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Top five journal articles for enablers of change

In today’s blog post we’re going to take you through our top five journal articles for enablers of change. Why do we think journal articles are important? Well it’s because effective enablers of change use research to inform what we do. Journal articles are helpful and can offer ideas we may not have thought about. It’s like having an unofficial mentor to guide you! These articles have helped us, and although this is not an exhaustive list, they are a good starting point. 

So the first one on our list is Understanding and promoting adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders published back in 2006 by David Pannell et al. in the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture. The journal is now called the Animal Production Science journal. The paper isn’t open access but you can buy a copy from the journal website for about $25, or access the preprint version on David’s website (link below). 

The paper provides a review on the adoption of rural innovations.The authors point out that adoption of an innovation will occur when that innovation is seen to help achieve a landholder’s goals. Goals can be economic, social or environmental. Innovations are more likely to be adopted when they are seen to be better than what is currently being done, and the risk of testing and learning about the innovation is low. The authors point out this is why many innovations are not adopted. There is little benefit to doing so. 

This is a great paper because it gives the reasons why some innovations will take off and others will not. It’s a great foundation paper for enablers of change and helping us work through challenges or issues when we’re designing an extension programme. 

The second article on our list is another Australian one, by Frank Vanclay, titled Social principles for agricultural extension to assist in the promotion of natural resource management. In this well written journal article, he lists 27 principles relevant to the promotion of natural resource management. Many of these are obvious once you read them, such as “farmers are not the same” and “the best method of extension is multiple methods”, but this paper is a great primer for those coming in fresh to the extension discipline and a good reminder for some of us who’ve been around a while.

The third article to highlight was this US one by Knowler and Bradshaw from 2007, Farmers’ adoption of conservation agriculture: A review and synthesis of recent research. They summarised the state of research at the time by reviewing 23 studies on adoption of conservation agriculture. They found there were no universally significant variables affecting adoption. Even for variables such as ‘education’ and ‘farm size’ there was no agreement on the influence of these. 

Their results showed that these variables were sometimes significant and influenced adoption of conservation agriculture positively, while other studies showed no influence or negative correlation. They felt this meant that any global, one-size-fits-all approaches would be ineffective. They recommended that there needed to be a targeted approach to promotion of conservation agriculture. This would be where policy was developed with a particular region, and type of farmer in mind. 

This article is worth a read to realise that there is no silver bullet when it comes to extension. And while there are useful principles, the approach for one region and mix of farming may not work for another. 

The fourth article is one that takes us to evaluation of extension. This is Claude Bennett’s Up the hierarchy article published in the Journal of Extension back in 1975. This is the article where he outlined the seven categories of criteria for evaluating extension programmes based on what he called a seven link chain of events. He points out that when you’re thinking about evaluation of an extension activity, the higher up the steps you can gather evidence, the stronger the evidence of impact. So the hierarchy forces you to ask questions about the level you’re aiming for. It’s a very readable article with a great approach to evaluation. In fact, we spent a whole episode on this so if you are interested, we have added the link below. 

And our last article is one that is of definite interest to enablers of change. If, like us, you’ve worked in a range of organisations you will understand the appeal of this paper. If you’ve just started your career and have many years ahead of you in a range of places, then it’s important you understand… Where do all the teaspoons from the tearoom go? This was the subject of Megan Lim et al’s paper, The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute. And we aren’t talking about a lightweight article here. The paper was published in the British Medical Journal, no less! 

Megan Lim and her co-authors discovered that the half-life of a teaspoon was just 81 days. They concluded that the loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid! And they felt this meant that the availability of teaspoons and office culture is continually under threat. You heard it here… make sure you return the teaspoons! Be a responsible enabler of change! Someone who looks after those teaspoons! 

This article is the ultimate in understanding behaviour! We consider this article an exemplar of how to write a good journal article that’s easy to understand. So you have read our list of the top five journal articles. Which article would you add to our list? Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. Add a comment below and share your thoughts with us. 

Thanks folks for reading this Enablers of change blog post. Remember to tell your friends if you’ve liked what you heard, so we can get more people into the conversation about enabling change.


Pannell, D, Marshall, G, Barr, N, Curtis, A, Vanclay, F & Wilkinson, R 2006, ‘Understanding and promoting adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders’, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, vol. 46, no. 11, pp. 1407-1424. Pre-print version is available here: 

Vanclay, F 2004, ‘Social principles for agricultural extension to assist in the promotion of natural resource management’, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 213-222.

Knowler, D & Bradshaw, B 2007, ‘Farmers’ adoption of conservation agriculture: A review and synthesis of recent research’, Food policy, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 25-48. Download PDF 

Bennett, C 1975, ‘Up the hierarchy’, Journal of extension, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 7-12. or click here for the higher quality scanned document

Lim, MS, Hellard, ME & Aitken, CK 2005, ‘The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute’, BMJ, vol. 331, no. 7531, pp. 1498-1500.  

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Roy Murray-Prior
4 years ago

An excellent list. Of course everyone has their own world view. I got a good laugh out of the teaspoon article when someone sent it to me. I wonder though is their suggested solutions show a lack of understanding of the principles of enabling change. However, for me the key missing article is: Tully J 1964, ‘Operational research in agricultural extension in Queensland’, Agricultural Progress, vol. XXXIX, pp. 7-11, which can be found in the bowels of the UQ library or I have an electronic copy if anyone is interested. Joan very clearly and succinctly shows why Roger’s theory is… Read more »

Denise Bewsell
Denise Bewsell
4 years ago

Great list – thanks Roy! And I second the Rockwell and Bennett article – it’s really good. It would have been number six…

Dr. Faheem Khan
Dr. Faheem Khan
4 years ago

Dear Roy,

You may please send me these mentioned articles on my email (, please.

FAheem (Pakistan).

Dr. Faheem Khan
Dr. Faheem Khan
4 years ago

Excellent list of articles

11 months ago

On a totally different theme, perhaps for economists or those who like to use econometrics to examine extension issues a good one that I came across when doing my Master in Ag Econ was: Levins RA 1989, ‘On farmers who solve equations’, Choices, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 8-10, There are plenty of the econometric articles in the literature, but in my opinion, most add very little of interest to extensionists. I see I mentioned Joan before. I still think her stuff is the foundation.

Tony Watson
Tony Watson
11 months ago

Hi John and Denise Another good thought provoker thanks. Would be interested in your thoughts re any changes you’ve noticed in farmer behaviour in the post-covid world in which we are now working. There has been commentary on changes in consumer behaviour generally – wondering if there is anything you could share re extension and adoption. And in relation to the papers you refer to in this edition, do you see any of these that may benefit by revisiting/updating? cheers Tony PS it goes without saying that with less people working in offices there may be changes in teaspoon displacement… Read more »

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