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close this book Agricultural extension
close this folder Providing agricultural support services
close this folder Indirect services
View the document Working with individual farmers
View the document Working with counterparts
View the document Working with groups
View the document Working with cooperatives
View the document Working with local authorities, government or development agencies

Working with counterparts

OVERVIEW

Often extensionists from outside the local community like Peace Corps Volunteers are asked to work with formally-designated counterparts, usually from the agriculture ministry. This is not always the case, and in many instances the relationship between the extensionist and her coworkers is not clear. Working with counterparts in this context means defining a co-worker relationship with whomever the extensionist is working with, regardless of what is being done, as well as figuring out how to work with formal counterparts.

When attempting to provide a service to farmers indirectly, the extensionist is engaged in a process by which she removes herself from the scene as an intermediary. One strategy for replacing oneself to an extent is defining a way of working that allows a farmer to learn how himself. In this instance, the farmers are the extensionists counterparts.

Another strategy is to focus the motivation and develop the skills of the ministry or other counterparts surrounding the extensionist. In essence, the process is the same as when working with the farmer. However, those designated or most likely to act as counterparts to extensionists are ministry agricultural technicians. These technicians have far different interests, backgrounds, aspirations and motivations than those of small-scale farmers.

The first step in defining a healthy working relationship with a counterpart is to research the counterparts interests, background, etc. Even before this, the impetus of indirect service demands that in every extension activity performed, the extensionist actively seek out and identify the appropriate counterpart, and work toward the establishment of a long-term co-working relationship.

Who, then, is the extensionist's counterpart? Very often, the person is an agriculture ministry or development agency technician. A representative profile of formal counterparts to volunteers in Sierra Leone is included as an ILLUSTRATION to suggest what an agricultural technician may be like. It is extremely important for the extensionist to remember that no two counterparts are alike, and the extensionist's expectations of a counterpart should be based on an understanding of the particular person, not a set of preconceptions.

What can be expected of a counterpart? Perhaps they can be counted upon to be cultural informants, expert in local cultural affairs and language. Counterparts are usually skilled in local or traditional technologies as well (use of the machete, plowing with a bullock, etc). Often, they have special training in some specific technical aspect of agriculture, as well as a certain amount of formal education. Thus the typical counterpart is bi-cultural, bi-lingual and familiar with both traditional farming and modern agriculture. The insights derived from such attributes are rich and useful. (See TOOLS for a representative list of those areas in which counterparts can help extensionists.)

Where possible every extension task should be accomplished with a local co-worker of some kind. An extensionists's habit of counterparting serves to reinforce an expectation of active participation on the part of farmers and ministry co-workers, just as habitual planning with local people conjures up the expectation that they will be consulted in planning changes. Counterparting is a discipline to cultivate.

Planning requires some formal effort when working with others. In working with counterparts, extensionists should engage in some form of "contracting" process. The contract is an agreement as to what needs to be done and who should do what by when. The method and results can be agreed upon as well. Obviously, as a relationship develops these agreements may become assumptions, but they must be defined clearly at first. The contracting process helps make cooperation practical, minimizes misunderstandings, and helps keep work with others orderly and efficient. The contracting process, outlined in TOOLS, can take five minutes when a task is familiar to those involved. However, it must be tailored to local cultural patterns.

Neither counterparts nor American pare-professional extensionists are always equipped to do complex technical tasks. There are several ways to help counterparts learn new skills and knowledge. Theoretical sessions can be set up in which the extensionist plays the role of the teacher and the counterpart hears a lecture or reads a technical reference in preparation for discussion with the extensionist. These can even be regularly scheduled and reciprocal, where the roles are reversed.

Practical learning situations can be designed, too. Setting up a demonstration can be the occasion to teach a counterpart how to practice a technical task. Performing gardening or farm tasks with counterparts transforms them simultaneously into "indirect services" in the form of counterpart training. An extensionist gradually develops this other habit of structuring the accomplishment of direct services as learning situations for counterparts by contracting beforehand and transferring responsibility step by step.

The best way to promote and reinforce learning is to ask counterparts to teach others. Extensionists facilitate this by learning from counterparts, as well as by setting up situations where counterparts train farmers in new skills.

Just as with farmers, transferring responsibilities to counterparts and defining the limits of the extensionist's role contribute greatly to the process of working together. The sense of accomplishment which a counterpart can feel as a result of doing something himself serves to motivate him greatly. The organizational benefit of transferring the responsibility for doing a task from a planner (extensionist) to a competent co-worker (counterpart) is that more work can be accomplished. The delegation of specific jobs as on-going responsibilities is a more structured way to capacitate counterparts.

According to experience, increased competency and interest, a counterpart can be assigned as specialist within the scope of work at an extension station. For example, a counterpart who likes to travel and organize things may be a good procurements officer. Perhaps an extensionist notices that her counterpart is quick with numbers, respected by the local community, and less inclined to travel or physical labor. This person could be designated store-keeper. Another technician who is a skilled expert at certain technical tasks or an exceptional teacher may be best suited to train farmers by conducting method/ result demonstrations. (See TOOLS for a longer list of possible counterpart specialties.)

The natural consequence of the increased motivation and competence of the extensionist's counterparts is a re-definition of the extensionist's role. Freed from the execution of various tasks, the extensionist can more effectively plan, carry out and evaluate work or branch out into new endeavors. The complementary roles of extensionist and counterpart evolve throughout a working relationship toward the goal of skilled co-workers ready to replace the extensionist as thoroughly as possible. In this way, support for small-scale farmers is institutionalized on a local level.

ILLUSTRATION

(Taken from Sierra Leone Peace Corps Small Farm Project Description)

In Sierra Leone, PCV extensionists work with these formallydesignated counterparts:

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) Agriculture Instructors, Agro-technicians (AT) and Field Assistants (FA).

Generally, AT's and FA's come from the following backgrounds:

Agro-Technicians:

• Form III (third year of high school) or higher;

• Generally better educated than an FA, but sometimes without very strong English skills, and limited in sciences.

• Has received six months agricultural training at either an agricultural or a rural training institute. Those who attended Makali or Mange training before 1977 were trained by the Chinese, and their training had a heavy emphasis on swamp development and rice culture. Those attending later had a more general course of instruction, possibly including: rice culture, vegetables, extension, farm management, poultry, surveying, soils, tree crops, and others.

Field Assistants:

• Secondary school leavers (lower classes of high school)

• Generally limited English in both oral and written expression

• Little formal agricultural training; perhaps an MAF farmer training certificate.

These are very general descriptions, as individual backgrounds and experience vary considerably. Take time to find out about your counterpart's background in detail. Often, PCV-AI's have learned too late that their counterparts have skills which could have been useful to local farmers had they been aware of them. In deference to your position as his supervisor, your counterpart may not let you know what she can do unless you ask.

Special interests or skills which could be useful at an extension site include:

store or record keeping

demonstration swamps

gardening

technology using local materials

palm wine tapping

rice varieties

livestock management

Obviously, this is not a fully inclusive list, only a beginning. The particular demands of working in your area (and with you) may require other skills.

TOOL

Partial list of special tasks/roles counterparts can play at extension stations:

a. store keeper

b. procurements officer

c. method/result demonstrator (farmer trainer)

d. mechanic

e. surveyor

f. work company overseer

g. result demonstration supervisor

TOOL

AIDS FOR GIVING AND RECEIVING FEEDBACK

(US Dept Health & Human Services Training of Trainers Manual)

Some of the most important data we can receive from others (or give to others) consists of feedback related to our behavior. Such feedback can provide learning opportunities for each of us if we can use the reactions of others as a mirror for observing the consequences of our behavior. Such personal data feedback helps to make us more aware of what we do and how we do it, thus increasing our ability to modify and change our behavior and to become more effective in our interactions with others.

To help us develop and use the techniques of feedback for personal growth, it is necessary to understand certain characteristics of the process. The following is a brief outline of some factors which may assist us in making better use of feedback, both as the giver and the receiver of feedback. This list is only a starting point. You may wish to add further items to it.

1. Focus feedback on behavior rather than the person

It is important that we refer to what a person does rather than comment on what we imagine he is. This focus on behavior further implies that we use adverbs (which relate to actions) rather than adjectives (which relate to qualities) when referring to a person. Thus we might say a person "talked considerably in this meeting," rather than that this person "is a loudmouth." When we talk in terms of "personality traits" it implies inherited constant qualities difficult, if not impossible, to change. Focusing on behavior implies that it is something related to a specific situation that might be changed. It is less threatening to a person to hear comments on his behavior than his "traits."

2. Focus feedback on observations rather than inferences

Observations refer to what we can see or hear in the behavior of another person, while inferences refer to interpretations and conclusions which we make from what we see or hear. In a sense, inferences of conclusions about a person contaminate our observations, thus clouding the feedback for another person. When inferences or conclusions are shared and it may be valuable to have this data, it is important that they be so identified.

3. Focus feedback on description rather than judgment

The effort to describe represents a process for reporting what occurred, while judgment refers to an evaluation in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, nice or not nice. The judgments arise out of a personal frame of reference or values, whereas description represents neutral (as far as possible) reporting.

4. Focus feedback on descriptions of behavior which are in terms of "more or less" rather than in terms of "either-or"

The ''more or less'' terminology implies a continuum on which any behavior may fall, stressing quantity, which is objective and measurable, rather than quality, which is subjective and judgmental. Thus, participation of a person may fall on a continuum from low participation to high participation, rather than "good" or "bad" participation. Not to think in terms of "more or less" and the use of continua is to trap ourselves into thinking in categories, which may then represent serious distortions or reality.

5. Focus feedback on behavior related to a specific situation, preferably to the "here and now. rather than to behavior in the abstract, placing it in the "there and then.

What you and I do is always tied in some way to time and place, and we increase our understanding of behavior by keeping it tied to time and place. Feedback is generally more meaningful if given as soon as appropriate after the observation or reactions occur, thus keeping it concrete and relatively free of distortions that come with the lapse of time.

6. Focus feedback on the sharing of ideas and information rather than on giving advice

By sharing ideas and information we leave the person free to decide for himself, in the light of his own goals in a particular situation at a particular time, how to use the ideas and the information. When we give advice we tell him what to do with the information, and in that sense we take away his freedom to determine for himself what is for him the most appropriate course of action.

7. Focus feedback on exploration of alternatives rather than answers or solutions

The more we can focus on a variety of procedures and means for the attainment of a particular goal, the less likely we are to accept prematurely a particular answer or solution--which may or may not fit our particular problem. Many of us go around with a number of answers and solutions for which there are no problems.

8. Focus feedback on the value it may have to the recipient, not on the value or "release" that it provides the person giving the feedback

The feedback provided should serve the needs of the recipient rather than the needs of the giver. Help and feedback need to be given and heard as an offer, not an imposition.

9. Focus feedback on the amount of information that the person receiving it can use, rather than on the amount that you have which you might like to give

To overload a person with feedback is to reduce the possibility that he may use what he receives effectively. When we give more than can be used we may be satisfying some need for ourselves rather than helping the other person.

10. Focus feedback on time and place so that personal data can be shared at appropriate times

Because the reception and use of personal feedback involves many possible emotional reactions, it is important to be sensitive to when it is appropriate to provide feedback. Excellent feedback presented at an inappropriate time may do more harm than good.

11. Focus feedback on what is said rather than why it is said

The aspects of feedback which relate to the what, how, when, where, of what is said are observable characteristics. The why of what is said takes us from the observable to the inferred, and brings up questions of "motive" or "intent."

It may be helpful to think of "why" in terms of a specifiable goal or goals--which can then be considered in terms of time, place, procedures, probabilities of attainment, etc. To make assumptions about the motives of the person giving feedback may prevent us from hearing or cause us to distort what is said. In short, if I question "why" a person gives me feedback, I may not hear what he says.

In short, the giving (and receiving) or feedback requires courage, skill, understanding, and respect for self and others.

 

TOOL

Contracting Process (steps to follow)

a. getting acquainted

b. sharing expectations of each other and the task at hand

c. discussion of expectations to verify or adjust them

d. negotiation of plans, work style and method, and results expected

e. agreement on plans and details of work

f. agreement on roles, responsibilities and when to meet to check results.

NOTE

This process is conceptual. That is, these steps are ideas about reaching understandings and agreeing on roles. In each cultural setting these steps must be done the way custom suggests. The idea of working consciously to clarify assumptions must take a local and acceptable form.