Australia Interested in eXtension

Recently, USDA-NIFA asked Dan Cotton, Executive Director, eXtension, to serve as a Visiting Fellow to Farm Services (FS), Department of Primary Services, Victoria, Australia (DPIV).

DPI’s interest in eXtension relates to the success the U.S. Cooperative Extension System has had in developing eXtension as a national Internet-based collaborative network to address the needs of U.S. agricultural audiences.

DPI is interested in learning how eXtension has been and continues to be implemented and key lessons learned, lessons that can help inform their own strategies and methodologies in leading and brokering a knowledge management model in Victoria and perhaps greater Australia. Presentations were shared with the various branches of Farm Services including Meat & Wool, Horticulture, Grains and Dairy, as well as agricultural industry partners, University of Melbourne faculty and DPI officials.

As a result, conversations between leaders of certain eXtension Communities of Practice and Farm Services branch leaders are occurring and plans are underway for DPI to learn more about how to establish, organize and develop Communities of Practice.

With regard to eXtension lessons learned, the following were shared with DPI:
• We (eXtension) underestimated what it would take to change the culture within Cooperative Extension. It’s a shift from an industrial age to an information-age model.
• Only now are some institutions beginning to see evidence of how impactful Communities of Practice are in serving consumers/customers.
• We underestimated the time and effort needed to train people about working in new and different ways using technology. This is also true with regard to directors seeing the value and benefits eXtension has to offer.
• Informal feedback shows those outside of Cooperative Extension see eXtension as a very innovative part of Cooperative Extension.
• We’ve had greater success when Communities of Practice form on their own versus when Cooperative Extension has tried to form them around key issues. Successful Communities of Practice demonstrate passion and a commitment to their work, and there is always a champion.
• We must continually upgrade software and integrate organizational values. Develop and deploy, develop and deploy…nothing is ever finished. We continually improve services for Communities of Practice.
• Invest in open vs. closed systems. Open involves a community developing and sharing, closed involves proprietary approaches resulting in too much control and unnecessary (sometimes prohibitive) costs.

There are a number of advantages for Cooperative Extension in supporting a partnership with Australia. The U.S. government has strong and historic ties to Australia and globalization is of growing importance to our nation. Certain Communities of Practice are interested in exploring international collaboration as a possible way to strengthen domestic programming, and such a partnership could lead to new professional development opportunities. Finally, there may be interest in adopting certain eXtension technologies, i.e., Ask an Expert system to support local audiences.