Extension achieves change by following a series of simple principles. These aim to improve the capacity of people to change and maintain the momentum of the process.
How these principles are applied differs in each situation as every community is different and every problem has more than one solution. The best approach is the one that works for the community and the extension worker in the most efficient and effective way.
Extension relies on building partnerships where the partners have a common goal and invest in the process. For those involved in the partnership the goal is to achieve a WIN-WIN scenario where all participants benefit. Unless people are benefiting they will quickly loose interest in participating.
Initially the partnership can be quite narrow in the goals the participants have in common but this often broadens as trust and respect develops.
Extension workers sometimes provide additional incentives by helping the community leverage government and industry funding through grants or sponsorships of various kinds. This can be helpful in situations where the broader community gains significant benefit and when there is an important need to accelerate a change process.
People often learn best from people. Extension workers facilitate change by working with people and helping people to work with each other to achieve common goals.
Engagement is important as it involves people interacting with each other. This leads to a greater understanding of issues and the ability to deal with complex problems.
Empowerment involves people taking responsibility for the change process and being committed to achieving a successful outcome.
For extension workers empowering people and communities helps develop a strong partnership that is needed to facilitate change.
People learn best by doing. The more involved people are in the change process, especially in its management, the more they will learn and be committed to achieving a successful outcome.
This principle also applies to communities. Change often involves many people working together. Those who have to carry out the change need to be involved in determining how it is to be done.
If people are to change behaviour they need to understand the need for change and how to go about it. This involves good communication and education processes. As the changes become more complex simple communication of information alone is not enough and more sophisticated approaches to facilitate learning need to be used.
An important distinction between facilitation and extension is that extension involves providing technical support to facilitate change.
An extension worker is usually technically trained and has access to extensive resources that can be used to help the change process.
The technical support also extends to providing advice on the integration of technical knowledge to develop holistic solutions. People and communities do this very well but sometimes need support when complex changes are required involving concepts foreign to them.
The technical support is not a service otherwise the extension worker runs the risk of developing dependencies. If a service is developed it is usually only an interim measure until a local service provider can take over the role.
The extension worker should be able to leave the community and the changes continue to be sustained and evolve.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” (Source: Unknown)
Different cultures sometimes communicate and do things in different ways. To facilitate change extension workers have to manage these differences to ensure they do not impede the change process.
Utilising local resources
Most of what is needed for change often resides within the community. New knowledge and physical resources usually only represents a small part of what is needed in a change process.
Extension workers work with the community to ensure the local knowledge, skills and physical resources are considered and utilised.