Many disciplines (such as nursing and teaching) have a model of practice to guide how their work should be undertaken. So isn’t it about time that agricultural extension had one? In this episode, we’re going to share with you a recently co-developed model of practice for extension.
A model of practice is a framework that guides practitioners in their work. It is a set of principles and guidelines that help practitioners to understand their role, the context in which they work, and the best way to approach their work. A model of practice can be useful for practitioners because it provides a structure for their work and helps them to focus on what is important. It can also help practitioners to identify areas where they need to improve their skills or knowledge.
There are many different models of practice that have been developed for different fields and contexts. For example, there are models of practice for nursing, social work, education, and many other fields. Each model of practice is designed to meet the specific needs of the field or context in which it is used, basically setting out how they do things.
So with that in mind, back in 2019 a group of extension practitioners and farmers in Queensland set out to develop an extension model of practice. They defined the Extension Model of Practice (EMoP) as a decision-making or service-delivery framework to guide the work of extension officers with individual farmers, groups of farmers, other extension staff and their organisations. It was designed to support extension officers to be intentional in their work, and be clear about what they are trying to achieve as well as help them understand the factors and context likely to influence outcomes. Remember, the model isn’t about a particular problem or issue but instead focuses on how extension practitioners engage with and support farmers and the factors that influence the change process. You can see the EMoP outlined below.
It’s worth noting that the development of EMoP drew heavily on the Family Partnership Model from the health sector. So what’s in the extension model of practice? We’ll take you through each of the different parts. We’ll start with the middle, which is farmer centred practice. Farmer centred practice is important because it recognises the needs and expertise of the farmer in identifying problems and solutions and is a way of working that acknowledges farmers and extension practitioners as equal partners.
That farmer centred approach would be familiar to those who are aware of the farmer first approach from the 1980s. Around the farmer centred practice, we have three core practice elements: relational practice, change practice and technical knowledge practice. Let’s look at each of these. Relational practice recognises that relationships between extension practitioners and farmers also enable change. The aim is to develop rapport and understand the needs, values and priorities of the farmer. Change practice is when time is invested in building relationships through listening and understanding what farmers want to work on to create an environment for on-farm change. This recognises that change is both a process and an outcome. Technical knowledge practice is the knowledge and skills of the extension practitioners, including specific understanding of the production system, relevant science and the environment. It also includes identifying suitable interventions to influence change.
Next we have three enablers, the skills and qualities of the extension practitioner, and the personal perspectives, and expertise of the extension practitioner and farmer. The personal skills and qualities of the extension practitioner as experienced by farmers will determine the effectiveness of the core practices we talked about. And it’s not the self perception of these skills and qualities that are important, it’s how they’re demonstrated and experienced. And it’s important to note they can be acquired and practised.
The second enabler is personal perspectives. Farmers, extension practitioners and organisations bring their own perspectives to any situation and this in turn has an influence on the perspectives of the person they’re interacting with. The important point here is that for extension work to be effective, a shared perspective between an extension practitioner and the farmer needs to be developed. These perspectives need to provide an accurate understanding of the farmer’s situation.
The third enabler is expertise. This is about both farmer and extension practitioner expertise. Through working together the aim is to understand each other’s expertise and limitations to address challenges and support change.
The second last layer of the model are the drivers: productivity, profitability and sustainability. These are important drivers of change. The final layer of the model is the external context. There are six identified factors that influence extension practice. These are the industry sector, systems, governance, funding and resources, policy and politics, and stakeholders and interactions.
So we’ve covered the extension model of practice, what it is and what’s in it. The next step is implementing it! And the group who co-developed the model thought about this as well. They outline a six step process for how to do this! The six steps are:
- Build relationships: this is where an extension practitioner starts to get to know the farmer or group of farmers. They’re seeking to understand them and their context.
- Understand: this about understanding farmers’ wants and needs and concerns and priorities.
- Explore and decide: once an extension practitioner has an understanding they can explore how to address concerns and decide on actions.
- Implement: this is supporting the farmer or farmers to take action.
- Monitor: as you’d expect this is monitoring and evaluating whether what was decided on has had the desired effect.
- Reflect and review: the last step is to regularly review what’s happened and reflect on what’s been achieved.
The extension model of practice really sets out a way to make sure what we do as extension practitioners makes a difference. We think this is a useful framework for guiding decision-making, evaluating our performance, and communicating with other extension practitioners. Anything that helps set up regular reflection and review means that new policies or procedures can be developed to help make extension more effective.
There’s a couple of useful resources you might find useful. One is the full report outlining the extension model of practice (Williams et al., 2020). The other is a journal article (Williams et al., 2021) that gives a good overview of the model. Both have some useful recommendations and tips for using the model.
It’s worth noting that when the model talks about a farmer, it’s shorthand for the farmer, their family and the wider farm team. Well, you’ve heard our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us about your experiences with the extension model of practice. Have you used it? Have you got any tips and further ideas about it? We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation—join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
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Williams, A., James, J., & Prichard, P. (2021). Developing an Extension Model of Practice to guide and empower extension practitioners. Rural Extension and Innovation Systems Journal, 17(1), 10-20. Available online.
Williams, A., Sestak, D., Prichard, P., & Hall, J. (2020). Queensland Extension Model of Practice. What we do is important but how we do it makes the difference. Available online.