Extension as Communications


Improving food production and fostering economic development is not just a matter of individuals receiving messages and adopting the ‘right’ technologies, but more to do with altering interdependencies and coordinating the different actor roles. Societal issues arise from multiple localities and at various points in time and bring about a need for extension or ‘communication for innovation’ to develop new patterns of coordinated responses between different sets of people in dynamic environmental settings. 

This theory is an argument for a rethinking of extension considering the challenges for contemporary agriculture, including:

  • Food production and food security in the context of a growing human population with limited rural land resources
  • Poverty alleviation through agricultural development
  • Environmental sustainability of farming systems and multifunctional agriculture
  • The impacts of globalisation and economic competition on market access and livelihoods
  • Agrarian reform on a national scale
  • Consumer concern for food safety, and
  • Intensification and rapid knowledge development in the knowledge society.

It poses that Extension needs to respond to these challenges by reinventing itself by adapting the practice, mission, rationale (including conceptual changes), mode of operation, management and organisation structure.

Improving food production and fostering economic development is not just a matter of individuals receiving messages and adopting the ‘right’ technologies, but more to do with altering interdependencies and coordinating the different actor roles. Societal issues arise from multiple localities and at various points in time, bringing about the need for extension or ‘communication for innovation’ to develop new patterns of coordinated responses between different sets of people in dynamic environmental settings.

Extension is framed as ‘communication for innovation’ intervention.  The main descriptive features of this new framing are it:

Maintains extension as a professional activity

  • Is an intervention
  • Draws heavily on communication strategies to trigger cognitive and practice change with a shift away from education to a focus on learning
  • Places extension as an iterative process rather than a once-only event
  • Is not an isolated process – extension takes place amid other interactions (i.e. a broader context)
  • Has multiple motivations, intensions and aspirations that are not all extension related
  • Is often involved designing new innovations or redesigning of existing ones
  • Is a balanced mixture of social, technical and natural elements and processes, and
  • Is legitimized by attending to a multi-actor problematized situation (i.e. solving such situations usually depends on the activities of several interconnected actors who may have different ideas about what the problem is, and what criteria the solutions should meet).

There are different types of communication services and strategies to draw upon to practice ‘communication for innovation’

Model of basic variables that are relevant to understanding individual farmers’ practices and responses to proposed alternatives- Leeuwis,C. (with contributions by A. Van den Ban) (2004), Communication for rural innovation. Rethinking agricultural extension. Oxford: Blackwell Science. p.66

The role of the communication worker (extension professional) ranges from consultant, counsellor, facilitator, supporter, mediator, organiser and trainer.

The role of the ‘clients’ ranges from active problem owner, active learners, active participants, stakeholder participant, not expecting receiver.

These communication services and functions can be practiced in different ways depending on the mindset adopted (i.e. instrumental or interactive and the division between communication worker and client).

Extension training/communication for innovation training: This provides training to change agents at different levels in organisations with insights and experiences for taking strategic and operational decisions in practice. Training may cover technical, methodological and or management issues.

The main practices model highlights the importance of understanding the social nature of technical-farm practices.

For further information
http://www.share4dev.info/ffsnet/documents/3402.pdf  Leeuwis, C. and Pyburn, R. (2002). Wheelbarrows full of frogs: Social learning in rural resource management: International research and reflections. Assen: Van Gorcum

http://www.modares.ac.ir/uploads/Agr.Oth.Lib.8.pdf  Leeuwis,C. (with contributions by A. Van den Ban) (2004), Communication for rural innovation. Rethinking agricultural extension. Oxford: Blackwell Science. p66.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_DJAWb99Ow  Coherent Rural Innovation? Theory, strategy and practice for challenges in agriculture and natural resource management.  Published on Feb 29, 2012 by Melbourne Univeristy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ro-lyZsEU3k  Professor Cees Lewis. Uploaded on Oct 13, 2010. About his Chairgroup Communication and Innovation Studies of Wageningen University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfqO1luKSpU  Agricultural innovation systems explained.  Find out in 5 minutes what “agricultural innovation system” and “agricultural innovation platform” mean. In this short video, KIT advisors Rhiannon Pyburn, Peter Gildemacher and Femke van der Lee explain the concepts in a way everyone can understand.

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