|Improving agricultural extension. A reference manual. (1997)|
|Part II - Improving extension programmes and processes|
|Chapter 8 - Selecting appropriate content and methods in programme delivery|
As noted in chapter 2, a number of different approaches can be used to organize and deliver extension programmes. The approach selected by a national extension organization should reflect its prescribed mission as articulated by policy makers, but it may also be influenced by donor agencies. In the final analysis, the type of approach being used will depend primarily on policy considerations, including the clientele to be served, the mission of extension, and financial considerations. In addition, the type of approach being followed will directly affect how programmes are delivered at the field level. Therefore, the reader is reminded that the process of implementing extension programmes is carried out in the context of and affected by the particular extension approach pursued by the national extension organization.
With regard to appropriateness of content used in these different approaches, Albrecht et al. (1989) provide a useful typology. They contend that all extension approaches can be classified as either production technology approaches or problem-solving approaches. Production technology approaches tend to emphasize the production targets more than the clientele; technologies used in these approaches are more concerned with addressing production issues than clientele-related problems. Timmer (1982) said that these approaches are geared to produce technoeconomic information and favour the larger, more commercial farmers. The small farmers because of their disadvantaged situation do not receive the full benefits from these approaches. The commodity-focussed approach and the technology-centred approach are examples of production technology approaches.
In problem-solving approaches, the clientele participate in defining their problem. Although these approaches use technoeconomic information, the socioeconomic considerations of the clientele stand out as important issues. For small farmers, this allows for the development of more appropriate content. The training and visit, community development-cum-extension, and animation rurale approaches fall into this category.
As stated earlier, extension's clientele is a heterogeneous group of people differentiated by resources, gender, age, and ethnicity. Communication theories indicate that the trickle-down effect of agricultural innovations rarely takes place among heterogeneous groups, and when it occurs, it does so at an extremely slow pace. Given this under-standing, it is therefore imperative to identify homogeneous categories within those groups of clientele in order to facilitate the effective transfer of technology.
The strategy is therefore to develop homogeneous groups of clientele to target extension programmes. The targeting of these groups should be done within the broader groups already defined, namely, agroecological zone, access to resources, women, youth, ethnicity, access to information, and age. Extension programmes should then be developed for each of the targeted categories (Swanson et al., 1984). For instance, special programmes should be developed for women which recognize their importance in the agricultural sector, take account of their informal communication network, and analyse their farm-home work schedule. In the case of programmes directed at ethnic groups, efforts should be targeted to the sociocultural factors which distinguish the group. Language, food preferences, and religious beliefs are among the important points that should be taken into consideration. In addition, extension officers in developing extension programmes should be guided by principles of learning and a knowledge of the diffusion process.
The Learning Process
Extensionists must be reminded that above all they are educators, and in pursuit of that function, they need to grasp the basic principles of learning and to understand the effectiveness of some teaching methods.
Learning is facilitated by the use of the senses. The more senses that are used, the more accelerated will be the learning. Use of this principle will assist extensionists in selecting methods which will provide an educational experience for their clientele. This will be achieved through setting up an environment and structuring the situation so as to stimulate the desired type of reaction.
Learning is also conditioned by the motivation and the abilities of the learner; thus it is important to create an environment conducive to learning, one in which the learners become more responsible for the outcome of their experience. This can be achieved through the selection of teaching methods and supporting material. The less abstract these methods, the more the learner will participate, and the more effective will be the educational experience. For example, if farmers are not performing a task effectively, then it will be much more effective to organize a method demonstration than a lecture or group meeting.
The Adoption Process
The other important consideration in selecting methods for the delivery of appropriate content is an understanding of the adoption process. Lionberger (1968) contended that the adoption process consisted of five distinct stages: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. According to Lionberger, the individual in the process goes through each stage within a definable time period. Later works by Lionberger and others have shown that these stages are not as distinct as he first proposed and that some of the stages may become condensed within the individual cognitive processes, thus making them unrecognizable as a behaviour which can be measured over time.
Although, in some instances, the steps in the adoption process may not be recognizable, yet the model provides a useful guideline for selecting extension methods in programme delivery. For instance, in the awareness stage, knowledge of the innovation is critical to the individual. Mass media and popular theatre are the preferred methods because they can reach many people at the same time. In using the mass media, extensionists must pay attention to the characteristics of the audience targeted. For instance, in multiracial societies, an ethnic group with a special language may require programming in that language. The other method, popular theatre, although reaching only smaller audiences, is a very effective means of building awareness because it uses the popular language and rhythms of the people in presenting content to its audiences.
In the interest stage of the adoption process, knowledge continues to be important, but building a positive attitude towards the innovation becomes the critical issue. For this reason, the desired methods should include information strengthening and attitude building as their goal. These methods should use the senses of hearing and sight, either individually or collectively. Group meetings, group discussions, and radio forums are recommended for strengthening knowledge, while field days and farm visits will allow individuals to see what they have been hearing, thus providing the opportunity for building the desired attitude towards the innovation.
Evaluation is the most critical stage in the adoption process, because the outcome usually determines whether or not individuals proceed to the trial and adoption stages. At this stage, people need to match knowledge against facts. Farmers need to be assured that what they heard and saw are indeed workable. Result demonstration, farmer exchange, and field days are recommended because they allow individuals to reinforce their interest by viewing tangible evidence. Within this group of methods, farmer exchange is an important method. Farmers selected for the exchange should be further advanced in the adoption process and within the same reference group as the visiting farmers. These types of experiences allow for the removal of doubts. Some skill training may be necessary at this stage to facilitate the individual's progression to the trial stage.
At the trial stage, the farmer's technical and management skill should be the main area to be targeted. The individual visit becomes the most preferred method at this stage, and the needs of individual farmers must be taken into consideration. This means that the extension officer will have to develop a plan for each individual farmer or group of farmers in similar situations. The extensionist has to remember that, although similar farmers are adopting similar techniques, the problems experienced are not always the same. At this stage, methods for reinforcing the farmers' interest by the use of farmer exchange and skill training can be useful in helping individuals to continue adopting.
Once the farmers start adopting, extension should continue to support their efforts. Recognition programmes and farmers' competition can be used to encourage farmers to continue adopting. The goals and criteria for these methods should be carefully developed so as not to bring out any negative effects because of poor planning and implementation.
The recommended methods for the different stages of adoption are summarized in Figure 1. To achieve the maximum results from the methods selected at the different stages, extension officers must bring to bear their understanding of the learning process. For instance, in group meetings the extension officer can use a lecture format, supported with a video, and followed with group discussions.
In the final analysis, the method chosen will depend on the goal, resources, clientele relationship, and skills of the extension officers on the one hand, and on the size and educational level of the target group on the other hand. For instance, if extension officers lack the skills to organize and facilitate group meetings, then they will shy away from their use. Or if extension officers do not have vehicles, then they may not be able to conduct farm visits as frequently as might be desired or needed. Also, if the extension officer's constituency is very large, then it may become impractical to depend too much on individual visits.
As a guide in the selection of extension methods, Van Den Ban and Hawkins (1985) provide us with a useful set of criteria to judge whether the method is well chosen:
1. Is the chosen method adapted to whether we wish to change knowledge, skills, attitude, or behaviour?
2. Are the educational activities clearly specified so that we know what the farmer will see, hear, discuss, and carry out?
3. Are the different methods integrated in such a way that they reinforce each other?
4. Does the planned time scale make it possible to carry out all of these activities well?
5. When choosing learning activities, has the extensionist adequately considered the needs, skills, and means of the target group?