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APEN 2001 International Conference

Toowoomba, 4th-5th October 2001

Report No:


Title of Topic:

Professional development for change agents; novices and community facilitators

Name of Leader:

Rho Sandberg, Gabrielle Kay, Sarah Hood and Graham Harris

Names of Participants:

Dean Holland, David Sparks, Nicole McLennan, Alison Medhurst, Helen Clarke, Greg Cock, David Kennedy, Roger Sneath, John James, Tina Ball, Val Sapin, John McKenzie, Chris Anderson, Jan Edwards, Julie Ferguson, Maxine Schache, Anne Crawford, Peter Wegener, Kathryn Warburton, Jane Fisher, Nigel Gallas, Noel Ainsworth

Main points of discussion

Three groups joined to discuss their perspectives, then we broke into three groups to continue general discussion (due to the larger numbers).

Professional development for change agents

Change agents are seen as the broader group of people involved in facilitating change within regional communities, not just public sector extension. Professional development was seen more broadly than just ongoing training for those with tertiary degrees, but rather the opportunity for those involved in creating change to have their skills and talents recognised. The need is seen as being able to service the demand for facilitating and managing change within the communities we work, and having sufficient people with the skills our customers want to service this need.

Development for novices

New people have little training, support or recognition in providing these services. It is not just novices that require this support, but all of us.

Community needs for facilitation

In putting together groups of people to work on issues, in this case export of horticultural products, there is a need to have a standard of delivery of facilitation. These skills are needed across the community.

1. Sarah, Graham and Dean’s group


  • Isolated workers,
  • little cross-fertilization,
  • high turnover,
  • non-consistent quality of workers.

Most of the skills lie with experienced practitioners who don’t write, so we rely on a few gurus instead of harvesting the skill base.

We are not supported to make ourselves redundant (an explicit goal)

Barriers to cross-agency work

Why?: (not well developed… this section would be worth exploring deeper)

  • Lack of time.
  • Institutional reasons

Existing solutions:

  • APEN for prof development.
  • Personal networks that people build themselves.

Suggested solutions:

  • Exchanges: Between gov agencies, exchanges with private business (to gain credibility and other perspectives)
  • Would extension be better as a profession, content-free and cross-discipline? We are already being called upon to work in other areas. This would require: Guidelines, qualifications and valuing experience.

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

Definition of symptoms

Many suggested solutions (see above)

But – question mark over whether we understand the root causes of the problems… do we need more on this?

2. Gabrielle’s group

How do people see the issues?

Facilitator competencies are already being developed by a number of organisations including, Vic NRE hort and grains, Dept of Ag WA (also for researchers), NRE graduate training program

These standards are not definitive, i.e. some make assumptions about the skills set that you bring

Those in management do not understand extension, and so competency standards would help them better understand the role extension has.

With competencies there is opportunity for

  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Job swaps
  • Individual plans to meet standards
  • Think outside the traditional ways we do things

Some of the positives for a competency based system include;

  • Career development
  • Career path
  • Staff development
  • Training at appropriate time
  • Standards by which to develop staff
  • Organisations currently being put at risk (reputation) by staff delivering who do not have the skills the participants see they need
  • Ability to use older more experienced people in development by creating a role in sharing knowledge and experience with less experienced people – involve them in the process – don’t alienate them
  • Need to make sure any development is applied within the context to which it relates – i.e. training is not in isolation of context
  • Need to consider individuals as professionals, not driven by the agency agendas
  • Agencies needs to own the outputs
  • Screaming need for national competency based standards

How do we do it?

  • Front line management courses
  • Draw on work from sport & rec, health etc
  • ? AIAST role
  • APEN independent broker who could work across organisations and states could project manage if funded to put on a project officer

3. Rho’s group

Main discussion points

  • Shortage of development programs
  • Areas is so broad
  • Need to get basic skills right. There is a lot of 2-3 day programs. Few advanced programs. Existing programs tend to be formulaic, i.e. how to apply a particular tool rather than developing broad and generic facilitation skills
  • General sense of uncertainty of what programs existed
  • Opportunities for informal networks were welcome, especially across agencies

Major outcomes

  • Needs analysis – Greg Cock and John James volunteer to do this – what is already provided, analyse, communication, fund
  • APEN chapters can be involved in skill development opportunities
  • Six monthly forums
  • Action Learning Action Research Process Management Group in Brisbane – good professional development resource
  • Information on 104 hour rural change agent training programme available at

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