What is extension

Extension is about working with people in a community to facilitate change in an environment that has social, economic and technical complexity. This is achieved by helping people gain the knowledge and confidence so they want to change and providing support to ensure it is implemented effectively.

In extension the community may consist of any group of people with a common interest such as a town, region, industry, supply chain, catchment or a social grouping with a common problem.

Extension relies on the commitment of the community to the change process so any collaboration needs to be meaningful otherwise little will be achieved. As trust and respect develops the common goals can be expanded and the partnership will become more productive.

Some behaviour can be changed quite easily by simply informing people of a better option in a way that is appealing. In these instances changing poses little risk. Organisations use marketing and other communication techniques extensively to influence simple behaviour change.

Extension focuses on change in more complex environments where the risk of failure is greater and people need to develop the capacity to change.

The need for capacity building distinguishes extension from many other change management approaches such as marketing. 

An important part of building capacity is empowering people in the community to take responsibility for the change process. People who invest their time and resources will be more committed to achieving a successful outcome for themselves and their community.

Change also requires understanding of what needs to be done and why. Communities need to be educated so they can make informed decisions. This involves people learning from their peers, their own activities and accessing new sources of knowledge.

The learning process helps build community knowledge that improves decision-making and this leads to a better extension outcome.

An extension worker facilitates the change process in a community by:
  • Helping people to work together more effectively and to establish a common commitment to the goals
  • Assisting people to better utilise existing knowledge, skills and resources
  • Facilitating access to new knowledge which resides outside the community
  • Encouraging people to take responsibility for the change process
  • Working with the community to identify barriers to progress and developing, with the community, ways of overcoming them
By harnessing the collective knowledge, skills and resources of all those involved extension greatly increases the probability of a successful outcome.

Extension works where many other approaches fail because it is a real collaboration between partners.