Published – 23 June 2020 By Gavin Beever

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives dramatically.  It has had a wide and ever evolving range of consequences, including for the field of Extension.  This post shares some learnings and food for thought for those working in extension, in these challenging times:

Key points

A generation of regional Australians have been fast tracked in respect to their capability and capacity to use online tools. In particular, online meetings and webinars. Information transfer and sourcing online, has also seen a dramatic increase in recent weeks. This can continue to be leveraged going forward.

A fair percentage of people that have had to use video meetings a lot, are complaining of “Zoom fatigue”. They are missing the opportunity for more personal engagement.  As isolation measures are eased; many farmers and regional community members will relish the opportunity for more direct, personal engagement.  Such as that offered by more traditional extension approaches. Extension professionals should plan for that.

As restrictions ease, people will likely enjoy face to face extension opportunities

It is worth noting that the more introverted members of the community, have been enjoying isolation and remote engagement opportunities and good extension programs need to continue to cater for different learning styles and personalities.  There will be a new normal post Covid-19, that will be different for different people.

Having stated the points above, it is worth noting that there will also be a new normal for online engagement through video meetings and webinars, that the majority of extension audiences will be comfortable with going forward and these tools will remain a very important means of engagement. Far more than pre Covid-19.

“There will be a new normal to working remotely, working from home and engaging online”

With the communities greater skill and capacity with online engagement, more advanced online tools such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and E-Learning will have an increasing and accelerated place in agricultural research, develop and extension programs and such opportunities should be explored by extension professionals.  These tools are the new frontier in extension and are likely to become more mainstream, quite quickly.  They offer users experiences that are different to video, video conferences and webinars and as such will become attractive alternatives.

As the community becomes more comfortable with digital technologies; opportunities for new technologies such as augmented and virtual reality and e-learning will increase

Real time monitoring and data provision will be an increasing opportunity to leverage.  The Soil Moisture Monitoring Site on extensionAUS provides real time soil moisture information from 51 sites from Agriculture Victoria and is a great example of the opportunity for such an approach.

Real time data from Soil Moisture Monitoring Sites is a great example of real time data provision

Many employers and employees are now much more comfortable with working from home and flexible working hours.  So, expect to see continued development in working from home approaches, over and above what was happening before Covid-19.  It is important that in any working from home situation, occupational health and safety requirements and insurances are in place to protect yourself, your colleagues and your clients; just as if you were working from a business or organisation premises.  It is likely that in the rapid uptake of working from home, these areas may not have been adequately addressed and they need to be, if people are going to continue to work in that way.  Even if it is for just some of the time.

Changing to working from home happened rapidly for many people, make sure all OHS, legal and insurance requirements are in place

Some social distancing requirements are likely to last for a while.  Large gatherings, such as conferences and agricultural field days, are likely to be the last sorts of gatherings to be permitted and a different approach to achieving the outcomes required from such events, are likely to be needed for quite a while.

The need for cyber security and measure to manage online risks is only going to increase.  Things like ransom wear will be an ongoing problem and remember it is set up so that the ransom is cheaper to pay than the fix.  Having good back-up systems for your data, keeping systems and software up to date, avoidance of phishing messages and having good anti-virus, scanning and filtering security, will all be very important going forward.

Long distance travelling and overnight stays is still going to be a challenge for a while and international travel is likely to be off the table for quite some time.  So, work arounds that involve online engagement, will be consolidated as the norm for many months to come.  Extension professionals will need to plan and optimise such arrangements.

“Work arounds as a result of travel and social distancing requirements, that involve online engagement, will be consolidated as the norm for many months to come.”

Change always bring challenges, but it also always brings opportunities.  If we can help you with either, please feel free to contact the extensionAUS team via:

Gavin Beever
extensionAUS™ Relationship Manager