Agricultural Extension and Rural Development: Breaking out of Knowledge Transfer Traditions

Ison and Russell state that traditional first-order R&D (Research to knowledge to transfer to adoption to diffusion) has failed to take the social, political and environmental context (this includes the RD&E practitioner with their thinking and actions) into account when developing solutions.  In other words, the RD&E system is a closed ‘system’ where the context and RD&E practitioners are considered as externalities, rather than part of the system itself.

Ison and Russell provide a critical review of the technology transfer model and find that it is only suited to a specific minority of farmers, and that for the majority it is an ineffective approach.

First-order R&D assumes the real world is a knowable object and can be ‘fixed’ without needing to take into account “our” actions as active participants in creating the real world as we experience it.

Their review finds that RD&E practitioners tend to practice traditional RD&E due to cultural background and scientific training.  They propose that agricultural RD&E needs rethinking in light of recent ecological thinking, social science critiques and farmer’s experiential knowledge and practices and that Extension as a concept and practice should be superseded by another term to capture the author’s notions of development and innovation in agriculture – “second-order R&D”

They propose the “second-order R&D” approach to agricultural extension based on Maturana’s (1988) understanding of science practice.  With this the propose doing RD&E based on ideas of mutual practice for learning where all participants share responsibility for the outcome of working together for problem solving and learning.

Reality or the RD&E situation is constructed by the RD&E participants based on an understanding that human beings determine the world that they experience.

The RD&E involves the study of the quality and nature of relationships/connections/interactions of system components.  It is about self-referential knowing that creates links between elements in a complex system for the purpose of responding to a mutually understood situation.

Science is grounded in the explanation of what is experienced.  Contextual science is based on exposing the workings and limits to disciplinary understanding and building a more coherent process that understands science as a way of modelling reality, but is not reality itself in all its complexity.

The authors conclude that RD&E is a ‘technology’ that is a potential vehicle for the transformation of knowledge transfer traditions by making engagement through a self-reflexive science to understand “our” processes of knowledge-making and therefore make better informed decisions to meet the need to address novel situations.

Content sources and further information
Ison, R. and Russell, D. (2000).  Agricultural Extension and Rural Development: breaking out of knowledge transfer traditions. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Maturana, H, R, (1988).  Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument.  Irish J, Psycol. 9, 25-82. doi: 10.1080/03033910.1988.10557706

Paradigm Shift Towards Systemic and Adaptive Governance – Presented by Ray Ison at the joint ASC/BIG conference ‘An Ecology of Ideas’ in Asolimar, California, on July 11th 2012. Published on Sep 2, 2012 by ascybernetics