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APEN 2001 International Conference

Toowoomba, 4th-5th October 2001

Report No:


Title of Topic:

What is Needed for Extension to Play a More Pivotal Role in Using the Internet for Community Development?

Name of Leader:

Warwick Easdown

Names of Participants:

Alison Spencer Samantha Heritage

Colin Holt, Jane Fisher, Darren Schmidt, Noel Ainsworth, Peter Holden, Julie Ferguson, Tonia Grundy, Rebecca Scott, Roger Johnson, Graham Wilson, John ?, Dave Meikle, Irene Visser, Rachael Webster, Anne Cathcart, Kym McKange, Michelle Holloway, Liz Mann, Sam Simpson, Trish Cameron, Jim Lewis, Graham Harris

Main points of discussion

  • Young people use the Internet more than adults and there is a very effective interactive site set up to involve young people at that Dept of Families operates.
  • It is often not easy to navigate government websites set up to provide information to farmers.
  • Slow lines are an issue in many rural areas and they restrict the use of the Internet, particularly where government sites use a lot of graphics.
  • Who is designing the sites that we use as a part of our work? The quality and content is often not suitable for our audiences.
  • Should we have a role in improving broadband access for rural communities?
  • There is a wide range of enthusiasm amongst our colleagues for producing content for the web, and a range of quality of writing for the web, with the use of jargon and content being written for the wrong audiences.
  • Can we get more interactive websites for use by youth?
  • There is an issue of the skills of people who want to use the Internet, and a need for more community training.
  • The Internet is not a separate tool, but one of a number of media available to us. If we fail to make use of it then we will miss a major opportunity to make a social impact. It has a role like the printing press did when it was introduced, and we will be left behind if we don’t have an active role.
  • How do we get people to participate in discussions on the web?
  • A newsletter on how websites should be constructed is needed. See the Alert box at run by Jacob Nielsen.
  • Extension officers need to improve their skills in using the Internet.
  • Extension has a role in assisting potential users of the Internet, and to take advantage of it for commercial purposes as many groups are already doing. We are not the only players in the area, and many commercial groups are already developing new applications that we can learn from.
  • There are political constraints on us providing appropriate web content, and we are also better at face-to-face communication than mediated communication using the Internet.
  • The capacity of farmers to use the Internet to communicate is increasing rapidly and there are some good case studies of how grants have helped to provide effective training to get whole industry groups online.
  • Should all extension staff really be involved in this, and need to provide Internet training?
  • Do you lose personal interactions with the use of the net? For those with the skills there can be a whole range of new interactive possibilities opened up.
  • The extension culture may prevent extension officers from using the e-mail interaction. We are better at face-to-face communications.
  • There is evidence that farmers who have the skills do use the Internet regularly when it becomes a part of their work culture.
  • The Internet is another communication tool that needs to be a part of the suite that we make use of.
  • Is it also part of the extension role to change the infrastructure and to ensure training within extension organizations and within rural communities takes place.

Major outcomes (what have you achieved from this discussion; how can this make a difference; what else do you need to do?)

There are institutional and cultural constraints on extension taking a more proactive role in this area. There is less than adequate recognition within government departments that a rural information revolution is taking place, and that there are new skills needed in their staff and new challenges. The web is being used as a medium to deliver lots of agnotes to clients, but there is little use of it to help people interact. Extension has traditionally been best at facilitating face-to-face interactions rather than those mediated by communication technologies, and many of the challenges posed by rural telecommunication infrastructures mean the need to develop alliances with organizations that we have not traditionally dealt with.

There are initiatives in other departments such as Health and in commercial organizations that are facilitating interaction between users of the web. These provide some good models for how extension could use the web help communities interact more effectively to work on their own issues.

There are some real success stories of what rural communities who have had the necessary Internet and computer training have been able to do. Many are now running their own training or using the web in innovative ways. These examples need to be advertised to show extension new ways of using the Internet.

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