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Workshop A - Understanding the conference streams

The conference streams emerged from considering commonalities in the participant’s abstracts. The purpose of each workshop is to establish the frame (scope, depth and breadth) of the particular stream to provide participants with “hooks” upon which to hang what they hear in subsequent concurrent presentations. The streams are: Approaches, methods and tools; Multiple scales of practice change; Partnership/networking and institutions; Social Context; Evaluation/Reflection; Sustaining the practice.

Stream 1: Approaches, methods and tools

The approaches, methods and tools used in extension/practice change programs.

Definition: this stream is about the range of different approaches, methods and tools we use to achieve practice change. Highlighting the learning (from the participants) on how the application of their chosen method or tool(s) influence practice change and why methods and tools were chosen.

The major trends or themes that the participants identified were:

  • Increased technology – GPS, GIS, ARCPADS, SMS mobile, email
  • Web based learning
  • ‘pod’ casting
  • more cooperative research and extension
  • Hybrids of existing tools/approaches/methods are constantly evolving. Awareness, accept, adopt
  • Move to target areas – land issues – priority areas. Defining target audience. Customising program to suit
  • Discussion
  • Community driven rather than Department driven. Supported rather than enforced. Self learning
  • Move from top down to bottom up. Government to private
  • Regulation to participation. Increased landholder investment
  • SMS
  • Conflict between funding bodies (and expectation) and realistic outcomes
  • Not one method to suit all situations – create your own
  • Who delivers extension programs?
  • Can use any or all approaches. Just like fashion. Terminology/definitions vary
  • A move to small groups – increased practice change
  • Farmer groups conducting their own water monitoring to protect their own industry from accusations of environmental damage
  • Significant trends - increased participation, interaction is important, increased skill level of ‘client’, internal leadership
  • Engaging farmers earlier in the approach instead of waiting 2-3 years. Trying to build a communication strategy earlier

Stream 2: Multiple scales of practice change

The multiple scales (issue specific project to community or landscape) at which extension/ practice change is applied.

Description: The stream examines the range of different scales at which we strive to affect practice change. From one person to catchment; state, national or international levels; industry to landscapes. How do we determine appropriate scale, or deal with scaling up our programs.

The major trends or themes that the participants identified were:

  • Towards private retailer driven change in response to consumer demand and for strategic advantage
  • Towards a way of life (Landcare) – ethos, everybody’s city and country, international, government
  • Towards increased communication and understanding needs
  • Towards appropriate on ground action implementation
  • Towards working at a range of scales at the same time (we no longer work at one level or scale)
  • Towards extension being carried out by various organisations – industry, consultants, NRM bodies
  • Catchment framework (for both NRM and production eg CMA’s pivotal for both)
  • Outcomes orientated institutional structures eg “Knowledge and Adoption Manager” and “Research and Delivery Unit”
  • Multi stakeholder partnerships – cross sector/institutional/scale collaboration/industry/private/public
  • Away from extension, dollars, trust and regionalisation
  • Towards a broad coordinated approach for applications for funding

Stream 3: Partnerships and Networks

The partnerships/networking and institutional arrangements necessary for extension/practice change to be effective.

Description: “This stream examines both the partnerships and networks that are involved in practice change and the institutional, policy and governance frameworks which impact on how practice change is delivered.

The major trends or themes that the participants identified were:

  • Informal vs formal networks treated/supported/operate differently
  • Acknowledging importance of interdependence
  • Increasing flexibility but rigidity maintained
  • Friction between government working with formal vs informal networks
  • Networks can be internal or external to the organisation
  • Increasing importance of “public” value in decision making – link to neutrals
  • Networks can continually evolve
  • Exciting future networking across sectors eg health/NRM
  • Government increasingly interested in using networks to deliver
  • Can government learn to give up command and control
  • Governments can take action which weakens/changes the networks
  • Partnerships collaboration networks (into strategies – “formalised”)
  • Networks challenge existing patterns of leadership
  • Too much trust on how good they are – can be exclusive and nasty and destructive
  • Networks have own agenda – not a vacuum
  • Regional NRM is a grand experiment
  • Government validating networks (what is the implication?)
  • Policy tool to manage networks is a paradox
  • Network members are not always partners
  • Lots of networks operate outside government systems

Stream 4: Social Context

The social context in which extension/practice change operates

Description: Explores the human behavioural elements that influence whether and how change occurs – in practice, human or community capacity, or other contexts in which we work.

The major trends or themes that the participants identified were:

  • Triple helix: landscapes, livelihoods and lifestyles
  • Need for longevity and trust. How can we do this in short term political/project environment?
  • Recognition of different types of knowledge (social/abstract etc)
  • How do we bring them together?
  • Recognition that ALL farm practice change is HIGH intellectual/emotional investment
  • In complex issues, change agents need a sound understanding of the on-farm situation/context
  • Greater recognition of extension as a discipline
  • Longer time frames for funding as extension recognised as a discipline
  • Rate of change and contradiction of having a policy to implement and using good community development
  • Markets driving change. Policy forcing change. Short term funding - lack of stability
  • Trend to try to find a more dynamic way. What we are doing is not good enough
  • Strength of voluntary participation – grass roots, movement
  • Balance – social/lifestyle, environment/landscape, economic/livelihood
  • Hope that good NRM management becomes social norm rather than anomaly and social isolating factor
  • Farmers put more effort into their farm’s health than their own health of their family’s health
  • Dominant social paradigm and key tenet of industrial agriculture is that humans are separated from nature (science wants to control and manipulate nature for profit)
  • Social cohesion depends on commodity prices
  • Motivations of people in the community are different to other areas (eg on the farm) – diversity

Stream 5: Evaluation/Reflection

The evaluation/reflection frameworks for monitoring the performance of extension/practice change.

Description Explores different approaches to evaluation and reflection on our work and examples of studies to determine the extent of change that has been achieved through our programs.

The major trends or themes that the participants identified were:

  • From stakeholder need to include participant’s needs, values and perceptions
  • From evaluation as a form of assessment to understanding to learning
  • From accountability towards continued improvement
  • Towards using evaluation as a planning tool
  • Toward too much evaluation? “Analysis paralysis”
  • *Toward… being more emphatic (participatory/client voice/appreciating all perspectives)
  • *Toward … ongoing evaluation (continuous evaluation)
  • *Toward ….being part of project design
  • *Toward…better projects


  • Multiple theories, approaches, methods of evaluation coexisting
  • Evaluation is no longer a dirty word in some countries and some sectors
  • Contention about evaluation design – what is right and wrong
  • We have not been pushing the boundaries of evaluation recently
  • Evaluation has been devalued as it has become a ‘buzz’ word (superficial)
  • Lack of transparency about bias
  • *
  • Greater recognition of value bias
  • Designed to meet the needs of the participants
  • Designed to meet the needs of the end users
  • More complex
  • More holistic
  • Right tool for the purpose

Stream 6: Sustaining the Practice

Sustaining the development of the ‘practice’ and the practitioner of extension/practice change.

Description: Focuses on the development of extension/practice change as a discipline and the professional development of practitioners.

The major trends or themes that the participants identified were:

  • Community driven processes
  • Trend – away from 1:1/small group/even farm focus. Towards WHOLE community multi-stakeholder etc
  • Trend – need more mentoring/support (saw sharpening?) given rapid change in nature of individuals work, fragmentation – not much time to learn from mistakes
  • Community orientated rather than investor oriented (role conflict)
  • Funding sources – attract funding
  • Managing funders expectations for adoption/outcomes
  • Environment – funding, tenure, has implications on the development of the extension officer and the clients they are dealing with
  • Dealing with a changing target market (eg lifestyle farmers, changing supply patterns)
  • Toward flexibility
  • Maintaining innovation and development of extension practice/philosophy? (who will bother when all the extension officers are gone and what does that mean for the profession?)
  • Coordinating diversity in industry
  • Increasing move towards ‘Beyond the Farm Gate’ – changing roles, training/support to adapt to new environment
  • Managing social contract
  • Move towards social learning
  • Increasing the understanding of networks for indirect targeting (eg not the farmer, private sector delivery)
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