Posts Tagged: Extension 3.0
“Over the last century, agricultural knowledge systems have evolved into networks of widely distributed actors with a diversity of specializations and expertise,” said Lubell, lead author of the research recently published in the journal Society & Natural Resources.
Lubell and his team hope their work will help agriculture extension programs harness the potential of these evolving personal and professional networks and make them explicit components of their outreach strategies.
Since land-grant universities were created in the late 19th century, University of California Cooperative Extension has been the state's main campus-to-community connection that delivers sound, scientific data to growers and ranchers, landowners, environmental groups, and consumers to help develop practical solutions to real-world problems. In the early days, extension specialist shared information in person, meeting with farmers in fields or coffee shops or town halls.
The system has evolved over time, as farming has become more specialized. And the systems still works, said Lubell and coauthors Meredith Niles, UC Davis ecology alumna, and Matthew Hoffman, grower program coordinator with the Lodi Winegrape Commission. But, they argue, it could use an update. They outline a case for what Lubell calls “Extension 3.0,” a modern model for agriculture extension that capitalizes on social learning, information technology, and evolving networks of expertise.
Reviewing 10 years of surveys, Lubell's team studied how California's growers and ranchers make farming decisions and who they turn to for advice. They learned that Cooperative Extension specialists and farm advisers are still primary trusted sources, but respondents are also influenced by pest control advisers, local leaders, commodity groups, sales representatives, fellow farmers, and others.
“Our research provides an empirical layer to support what many Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors already do,” Hoffman said. “It's about making sure information reaches the right people in the right way at the right place and time.”
The authors are not calling to eliminate traditional extension professionals nor suggesting all current outreach strategies be converted to more modern methods like social media, webinars and smartphone applications.
“Instead, Extension 3.0 seeks to understand how personal networks and new information and communication technologies can work together,” Lubell said.
The authors recognize social media is already a part of agricultural extension, and they know they aren't the first to recognize its importance. But they encourage extension programs to formalize social media, information technology, and network science as part of their hiring, training and outreach strategies.
“Extension systems and professionals must be experimental, adaptive and creative with program design and implementation to maximize the synergy between experiential, technical and social learning,” Lubell said.
Aubrey White, communications coordinator for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, says she finds news she can use in “Extension 3.0.”
“Understanding key linkages in a community or area of research can dramatically shorten the distance between knowledge-seekers and knowledge-holders,” White said. “Lubell's article reminds us that extension is not just delivering information, but creating conversation.”
Cooperative Extension specialist Ken Tate, rangeland watershed expert with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, has been a longtime proponent of collaboration and conversation.
“For me, the study reaffirms that we shouldn't abandon what works — face-to-face meetings, for example — but we have to keep building and adopting new components. Content is the key. We need to produce good science and provide practical solutions, and then use the best means possible to make sure that information reaches the people we serve, and helps meet society's needs.”
You can read the full journal article at http://environmentalpolicy.ucdavis.edu/node/321
- Diane Nelson, 530-752-1969, email@example.com
- Mark Lubell, UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy, 530-752-5880, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Matthew Hoffman, Lodi Winegrape Commission, 209-367,4727, email@example.com
As an outreach professional working with the University, I am constantly seeking new ways to engage with the agricultural community, and ways to improve how agricultural knowledge is produced and transmitted. How can solutions to agricultural and sustainability challenges be informed by farmer experience and scientific research together? And how can we best provide specific information when and where it is needed?
In the new publication, “Extension 3.0: Managing Agricultural Knowledge Systems in the Network Age” by Mark Lubell, UC Davis professor of environmental acience and policy, UC Davis ecology alumna Meredith Niles, and Matthew Hoffman of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, I've gleaned some important lessons that can guide my own work and the work of my organization in trying to effectively find solutions to California's agricultural challenges. A few to share include:
- Knowledge is produced and distributed by a network, not an individual. Understanding key linkages in a community or area of research can dramatically shorten the distance between knowledge-seekers and knowledge-holders. Track and understand how farmers and agricultural professionals learn from one another, and understand who they go to for their information and who they trust.
- Boundary-spanning partnerships across different agricultural sectors serve to connect different actors together, building social networks that co-create and distribute knowledge. This practice is common for many. But these partnerships can always grow, and unexpected partners can breathe new life into existing collaborations.
- Online information technologies can be innovative ways to connect and learn, but will never be a substitute for personal and in-person connections. A combination of the two may provide extended platforms for knowledge sharing, and help expand networks.
Lubell's article calls on extension systems and professionals to be “experimental, adaptive, and creative with program design and implementation.” At the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, we are working to integrate some of these principles into our own projects. One effort, the Solution Center for Nutrient Management, will incorporate in-person and online discussions about seasonally-relevant nutrient management topics. Our goals are to create helpful ways for researchers to conduct outreach, improve access to research on nutrient management, and better connect different groups to share their nutrient management knowledge and experience through social networks.
Extension 3.0 offers a strong way to harness all that's developed in the information age and turn it into useful, accessible, and trusted knowledge. Many UC offices are taking up the charge, and we're excited every time a new effort arises.