Transformative learning: new directions in agricultural extension and education

4th – 7th July 2017, Chania (Greece)

23RD EUROPEAN SEMINAR
ON EXTENSION (AND) EDUCATION

Topics

The International Scientific Steering Committee suggests submissions on the following themes (this list is not exclusive; proposals on other relevant themes within Extension and Education can also be submitted):

 

  1. Transition for sustainability and the role of agricultural extension and agricultural education

Agricultural education and extension are deemed to be key vis-à-vis the transition to more sustainable forms of agriculture, including economic, social and environmental considerations and trade-offs. Therefore, education and extension approaches and modes, along with their relationships with research, have to be transformed in order to be able to foster learning and double-loop learning and, thus, facilitating farmers to deal with relevant challenges. However, such a transformation faces numerous barriers since, on the one hand, both extension and education are largely locked-in within the productivist model of agriculture and, on the other hand, have to face controversial demands. Therefore, theoretical considerations as well as practice examples concerning necessary changes/ transformations of agricultural education and extension are sought.

 

  1. Pluralistic agricultural extension in a rapidly changing world: diversification, sustainability and marginality

Nowadays the old, public extension systems have largely given way to pluralistic extension services/ providers nested within a wide variety of Agricultural (Knowledge and) Innovation Systems (AKIS/ AIS). Pluralistic extension systems have to deal with a wide range of problematic situations and address specific groups of farmers and their needs. Therefore, pluralistic extension systems have to take care of issues such as poverty, equity, distribution, changes in the countryside, etc. In parallel, they have to address a highly diversified and controversial world: a wide range of farming models with their ethical and political dimensions, tensions between public expectations and farmers’ needs and projects, new connections between farmers and (urban) consumers as well as between farmers and businesses, urban farming, etc. and, especially, marginal and part-time farmers, young farmers and new-entrants into farming. Moreover, such considerations can be extended to include the way such pluralistic extension systems are organised themselves as well as integrated parts of AKIS/AIS. Examples of how pluralistic extension services cope with such issues are welcome.

 

  1. New roles, capacities and methods for extension in emergent innovation and entrepreneurship models

Extension/advisory systems, conceived as an integrated part of Agricultural (Knowledge and) Innovation Systems (AKIS/ AIS), face new theoretical and practical challenges. Such challenges relate to the change of paradigm (i.e. the shift from transfer to ‘intermediation’) and the new roles of advisors as facilitators/ brokers (networking, linking, conflict management, vision building, etc.). In this respect, extension systems need to enhance the interfaces between research/advisors/farmers as well as with a wide variety of other stakeholders; they also need to properly utilise participatory methodologies for the co-generation, adaptation, and use of innovations at scale. Additionally, entrepreneurship has emerged as an issue of importance. In this vein, the EU has launched the European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI) thus providing a framework to connect local multi-actor groups via thematic networks on global challenges to research programmes with transdisciplinary research approaches. The EU agricultural policy supports so called Operational Groups (OGs), that is, “multi-actor” groups that work locally on an innovation project. Examples of innovative models and methods (EIP and beyond) along with new roles for advisors are welcome.

 

  1. Rural communication and the Big Data revolution

Big data, i.e. large amounts of numerical and textual data, are being generated every day in industry, business and research. In parallel, there is a great potential of using ICTs for communication, knowledge sharing and preservation of information and, thus, to stimulate social interaction and multi-actor innovation. However, there are still important barriers which need to overcome to obtain full use of ICTs and the exploitation of Big Data. These barriers are technical, organisational and psychological. Access may not be possible on the part of farmers due to lack of reliable and fast Internet connections, personal and cultural reservations, limited availability of appropriate information (including the lack of appropriate extension services through ICTs), etc. Therefore, it is important for both agricultural education and agricultural extension to take care of issues such as the selection of relevant, easy-access, user-friendly ICT tools, courses and demonstrations of good examples to reduce such problems. They therefore can provide support in raising awareness in the agricultural community, facilitate the use of tools and environments via training, the formation of online communities as well as the involvement of farmers in projects (including the building of smart tools), etc. They can also act as a filter vis-à-vis information overload and misinformation, translate data into meaningful knowledge as well as to create their own data repositories guaranteeing availability, permanency, quality, right of use and interoperability. On the other hand, they may encourage researchers to become engaged. Papers on theoretical issues and case studies addressing the way agricultural education and extension (can) facilitate farmers to build tools and utilize Big Data and ICTs are welcome.

 

  1. Agricultural education in a rapidly changing world: competence assessment and strengthening, transdisciplinarity and internationalisation

Nowadays, new collaboration models emerge in fields such as (sustainable) agricultural and rural development, extension/advisory services, peer learning networks (e.g., enabled through social media, EU-FRAS), businesses, etc. Therefore, agricultural education has to find ways to link its theory and practice to the theory and practice of extension regarding interactive innovation. This, in turn, requires new competencies on the part of both teachers and students. Towards such ends, new activities in agricultural schools may include, among others, the building of new, transdisciplinary curricula, experiential learning via on-farm lessons and practicums, international student, teacher and advisor exchange programmes, the integration of young farmers’ education with EIP-AGRO and the use of new media. Furthermore, with the EU, as well as beyond it, cross-border collaboration is encouraged; successful cross-border cooperation can strengthen the national agricultural education systems and create a real European ‘market’ for agricultural education, science, research and development. In such a case the need for developing cross-cultural agricultural education emerges. On the other hand, agricultural education has to face problems such as maintaining a minimum of farming basic education infrastructure under conditions of demographic change with farming families being a minority in the village community, supporting under-privileged target groups such as semi-subsistence farmers under conditions of new rural poverty in Europe, and become integrated into standard village primary and secondary schools’ curricula. Best practice examples on the abovementioned issues are welcome.

 

  1. Upgrading and upskilling extension systems: transformation or new wine in old bottles?

The functions of agricultural extension systems have changed a great deal over the past few decades, with less emphasis on the dissemination of information and technologies and more on the development of critical skills, facilitation of co-innovation and the provision of brokering mechanisms between stakeholders. This requires very different skills sets from extension officers and different institutional structures from extension systems. Papers are invited that share and analyse experiences of the processes involved and achievements made in the transition of extension systems and officers to serve these different functions.

 

  1. Monitoring and evaluation of advisory services: old challenges and new frameworks

Monitoring and Evaluation of agricultural extension has traditionally focused around the impact of programs on users of technologies or new management approaches.  It has mostly followed a pre-determined view of what the desired capacity gains, adoption and impacts would be.  With an increasing emphasis on co-innovation, facilitation and brokering roles, the emphasis needs to shift to capture how well the process is working in bringing together the key parties and how this is impacting on problem/opportunity definition, collaboration, innovation, adaptation and change. A key question is how the process is contributing to novel solutions and benefits beyond traditional and pre-determined adoption objectives. Papers addressing methodological issues or presenting the results of (novel) monitoring and evaluation processes of advisory services are welcome.