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Getting it right every time? A framework for extension process design

Derek Foster

Extension Specialist, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland, Australia.


During the past twenty years the professional extension officers’ role has changed. As a result of these changes there has been an increasing complexity in the decision making process concerning the final selection of approaches and strategies that the extension professional will use in a particular job. The changing extension environment and the resulting changes in demands on the extension professional have been continually monitored by the Rural Extension Centre (REC), a cooperative training centre attached to the University of Queensland at Gatton, west of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. This monitoring has been used as a basis for the continual review and redesign of subjects offered by the REC. The REC has ‘subject champions’ who are responsible for these processes and this paper emanates from four years research undertaken for the subject ‘Developing Workshops and Extension Packages’. The subject is based upon a ‘framework’ for extension process design and utilises key extension concepts (tools) as support thinking within the framework. The framework has had high levels of adoption and subsequent practical application within the client base of the REC.

The paper will outline, based upon cognitive theory and research data, the value of using frameworks as a basis for professional decision making. It will also describe the current theories used to support the framework and why those theories are useful at the moment. The paper concludes with a case study describing one application that typifies the application of the framework.


To understand the value of using frameworks it is useful to understand the author’s definition. Anderson (1993) provides a description of frameworks within a context of cognitive psychology. He suggests that frameworks are the initial component of the constructing context specific models. Set within the genre of cognitive psychology he describes some characteristics of frameworks;

Frameworks are composed of the bold general claims about cognition. They are sets of constructs that define the important aspects of cognition.

Frameworks, however, are insufficiently specified to enable predictions to be derived from them, but they can be elaborated by the addition of assumptions, to make them theories. A single framework can be elaborated into many theories.

The theory, with assumptions about its application to a specific situation, defines a model.

(Anderson, 1993)

Redescribing Anderson’s comments offers the following diagram. This reconstruction of Anderson’s concepts focuses on the individual and identifies the transition from the bold general claims through the development of a personal theory (based upon personal assumptions and principles) to a context application thus creating a specific model for operation.

Figure 1. Framework Theory

The extension professional

This paper will assume that the concept of an ‘extension professional’ exists. The Webster’s dictionary (1994) describes a ‘professional’ as:

‘A person who belongs to one of the professions’

And describes ‘the professions’ as:

‘A vocation or occupation requiring advanced training in some liberal art or science, and usually involving mental rather than manual work, as teaching, engineering, writing, etc., especially medicine, law, or theology (formerly called the learned professions)’

Linking this definition to the current practice of extension (focusing on the processes of assisting people to gain and apply knowledge to their endeavours with improvement as an outcome [Hawkins et. al., 1982, DPI, 1992, Pretty, 1994]) it is thus possible to confidently suggest that the practice of extension is a profession. Because a profession hinges on the processes of critical thinking, the processes for such thinking are the foundation of the professional’s craft. Frameworks can be seen as, therefore, as the key to construction of the professional’s activities.

Research data collected through interviews with extension professionals who have generated extension related ‘frameworks’ has identified the main function for frameworks perceived by these people is to provide a basis for critical thinking to generate personal theories (Foster,2001). It is through this critical thinking processes that final decisions about process design are generated through the application to the context of a specific situation.

The ‘extension design framework’

Figure 1. is the current (at the time of writing) structure for the extension design framework offered in this paper. The framework has evolved from the work of, amongst others, Hawkins,Dunn and Cary, 1982, Van Den Ban and Hawkins (1988), Mortiss (1995) and Fell, Timms and Foster (1997). In addition to the theoretical reflections the evolution of this framework has included a continuous process of action research involving input from participants in the courses run by the REC, discussions with extension specialists and observations made by the author during course presentation times and feedback sessions with course participants. The logical flow in the framework has been accepted by extension professionals and is affirmed through practice validation.

Figure 2. Development framework for extension processes Foster, 2001

The tools that support the framework

Whilst apparently simplistic in nature the strength of this framework comes from both the challenges to the extension professional to explore the intent of each of the components of the framework (as discussed previously) and the supporting theoretical considerations surrounding each of the components. Each of the components of the framework have been supported by key extension concepts and associated tools that can be used to clarify the intent of that component. These tools have either been taken from the work of eminent extension academics, been developed by the author or have evolved from creative interaction with participants who have used the framework. Table 1. outlines these tools and/or their predetermining concepts.

Table 1.

Framework component


Key tool/s

Situation analysis

Systems analysis

Situation analysis (Foster,2001)

Principles and assumptions



Extension Paradigm

Personal Assumptions


Adult learning (Knowles, 1990)

Action learning (Kolb, 1984)

Experiential Learning (Kolb, 1984)

Typology of Participation (Pretty, 1995)

Paradigms of Extension (Coutts, 1994)

Worldviews (Rolings, 1993)


Setting objectives

Hierarchy of activity (Bennett,1995)

Process design

Organised process construction

Process chart (Foster,1997)

Resource development

Trialed and refined resources

Publication processes (DPI, 2000)


Project/program management

Project management (Haynes, 1997)


Continuous evaluation and review

Owen’s five forms of evaluation (Owen, 1993)

Action research (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1981)

Expansion of each of the components of the framework

Situation analysis

The situation analysis is built on the concept of systems review and the tool that is offered attempts to broaden the dimensions that must be considered for a modern extension program to be effective. Typically this tool creates opportunities to stimulate, encourage and extend the systemic thinking capabilities of the practicing extension professional. Considering the work of Checkland, 1981, Patching, 1997, it allows for the consideration of systems boundaries to be explored and for complex interactions between those systems to be considered. King, 2000, identifies the need for systems boundaries to be challenged within the context of situational learning. The framework tool provides a visual stimulus for these considerations to be explored within the capability limitations specific to the extension professional, that is it is designed to allow the extension professional the opportunity to enter this thinking domain at whatever competency level they are at.

Figure 3. Situation analysis

Considering principles and assumptions

Extension service provision has undertaken a pendulic swing during the past fifteen years. The characteristics of this swing have been:

  • from a Transfer of Technology paradigm to the Human Development paradigm,
  • from one on one problem solving and advisory services to community or industry group based work,
  • from reductionistic science focussed positivist domains to more holistic constructivist domains which embrace systems thinking (Coutts, 1994).

This pendulum like swing had, in the early 1990’s seen the exclusion of past extension practices in favour of new emerging systems based practices. The earlier paradigms of extension and their associated practices were being seen as ineffective and passe.

The impact that this has had on learning approaches was to create a dominance of adult learning as the preferred mode of learning, and to distract emphasis on other modes such as pedagogy, experiential, lifelong and situational learning. This framework attempts to redress this perception and offers the opportunity to consider all forms of learning as valid, dependent upon context.

For ‘participation’ there has been two interrelated aspects that are manifestations of this swing; the very lose use of the word ‘participation’ and the emphasis on high level participation as the emphatic preference. The framework offers Pretty’s (1995) ‘Typology of Participation’ as a tool to address both precision for the use of the word ‘participation’ and also to offer the options of a range of forms of participation from which make a selection for a specific context.

The swing in extension effort has had an impact on the emphasis on paradigms of extension with an ever-increasing draw towards what Coutts (1994) describes as ‘Human Development’. Once again the framework suppresses this trend towards a less than critical reflection on extension paradigms and offers Coutts’ concept of extension paradigms to describe the range of extension activity and to suggest that any paradigm may be valid dependent upon the needs of the clients.

With increasing globalisation, ethnic diversity within Australia, the increasing interaction with Indigenous communities and the increasing role extension is playing in international aid programs the need for extension officers to be sensitive to and respond to various world views. To this end the framework offers the concept of ‘worldview’ as a key decision tool for the extension professional.

The component ‘Considering principles and assumptions’ embraces a number of key concepts that are continuant or selectional in nature (figure 3.) and encourages the extension professional to make decisions about the appropriateness of selections based upon the systems review outcomes in the situation analysis. The extension professional can now make a clear decision about the type of learning they may be offering, the degree of participation they are aiming for, the paradigm of extension used and the worldviews which will define the value sets within the program.

Figure 4. Continuant and selectional nature of tools within the principles and assumptions component.

Thus this framework reinstates the capability for any extension practices as long as the practice can be justified within the context of it being useful to respond to client needs and achieve desired outputs/outcomes.

It is important to remember at this point that the framework is the basis for critical reflection and for the construction of personal theories, so none of the tools are offered as directives, dogmas or prescriptions, but rather offered as triggers for thought. It is important for the extension professional to undertake a process of critical review of these offerings and to construct their own theory about process design. This may result in a total acceptance of what is presented, but may also result in a completely different theory upon which to construct contextual models.

Objective setting

To illustrate the process for objective setting the framework offers a three-step sequence:

• Establish coarse objectives (Wiseman 1992)

• Refine the coarse objectives using Bennett’s hierarchy (Bennett, 1997)

• Create objectives that are useful in terms of program evaluation using the SMART principles.

Figure 5. Setting objectives

In this component the key issues for critical reflection is that there is a responsibility for the extension professional to be clear about the purpose of the extension process and that this purpose is articulated in a fashion that is useful to the system in which the extension process fits. The usefulness of the articulated purpose may be to assist in the evaluation processes, effect communication between actors within the system or to allow the extension professional the opportunity to critically review their own thinking processes.

Creating the process

The most creative part of any extension professional’s activity, this step is attractive and exciting. Often this is the step that is attempted before any other activity so the framework importantly identifies situation analysis, considering principles and assumptions and objective setting as predeterming activities that are imperative if this step is to be done effectively. Research data (Foster, 2001) shows that amongst extension professionals not previously practising and exposed to the framework there is extremely high levels of acceptance and resulting adoption. This may be an indication that there has been a need for a framework to challenge existing practice and to provide an ongoing source of stimulus for continued reflection and resulting improvement of practice.

The framework also offers the concept of a ‘process chart’ (Foster, 2000) to formalise the structure of the process. Experience has shown that whilst extension professionals will almost always adjust the offered process chart to suit themselves, however, this is also a well-accepted and highly adopted aspect of the framework. This process chart provides a tangible illustrative tool which allows the extension professional the opportunity to consider the issue of organising their work in line with their constructed personal theory.

Developing the resources

The concepts of resource development in this section embrace both the practicalities of resource design and production as well as the notion of action research as a basis of trialing material and processes. Tools offered within the framework are standard tools associated with publication production issues of graphic design, language, editing, IT development publishing legalities and processes (DPI, 1999). It also embraces the notion of trialing and continuous improvement and touches on the concept of action research as a basis for this work (Kemmis and McTagart, 1981).

The important issues here for the extension professional are issues of quality product and quality assurance processes. Once again the framework offers triggers for thought in these areas and offers illustrative concepts rather than prescriptive tools. Of course all of the offerings are if that is the want of the particular officer.

Program implementation

Here the framework identifies project and program management as a basis of structuring and managing the extension processes and typically the work of Haynes (1997) is used as an example. The arena of project management is, of course, a discipline of huge proportions and has an almost incomprehensibly large international resource base, so the extension professional will need to identify their preferred approach to this area of the framework and construct that approach within the context of their operations.


Owen’s (1993) five forms of evaluation is used as a basis for discussions on evaluation. This component is placed at what would appear to be the end of the framework cycle but it is not the intention to imply that this is the location of evaluation in extension processes. Owen’s five forms is used to illustrate that evaluation will be taking place at all stages throughout an extension process and will be evaluating different aspects of the program.

Interactivity within the framework

A significant dimension in moving from the offered framework to the personal theory is the consideration of interactions between the components of the framework. These considerations will assist in the construction of the personal theory and allow for a more systemic perspective of the framework. Some of the considerations that have emerged are:

The interactivity of the situation analysis

Although this is crucial in the establishment of objectives the interaction between situation analysis and the consideration of principles and assumptions is frequent. It has been suggested that there is an iteration between these two components that needs to be designed into the framework. Identifying social values and norms and the relationship with personal values will be an important aspect for consideration in objective setting.

Situation analysis will also be of vital importance in the decisions about process design and also with respect to resource development.

During the implementation of the program the situation analysis will be vital to ensure the program is seated well within the existing social and natural systems prevailing.

Situation analysis, particularly during a second phase of review, will play an important part of the evaluation.

Interactivity of considerations of principles and assumptions

The consideration of principles and assumptions will have significant importance when designing the process as decisions on learning modes, participation and extension paradigms will have direct effect on the selection of microprocesses used within the program.

Interactivity of the objectives

The relationship between the objectives and the evaluation processes is strong. For some of the forms of evaluation the objectives will provide the parameters that will determine the resulting evaluation comment.

Objectives will also obviously be fundamental in guiding the creation of the process.

This relationship will also spill over into considerations for situation analysis, particularly in the second round of review.


Research has shown that this framework is extremely useful to the practising extension professional. This practicality is attributable to three aspects of its construction and presentation:

  • Whilst not denying the complexities of the interactions between components, the framework’s construction is simple and a neat summary of the significant components required for effective extension process design.
  • It is offered as a framework and not a prescriptive process. Through this ‘framework’ ethos it allows for the reconstruction of a personal ‘theory’ which is contextually relevant to the individual.
  • It is supported by well founded ‘tools’ that can be either used as is or can form the basis of critical thinking needed to construct or select alternative ‘tools’ that are more suitable to the individual.

As we begin to understand more about the complexity of systems interactions that contribute to the overall condition of clients we, as extension professionals, need to be building our profession on sound principles that are able to embrace the ever changing world in which we live. The key to our profession is the establishment of frameworks from which each of us can build our personal theories that will direct our responses to specific operational contexts. This is but one such framework that has been well researched and trialed in practice. It is offered as a contribution to the betterment of the condition of people everywhere.


  1. Bennett, C., (1975), Up the Hierarchy, Journal of Extension, March/April, Volume 13.
  2. Foster, D., (2001), Developing Workshops and Extension Packages – Course Notes, Rural Extension Centre, University of Queensland, Gatton, Australia.
  3. Foster, D., (2001), unpublished research data.
  4. Checkland, P.B., (1981), Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, Wiley, Chichester.
  5. King, C., (2000), Systemic Processes for Facilitating Social Learning – Challenging the Legacy, Thesis, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala.
  6. Webster’s dictionary (1994)
  7. DPI extension strategy, (1992), Department of Primary Industries publication, Brisbane, Australia.
  8. Pretty Jules N., Chambers Robert (1993) Towards a Learning Paradigm: New Professionalism and Institutions for Agriculture Institute of Development Studies
  9. Hawkins, H.S., Dunn, A., and Cary, J., (1982), Agricultural and Livestock Extension, Volume 2, The Extension Process, Australian Universities’ International Development Program, Canberra, Australia.
  10. Van Den Ban, A., and Hawkins, H., (1988), Agricultural Extension, Longman Scientific and Technical, England.
  11. Fell, Timms and Foster (1997), Developing Workshops and Extension Packages – Course Notes, Rural Extension Centre, University of Queensland, Gatton, Australia.
  12. Knowles, M., (1990), The Adult Learner: A neglected species, Gulf Publishing Company, Houston
  13. Kolb, D., (1984), Experiential Learning – Experience as a source of learning and development, Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
  14. Coutts J. A. (1994) Process, Paper Policy and Practice – A case Study of the Introduction of a formal Extension Policy in Queensland, Australia 1987 – 1994 Thesis Wageningen
  15. Rolings, N., (1993), Facilitating sustainable agriculture:implications for extension science, DPI, (2000), Publication processes booklet designed for the REC.
  16. Owen, J., (1993), Program Evaluation, Forms and Approaches, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, Australia
  17. Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R., (1981), The Action Research Planner, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria
  18. Wiseman, A., (1992), Three Key Concepts in Evaluation, in Course notes Developing Workshops and Extension Packages, Rural Extension Centre, University of Queensland, Gatton Australia.

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