Have you ever wondered what method or approach is best for a successful extension program? There is some evaluation work done on individual extension projects, but what do we know about the impact of using different extension approaches? In this episode we’re going to go through a recent paper exploring this very topic.
Last year there was an interesting paper published called “Selecting methods of agricultural extension to support diverse adoption pathways: a review and case studies” (Nettle et al., 2022). In the paper, the authors investigate the evidence of the effectiveness of different methods of agricultural extension in facilitating change on-farm. They defined methods of agricultural extension as interventions that are designed to support voluntary change. They argued that considering different extension methods and their implementation is critical to the adoption process and a shared responsibility in the agricultural innovation system.
There were nine methods investigated, namely:
- facilitated groups/ farmer-led groups/ small group learning
- technology development
- information provision
- consultancy/ one-to-one
- best management practice frameworks
- social marketing.
The method used was a structured literature review and meta-analysis. Nettle et al. (2022) narrowed down the literature to 96 articles that were fully reviewed and added two case studies of extension approaches in the Australian dairy industry.
For each of the extension methods the form of adoption impacts attributed to that method and the critical success factors were documented. For example, for facilitated groups or farmer-led groups, what’s noted as the impact from the literature is:
- Increased financial returns
- Increased profitability
- Increased likelihood of adoption
- Change in attitudes towards practices
- Increased knowledge and skills
- Accelerated adoption
- Change in social acceptance of change and
- Increased farmer empowerment.
Critical success factors for this extension method are:
- Encouraging a research culture that is participatory and relevant
- Involving multiple actors in exchanging knowledge (including friends and family)
- Finding ways of communicating with farmers through informal networks
- Investing in trained facilitators
- Recruiting peer champions
- Trying to avoid prescribed approaches that reduce farmer autonomy and
- Realising that some farmers won’t participate in group based learning.
Aside from the table summarising the details just mentioned for each extension method, there are two other useful parts to the paper. The first is a framework for assessing the relative strength of extension methods depending on the context for change on-farm. This reflects that some extension methods will be better when there is less uncertainty and change is uncontested, as opposed to situations where there is complexity, uncertainty or long timeframes for change. For example, when there is certainty, then training, information provision and access, one-on-one, e-extension, best management practices and social marketing have a stronger impact. This is a really helpful framework for thinking through the most appropriate extension methods for the situation we’re in. The second useful part to the paper is an overview of different strategies that can be used to combine extension methods. These are stacking, linking and networking.
Stacking refers to combining multiple methods within a single project or intervention, and often can be used to provide a learning journey for farmers. Linking is providing multiple extension methods that enable different points of access and ways to engage that suit the different ways farmers choose to engage with extension. Networking is where multiple extension methods are supported by a range of organisations. They are able to refer farmers to other resources or organisations to meet their needs effectively. This is a really helpful way of thinking about the design of extension programs and gives us some points on what has already been tried and worked.
We thought this paper was worth highlighting for you. We felt there were two key messages. The first was reinforcing the idea that there are no silver bullets! When you look through the assessment of different extension methods and their impact, we can see what might be useful for us and maybe where we might have overlooked a potentially useful extension method.
And the second was the assessment of how different extension methods perform in different circumstances. It’s a handy ready reckoner for thinking about what might work best when we’re designing extension projects.
Let’s go back to our starting question… Is there a best method for doing extension? Well, from this paper it depends on the context we are working in and choosing the most appropriate mix of approaches. It reminds us of Frank Vanclay’s quote about extension, that the best method of extension is multiple methods!
Well, you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us about your experiences with choosing different extension methods. Have you found any other useful information in this space or do you have 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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Nettle, R., Major, J., Turner, L., & Harris, J. (2022). Selecting methods of agricultural extension to support diverse adoption pathways: a review and case studies. Animal Production Science. Available online