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Achieving on-farm practice change through facilitated group learning: Evaluating the effectiveness of monitor farms and discussion groups

Prager, Katrin, Creaney, Rachel
Journal of rural studies 2017 v.56 pp. 1-11
beef, farmers, farms, information exchange, innovation adoption, interviews, learning, Ireland, Scotland
Group extension promises to be more effective than conventional approaches, in particular when combined with participatory approaches, but little is known about how group extension approaches work as part of advisory programmes in a European context and the factors that influence their success. This paper investigates two examples of group extension for knowledge exchange and innovation among farmers: discussion groups within the Beef Technology Adoption Programme (BTAP) in Ireland and monitor farms in Scotland. An analytical framework is developed for the systematic analysis of group extension approaches as embedded in advisory programmes. Drawing on empirical data from qualitative interviews, participant observation and document analysis, we analyse how the design of an extension programme shapes its delivery, its outcomes and the measurability of outcomes. We distinguish levels of learning and adoption, and argue that in general these are higher for discussion groups than for the wider monitor farm participants, although the most substantial practice changes can be expected for the monitor farmer. We conclude that the more structured the group extension approach and the more detailed the programme targets, the more likely it is to achieve the expected (technology adoption) outcomes. However, such a prescriptive programme will struggle to simultaneously encourage farmer-led processes. The more open and flexible the approach, the more potential options for experimenting and learning are created, but this requires farmers to adopt a mindset of being active knowledge creators rather than knowledge consumers, and outcomes are more difficult to measure.