer component were aimed at the awareness stage of the knowledge assimilation process' (p.19). They did note however, that '…more new projects involved end users in the research process, used existing groups for information dissemination or formed new groups to enhance the adoption process.' This trend has grown through the 1990s, and the concept of co-learning groups has developed.

One example of the co-learning approach was that undertaken within a New South Wales Agriculture project (funded by the then Meat Research Corporation) aimed at establishing lotus (a pasture legume) in the grazing system. Producer groups were linked into the formal research program from the outset of the project. Existing groups (chiefly Landcare groups) as well as specially established groups were used. Lotus sites were planted on farms as a basis for farmer learning in tandem with formal trials on the research station. A conclusion of the final evaluation of the co-learning component of the project was that

'…the key and consistent element that characterised stakeholder understanding of co-learning was that of mutual learning – that learning occurred in all groups and was not just one-way. The co-learning sites were clearly not just demonstration plots transposed onto farms, but were genuine opportunities for researchers, district agronomists, company agronomists and producers to learn more (quickly) about how Lotus responded to a range of climatic/soil and managerial situations.' (Bilston et al. 1999, p.30)

I include more traditional awareness and technology transfer in this domain – those activities to assist the appropriate industry or community to be aware of formal research outcomes and their relevance.

Domain X: Facilitating information eXchange and access

Traditionally, extension officers provided a strong information sharing role as they moved from farm to farm. They had some knowledge of research being undertaken, what was in the farming journals, and what different producers were doing on their farms. They handed out fact sheets and booklets and put people in touch with the ‘experts’ and/or other farmers who had tried different approaches. They were at the end of the telephone when needed or in the local bar for informal discussions about whatever was current at the time. As extension officers moved away from this one-on-one interaction, new methods of facilitating information exchange have had to be developed.

The development of comprehensive crop notes, booklets, manuals and workshop packages have to some extent come in to fill this gap. Property Management Planning, FarmBiz and other workshop approaches have sought to provide relevant and current information in cohesive and timely packages. Call centres have attempted to fill in the gap left by fewer extension officers at the end of an ad-hoc phone call.

The Internet is increasingly replacing filing shelves in farms and in government offices – but without the personal touch to assist people in the maze. Easdown (2000, personal communication) points out that there is a huge need for cyber extension officers who can provide information pathways and link people with the information and experts through the Internet.

Domain I: Facilitating Informal research and learning

In this domain, there is no essential link between the formal research process and the role of extension. Research becomes one of the many information sources which landholders or communities may wish to access, depending on their needs and development direction. Extension’s role is in facilitating the process of problem and opportunity identification and the pathway for acting on them.

Clark and Timms’ (1999) 'better practices' processes provide a tested approach to facilitate informal research and learning. They highlight as a key issue that '…there are few, if any, programs that enable individuals in groups to learn and provide a continuous improvement and innovation process in any context' (p.4). The Better Practices Process is about meeting this need. It is based around facilitating a group through a structured process which is '…designed to enable individuals in groups to utlilise the elements of Benchmarking, Problem-solving and Continuous Improvement, and benefit from group dialogue and discussion' (p.31). This approach has taken off around Australia, with support from the Meat and Livestock Authority (MLA) and WOOLMARK, with strong interest from New Zealand and beyond.

The Producer Initiated Research and Development (PIRD) project funded by MLA and WOOLMARK is another initiative that fits into this domain. In this case it is often the landholders who are taking the initiative and providing the group facilitation process between cooperating farms.

Domain M: Researching (policy and) RDE Methodologies and processes.

Traditional agricultural researchers have undertaken quantitative research trials on and off research stations to come up with what technology or management practice will work best on farm. Extension officers have also been ‘trialing’ and learning the best approaches for development from trial and error over a long period. It is only recently as action research and qualitative research has become more understood and widespread, that frameworks have been available to turn anecdotal knowledge generation by extensionists into serious and rigorous research!

Extension officers are increasingly undertaking Masters and PhD research as part for their roles in RDE programs and projects. Social and extension research is also being funded as part of larger R&D programs. In New Zealand a special social research group within NZ AgResearch provides such a research role. A prospectus to develop a cross-RD&E extension and education research program is currently under development in Australia.

Evaluation processes operate in this arena – mostly underdeveloped and under-resourced. Extension in this domain can provide the rigour and learning to assist a project in achieving positive outcomes and in assisting future programs to be better positioned.

Summary of domains

These domains have been summarised in Table 1. The table does not intend to limit players or methods in each domain, but rather to illustrate the features from those currently most commonly operating in these domains.

Table 1: Five domains of extension

Extension domain

Main players

Techniques and methods used

Outputs & outcomes

Domain P:

Defining Priorities

Pub.

Priv.

• Rapid appraisals

• Focus groups

• Interviews

• Workshops

• One-one

Producer and community owned policy and RDE needs and priorities.

Domain L:

Facilitating Linkages with research

Pub.

• Reference groups

• Co-learning groups

• Field Days

• Media

More relevant and useful research better integrated with local practices.

Domain X:

Information eXchange

Pub.

Priv.

Ind.

Con.

Com.

• One-one

• Workshop series

• Call-centres

• Internet sites

• Fact-sheets

• Crop notes etc

Useful timely information as needed in the total decision making process.

Domain I:

Informal research and learning

Pub.

Ind.

Com.

• Better practices

• Continuous Improvement

• Action learning

• Soft systems

• List-serves

• Chat rooms

Innovation and practice change driven by those most affected.

Domain M:

Researching Methodologies

Pub.

Priv.

• Qualitative research

• Action research

• Benchmarking

Improved RDE processes

Changes to government policies

Pub.= public extension; Priv.= privatised/commercialised or user-pay extension services; Ind.=industry based extension services, Con.=consultancy services; and Com.=community extension.

Implications for Australian public and private extension in the next 10 years.

Extension will be even more in demand in the next ten years – in all of the five domains – and whatever term is used. Extension is the oil that makes things happen. It is about interaction between people – information sharing, dialogue, learning and action. Nothing is going to change on the ground, regardless of the excellence of legislation or science unless this oil is there, and increasingly this is being recognised by politicians and strategists.

Just as extension moves forward it becomes entangled in its baggage and gets drawn back into its traditional roots – or suffers from embarrassment because others view it through its historical role. When asked by ‘outsiders’ what extension means, even seasoned contemporary extensionists mumble something about ‘giving advice to farmers’. The concept of the five extension domains will hopefully provide a substantive framework for describing the breadth of where extension contributes to the total development system.

These domains should also assist in effectively planning extension in relation to the issue(s) being addressed, the needs of the community and the role of formal R&D in the system. Instead of loosely including generic extension as a part of an RDE program (and risking falling into the default mode), planning and dialogue can be based around the extension domain needed to be addressed at different phases of a project or program – by whom and with what methodologies!

The public/private debate is largely irrelevant as extension across the sectors increasingly relies on federal and industry funds to achieve specified outcomes. The experience, size, skills and geographical positioning of extension providers will be the greatest driver of who works in which domain. State extension agencies will continue to be major providers or contractors of extension as they seek to implement policy imperatives of government.

It is again time for extension professionals and practitioners to hold up extension as a profession that is essential for positive change. Its critical role in each of the five domains reinforces that extension is the fabric which holds the development process together.

References

  1. Coutts J (1994) 'Process paper policy and practice – a case study of the introduction of a formal extension policy in Queensland Australia.' Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands.
  2. Clark R, Timms J (1999) 'Enabling continuous improvement and innovation – The Better Practices Process'. Rural Extension Centre, University of Queensland, Gatton
  3. Department of Natural Resources Working Group (2000) 'Draft Extension Framework for the Department of Natural Resources.' Brisbane Queensland.
  4. Millar J (2000) State Extension Meeting 2000 In 'CNC news: Staff newsletter of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Community Nature Conservation Program' (Ed. D Walsh). Issue 8, July 2000.
  5. Morris S, Parminter T, Paine M, Sheath G, Wilkinson (2000) Negotiating environmental and production outcomes in practice. ExtensionNet May-July 2000, 6-9.
  6. Owen J (1993) 'Program evaluation: Forms and approaches.' (Allen & Unwin: St Leonards, NSW)
  7. Rling N (1988) 'Extension science – information systems in agricultural development' (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK)
  8. Van Woerkum C (1994) 'Communication in policy processes: Dutch developments' Department of Communication and Innovation Studies, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
  9. Woods E, Moll G, Coutts J, Clark R, Ivin C (1993) 'Information exchange – a report commissioned by Australia’s Rural Research and Development Corporations.' Land & Water Resources Research and Development Corporation, Canberra

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