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Bestprac: Focused action to impact on performance in the rangeland wool industry

Kathryn Egerton-Warburton1 and David Sparks2

1Department of Agriculture, 444 Albany Highway, Albany WA 6330
Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 519, Longreach, QLD 4730


Bestprac is a facilitated process that supports continuous improvement and innovation in the wool industry. It differs from the traditional approach to extension in the wool industry because it enables producers to seek the improvements that they believe will really make a difference. In this paper, we describe the Bestprac project and its impact at all levels from producer group members to the National Steering Committee. We also describe the improvements that have been made to Bestprac by applying Continuous Improvement and Innovation. Those improvements include the delivery of facilitation, facilitator training and the operation of the National Steering Committee. Most importantly though, Bestprac has led to the adoption of improvements in areas such as budgeting, property management and buying and selling strategies by 75% of producer participants.


Bestprac is a facilitated process that supports continuous improvement and innovation in the wool industry. Continuous improvement and innovation is a generic rural extension service developed and applied first in the rangelands as Bestprac, but is potentially applicable to all areas of agricultural production (Wilson et al. 1999).

Bestprac is significantly different from the traditional approach where scientists and extension officers determine the best innovations for farmers to adopt. In Bestprac, the emphasis is on facilitating farmers to seek those improvements that they believe will best benefit them. It is about improving the capacity and motivation of pastoralists to make positive change (Roberts 1998).

Following the successful pilot project in Queensland (Jordan et al 1997), the national Bestprac project commenced in 1998. Thirty groups of rangeland wool producers were established across Australia with the support of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, NSW Agriculture, Agriculture Western Australia and the then Woolmark Company. These groups were supported by accredited facilitators who were trained to support group members in the application of the Better Practices process to achieve focused action to impact on performance. The implementation of the project is managed by a National Steering Committee comprised of state co-ordinators from Queensland, NSW, SA and WA; leaders of the facilitator training, and evaluation activities; a wool producer; and (previously) a representative of The Woolmark Company.

The purpose of this paper is to describe:

  • the impact of participating in the Bestprac project
  • what we have improved through applying the Continuous Improvement and Innovation (CI&I) process to the Bestprac project.


Underpinning both the support for groups and the accreditation of facilitators is the application of the Better Practices process (shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Better Practices Process for CI&I (after Clark & Timms 1999)

Process for supporting groups

Groups supported with operating funds from the Woolmark Company were required to work with an accredited facilitator. Their facilitators had a key role in the support that groups were given to apply the six step Better Practices process. In a number of groups, benchmarking documents were produced as part of the initial situation analysis. These documents served as a focus for identifying opportunities for improvement in their productivity, business efficiency and personal skills.

Accreditation of facilitators

Accreditation of facilitators was provided through the Rural Extension Centre (REC), and led by Richard Clark. The initial accreditation program for facilitators involved application of the Better Practices process in a workplace learning project. This began with a five-day start-up program at the end of which participants presented an individual action plan for their learning project. Six months later, trainees participated in a mid-term review during which they reported back on the progress that they had made since the start-up program. The purpose of the mid-term review was to provide an opportunity to receive feedback and encouragement from the trainers. The final assessment was based on a 3000 word project report.

Resources available to trainees included a manual describing the philosophy of the project, an outline of the process, suggested tools and techniques to support the process and related reading. Aside from the formal program described above, support for improvement of action plans and the final accreditation report was provided by REC staff on an ad hoc basis.

Evaluation processes

Evaluation processes have been employed on both an internal, continuous; and external, point in time basis.

External evaluation processes

External evaluation processes were designed to assess progress towards the project objectives. Kate Roberts, the external evaluation co-ordinator, considered that the evaluation framework should be congruent with the Bestprac approach. As a result, the basis for evaluation was not the level of adoption of a range of predetermined technologies or management practices, but the improvement in benchmarks as defined and measured by participants. The evaluation sought indicators of improvements in practice and performance (as measured against KPIs) as well as improvements in participants’ knowledge, attitudes, skills and aspirations (KASA). This included changes in attitudes to the improvement process itself. It was also recognised that evaluation is part of continuous improvement at all levels — group, facilitator, coordinator and management levels.

Two major evaluation reports have been produced each year – an annual impact evaluation, and an evaluation of Bestprac outputs. The annual impact evaluation is based on direct contact with participants in the program including wool producers, facilitators, state co-ordinators and managers. Analysis of Bestprac outputs was conducted to assess the value of the Bestprac process and its outcomes. Data was collected from mid-term reviews of facilitators, learning project reports, the Bestprac Bulletin, facilitator reports and reflections. Analysis of these data sources comprised categorisation into themes presented. These themes were then assessed against the project objectives, and opportunities for improvement to the program identified.

Internal evaluation processes

Continuous evaluation of impact occurs as a result of the application of the Better Practices process. Group progress, facilitator development, and tools and techniques to support the process are “evaluated” and improvements made during the life of the project. This on-going evaluation is built on the prerequisites for change, being:

  • an attitude of mind that change is needed
  • an awareness of the opportunities for change
  • an understanding of the issues involved in change
  • acquisition of any new skills required to implement the change
  • the availability of the technologies required to implement the change
  • the availability of the resources required to put new practices into effect.

(Wilson et al. 1999).

National Steering Committee

The steering committee comprises representatives of the project’s research and service delivery partners. Comprised of State Co-ordinators, leaders of the facilitator training and evaluation sub-projects, a rangeland wool producer and (previously) members of The Woolmark Company staff, the purpose of the steering committee is to ensure that the project has the appropriate resources to deliver its desired outcomes to rangeland woolgrowers (Wilson et al., 1999). It was initially planned that the steering committee meet by teleconference every 2 months, and annually in person.

The major method of operation was to circulate status reports prior to teleconferences, and then provide updates on the telephone. The chairmanship of the teleconference was rotated. In person meetings considered evaluation and milestone reports as required. The steering committee was also responsible for the development of a communications plan.

Observations of impacts and improvements

Impact of participation in Bestprac

Wool producers

The 2000 Annual Impact Evaluation Report (Roberts 2000), in which 47 group members were contacted, describes some of the key benefits of investment in Bestprac. These include:

  • Bestprac is making a difference to the profitability of wool growers. 75% of group members state that they have made changes in areas such as budgeting, property management, buying and selling strategies and ways of thinking.
  • Bestprac as a group activity is well supported. Almost 85% of respondents gave Bestprac a spontaneous, positive endorsement.
  • Group members see Bestprac as being primarily about sharing information for improvement. In some cases, information confirmed their current practices but mostly it allowed them to be more efficient and effective.

Case study for impact on groups — Richmond

The Richmond Bestprac Group formed in mid 1998 and has 17 members from 10 businesses. Spread between the north-west Queensland towns of Richmond and Winton, the members’ properties cover just over 192,000 hectares on which they run 91,000 sheep and 15,000 cattle. The group’s initial activity was the completion of a production-benchmarking document that they used as a basis for setting their priorities. Two priorities ranked equally at the top of the list: flock and herd improvement and financial benchmarking.

Soon after the group began to investigate flock improvement strategies their facilitator left and wasn’t replaced for six months. Having concluded that the group was making good progress with flock improvement, the new facilitator supported a couple of key members in their push for the group to pursue financial benchmarking. Initially the group agreed but most members did not follow through and participate. This presented a major challenge for a new facilitator. The group had initially set financial benchmarking as a high priority but when it came to actually doing it they were not ready. Rather than push the issue of benchmarking their facilitator decided to focus on the group’s other priorities. This led to the group taking a study tour through Western Australia where they investigated a number of areas related to wool and sheep meat production. It was during this highly successful trip that the group became a team. They are now implementing changes based on what they learnt and measuring its impact through detailed production and financial benchmarking.

The group’s main achievements to date have been:

  • 6 businesses have adopted the use of objective measurement in their breeding programs
  • the establishment of a co-operative ram breeding centre
  • 6 businesses have completed comprehensive financial analysis
  • 3 businesses have completed business plans
  • 5 businesses have completed property development plans
  • 5 businesses are undertaking major water and fencing programs

Facilitators and Steering Committee

Impacts on members of the Steering Committee, many of whom are also facilitators of producer groups, were also described in the 2000 Annual Impact Evaluation (Roberts 2000). Significant impacts have occurred in the area of thinking differently about issues, and being able to focus on what will make a real difference. Additional impacts have occurred as a result of support provided by other members of the project team; and through applying the process in other areas of business life. Steering Committee members knew that their involvement in Bestprac had made a difference because they were doing things differently (making different decisions, handling situations differently, using more efficient practices), had developed new skills and had access to new tools and techniques. Applying the Better Practices process was considered the thing that had made the greatest difference to their group (Roberts 2000).

Group facilitators also reported that applying the Better Practices process to all areas of activity had had significant impact on them. There was also a feeling that greater impact could be made when members of groups (whether they be the steering committee, or facilitators) were able to apply the cycle unconsciously. This was considered to be related to experience with the process (Roberts 2000).

Improvements and innovations to supporting groups

During the life of the Bestprac project, there have been significant developments in processes of supporting groups. A number of new tools to support the process have been developed by facilitators and other project participants. These include the management calendar approach, Local Better Practices questions, Specialist Questioning using teleconferencing and “Business in focus”. The management calendar approach, and the Local Better Practices questions have been described in revised versions of the training manual (Clark and Timms 1999) while Specialist Questioning was released as a DPI Note (O’Dempsey, et al 1999).

Resources to support application of the process in groups have also been developed. These include cards describing the process, and the associated key questions; and posters to provide a focus for applying the process. A game was also devised to help to explain the logic of the process and has been used by groups and during the training programs.

Some groups have been introduced to, and understand the process being applied to support their activities. Facilitators have influenced the degree to which many participants know and apply the Better Practices process. The ability of the facilitator to impart a good understanding of the process is dependant on a) the skill of the facilitator, b) the knowledge, experience and level of training of the facilitator and c) the willingness of the facilitator to use the process openly. We have tended to select facilitators based on geography and organisational membership rather than their natural ability as a facilitator. All Bestprac facilitators have learnt as they have facilitated and in many cases began facilitating before they received any formal training. Some facilitators didn’t feel comfortable using the process overtly with groups of producers and attempted to guide their group through the process without openly referring to it. This approach did work to some extent in particular circumstances but is inferior to the open use of the process. When the process is used openly with the consent and participation of all group members they all have the opportunity to take responsibility for ensuring that it is used.

Improvements and innovations to the facilitator accreditation program

Improvements to the accreditation program include provision of additional support to trainees. The program now consists of:

  1. A five day start up program
  2. Submission of an individual action design 30 days after the start-up program
  3. An interactive 90 day review
  4. An in-person mid term review
  5. An interactive 270 day review
  6. Submission of final report, and optional in-person final review

There are now improved resources available to facilitators including a manual describing the process, and suggested tools and techniques to support the process. Workbooks containing copies of instructions for various tools, and recording frameworks have also been employed. A set of cards also provides summary information about the process, tools to support the process and prompts to support practice of continuous improvement and innovation.

Improvements and innovations to the operations of the project steering committee

Members of the steering committee defined a purpose statement in November 1999. This was designed as a focus for the activities of the group, particularly to check whether those activities were making a difference to the project. The steering committee produced a Bestprac Process poster to serve as a focus for application of the process. The use of the poster, and the application of tools such as Impact/Influence and Observations, Ideas, Questions and Opportunities, have assisted the Steering Committee to apply the Better Practices process to management of our meetings. This has started to make a difference to our performance as a team.

Opportunities for improvement in a new Bestprac

A National Bestprac Forum was convened in February 2001 with the purpose of drawing on the experiences of all the partners in Bestprac to design a new and improved version of Bestprac.

Key issues derived from the forum were:

  • Participants use the Bestprac process overtly
  • The need to build and support a network of producer groups
  • Groups become high performing teams
  • Funding required for another three years.

These issues are being addressed in the development of a new business plan for Bestprac for the period 2001–2005.

Future opportunities for supporting groups

The development of workbooks/ record books for participants may assist in “measuring” impact, and assisting participants to apply the process. These workbooks would use the six steps (and the focus questions) as a basis for recording.

Better application of the Better Practices process can possibly be achieved by training producers in its application and the more explicit application of it by facilitators. The CI&I Services Team are currently investigating the design and implementation of a producer training product.

It was initially envisaged that facilitators would work in pairs with one facilitating and one acting as a scribe but this rarely occurred. If this practice were adopted with new facilitators it would allow more experienced facilitators to mentor and coach the less experienced facilitators in the practical application of the Better Practices process.

Another opportunity relates to the development of clear roles & responsibilities for all group members (including facilitators). It is believed that clearly describing and negotiating the roles and responsibilities will have impact on the performance of groups within the Bestprac network. Further, the development of “service contracts” between facilitators and groups as to their term of service and roles and responsibilities will lead to greater accountability and individual responsibility for outcomes.

Future opportunities for improving the facilitator accreditation program

Based on our experiences, and the improvements to date, the following future opportunities have been identified for improvement of the facilitator accreditation program.

  • Reinforce that the Better Practices process is not an additional way of working, but a different way of working and thinking
  • Better use of the workbook during the start-up program.
  • Improved support beyond the lifecycle of the 12 month learning program,
  • Improve the training program based on a knowledge of the 5 C’s (Capacity, Confidence, Competency, Commitment and Courage) for individual participants.

Future opportunities for improving the project steering committee

Designing a new phase of the Bestprac project, in partnership with current participants, has provided an opportunity to consider how the function and impact of the steering committee can be improved. These opportunities include:

  • More explicit use of the cycle to manage meetings
  • Commitment to meet every 60 – 90 days
  • Clear roles and responsibilities of members.
  • Clear leadership of the TEAM
  • Training for members of team in CI&I
  • Members be practitioners, not just know the process in theory

Concluding comments

Over the last three years of the national Bestprac project, there have been significant improvements to all processes supporting the project. Through application of the Better Practices process, many opportunities for improvement have been identified. The challenge now is to continue to apply the process to these opportunities, focusing on those things that will really make a difference, supporting focused action to impact on performance in the rangeland wool industry.


The authors would like to acknowledge the members of the Bestprac Steering Committee (past and present) for their contributions to the development of Bestprac: David Heinjus, Luke Beange, Kathryn Egerton-Warburton, David Sparks, Peter Twyford Jones, Stuart Mitchell, Kate Roberts, Allan Wilson, Cheryl Pope, Noel O’Dempsey and Allan Davey.

We would also like to acknowledge Richard Clark, Andrew McCartney and Janice Timms of the CI&I Services Team for their support and encouragement in the practice of CI&I.

The Richmond group has been used as a case study as their experience embodied some of the issues raised as opportunities for improvement, and their formation was typical for Bestprac MK I. They overcame two common difficulties, firstly the loss of their original facilitator and secondly an initial reservation about financial benchmarking.


  1. Clark, R. & Timms, J. (Eds.) (1999) Enabling Continuous Improvement & Innovation: The Better Practices Process – Focussed action for impact on performance. The Rural Extension Centre, Gatton.
  2. Clark, R. (Ed) (1998) Continuous Improvement: Ideas, principles and methods for improving performance. Bestprac Facilitator Training, Rural Extension Centre.
  3. Jordan, D., Morris, N., O’Dempsey, N. and Miller, D. (1997) Bestprac – A Learning Partnership Between Producers and QDPI. Proceedings of the 2nd Australasia Pacific Extension Conference, Vol 1, p673. Albury, NSW.
  4. O’Dempsey, N., Clark, R., and Egerton-Warburton, K. (1999) Bestprac –Specialist questioning using teleconferencing. Queensland Department of Primary Industries. DPI Note. Agdex 430/934
  5. Roberts, K. (1998) Bestprac Evaluation Framework. The Rural Extension Centre, September 1998.
  6. Roberts, K. (2000) Annual Impact Evaluation: Bestprac Wool. The Rural Extension Centre, University of Queensland, Lawes, Queensland.
  7. Roberts, K. (2000) Bestprac Outputs Evaluation: Bestprac Wool. The Rural Extension Centre, University of Queensland, Lawes, Queensland.
  8. Wilson, A., Glass, R., Hacker, R., Heinjus, D., Hunt, L. and Davey, A. (1999) Bestprac Business Plan The Woolmark Company, Melbourne.

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