Four top tips for newcomers to extension

If you were just starting out as a newly appointed extension agent, what advice do you wish you’d been told?

In today’s episode we’re going to talk about our top tips for those of you who might be new to extension. Maybe you’re wondering, what should I try, who should I talk to, what should I read? Maybe you just need to get your teeth into your new job! Whatever the case, here’s a few tips from us about what might be helpful.

The first tip is to remember what extension is actually all about. Extension is ‘the process of enabling change in individuals, communities and industries involved with primary industries and natural resource management’.This is important to remember because it should frame everything that you are planning or doing. 

This is a good question to keep asking yourself: “Is this helping to enable change for my clients?”. Enabling change isn’t just telling people what to do, or doing something for them. Enabling change is facilitating conversations, connections and events that help your clients work through the opportunities and problems they’re facing, so that they come out the other end more profitable and sustainable. And hopefully along the way they have also made the change you were focusing on, like reducing nutrient runoff into the rivers, or changed the way they manage their animal drenches to reduce resistance. Or whatever the focus is for what you do!

The second tip we have is to get some training in facilitation! We think this is a core skill for enablers of change. It will be useful whether you work one on one, in small groups or with large groups! It helps whether you are working face-to-face with physical groups or face-to-face with online groups – the principles are all the same. Facilitation helps you develop the skill of asking questions and drawing others into discussions. It helps you develop confidence with people and reminds you that you do not need to know all the answers! And for those of you who aren’t newcomers to extension – keep polishing those facilitation skills. Get along to some training to refresh your approach, try some new techniques and keep practicing!

The third tip is to find some mentors. You may notice we have used the plural, not singular. We have found that no one person can help with everything. But how do you find mentors? The best advice we’ve had is to look for people who are a few steps ahead of you, as opposed to being leaps and bounds ahead of where you are at. What are they doing differently? What questions might you want to ask them? And mentoring doesn’t need to be formal. There’s a number of people that we would have called our mentors that would not have realised they were playing that role! But any chance we had, we watched them, asked questions, and jumped at the opportunity to work with them on projects. They were informal mentors. 

If you would like to find a formal mentor we recommend the APEN mentoring programme. This is a mentoring programme run each year. We are both involved in this at the moment and think it is a great opportunity to get a formal mentor to help you develop in your role. And here’s the thing, whether you are a mentor or a mentee, everyone learns. We have found that we always learn things as well by being involved! There is a link to this information below. Have a read and maybe consider signing up next year!

The final tip is to start reading. Whether you like short reads or long reads, there will be some material that will be helpful. We have covered some good places to start with our Enablers of Change episodes covering our top suggestions for books, journals, journal articles, and blogs. We will link to these below as well. Start with those recommendations and see what interests you. Then follow that interest and keep learning!

There is so much we could add to this, but this is where you come in. What has been helpful for you as you have started out? Please share your ideas with us and our readers! This is how we learn and we love that people are sharing tips, thoughts and challenges with us. Thank you!

So please add a comment below this post and tell us about your experiences getting started in extension, and add to our tips. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 

Thanks folks for reading this Enablers of change episode. Remember to subscribe if you’d like to know when new episodes are available. And if you’ve found this useful, and you know some people new to extension, feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to subscribe.

Resources

You can read about the APEN mentoring scheme here: https://www.apen.org.au/resources/mentoring 

Enablers of Change episodes to see:

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Roy Murray-Prior
Roy Murray-Prior
1 month ago

Hi. The key word in the first tip is enabling but rather than doing something for them I suggest doing something with them. For implies a service whereas with implies collaboration. That is not to say that doing something for them is very good sometimes, if they have requested it. My other tip is to start a reflection journal. For instance, if you have organised a discussion group, reflect on: what you did before (what might happen, what might be challenges), what happened during (what is happening, how are you dealing with it), what are your thoughts after (immediate reactions… Read more »

Graham Harris
Graham Harris
1 month ago

Great set of tips – Denise and John