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Outreach lessons for the information age

Researchers, farmers, and agricultural professionals learn from one another in discussion at a recent field day.
In the information age, helpful information can be amazingly hard to find. Certainly for agriculture, the landscape is rife with expertise, experience, and knowhow. But connecting to the knowledge and linking knowledge-seekers with knowledge-holders can feel like an imperfect science. Research relevant to one crop may be irrelevant to the more than 300 crops grown in California. The unique experience of an individual farmer can be difficult to transfer to another.  

As an outreach professional working with the University, I am constantly seeking new ways to engage with the agricultural community, and ways to improve how agricultural knowledge is produced and transmitted. How can solutions to agricultural and sustainability challenges be informed by farmer experience and scientific research together? And how can we best provide specific information when and where it is needed?

In the new publication, “Extension 3.0: Managing Agricultural Knowledge Systems in the Network Age” by Mark Lubell, UC Davis professor of environmental acience and policy, UC Davis ecology alumna Meredith Niles, and Matthew Hoffman of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, I've gleaned some important lessons that can guide my own work and the work of my organization in trying to effectively find solutions to California's agricultural challenges. A few to share include:

  • Knowledge is produced and distributed by a network, not an individual. Understanding key linkages in a community or area of research can dramatically shorten the distance between knowledge-seekers and knowledge-holders. Track and understand how farmers and agricultural professionals learn from one another, and understand who they go to for their information and who they trust.
  • Boundary-spanning partnerships across different agricultural sectors serve to connect different actors together, building social networks that co-create and distribute knowledge. This practice is common for many. But these partnerships can always grow, and unexpected partners can breathe new life into existing collaborations.
  • Online information technologies can be innovative ways to connect and learn, but will never be a substitute for personal and in-person connections. A combination of the two may provide extended platforms for knowledge sharing, and help expand networks.

Lubell's article calls on extension systems and professionals to be “experimental, adaptive, and creative with program design and implementation.” At the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, we are working to integrate some of these principles into our own projects. One effort, the Solution Center for Nutrient Management, will incorporate in-person and online discussions about seasonally-relevant nutrient management topics. Our goals are to create helpful ways for researchers to conduct outreach, improve access to research on nutrient management, and better connect different groups to share their nutrient management knowledge and experience through social networks.

Extension 3.0 offers a strong way to harness all that's developed in the information age and turn it into useful, accessible, and trusted knowledge. Many UC offices are taking up the charge, and we're excited every time a new effort arises.

Learn more from the article, and connect with Mark Lubell, Matthew Hoffman, and Meredith Niles on Twitter.    

Posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Comments:

1.
Great article, Aubrey, and thanks for highlighting this work. I agree with your three take-home lesson bullets- concrete, concise reminders that also guide my work. We're fortunate to have so many colleagues here at ANR that are seeking to harness an overwhelming amount of info and deliver it in a way we can all use.  
The newer statewide UCANR California Naturalist Program that I work for is also trying to develop our network and community of practice, understand the key linkages that tie the community together, and create boundary spanning relationships in natural resource education and stewardship. We're very excited about our first in-person statewide meeting in October.

Posted by Brook Gamble on September 24, 2014 at 12:24 PM

2.
Driving up the 99, the grape plants are covered with plastic - green, black, white. Why?

Posted by Sandy L. Starkey on October 13, 2014 at 3:16 PM

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