Online extension amplifies collaboration across boundaries

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Effective professional relationships are essential in bringing together researchers and other practitioners to solve the many and varied challenges facing Australian agriculture. To facilitate this, AgriFutures Australia, Agriculture Victoria and NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) have partnered to deliver extensionAUS 

Gavin Beever, extensionAUS Relationship Manager, said the platform exists to drive practice change across rural industries and communities across the nation. 

“extensionAUS provides a tried and trusted legal framework where experts can collaborate with confidence, in real time and, via the processes, collectively and quickly share knowledge and information amongst themselves and with other industry stakeholders,” Mr Beever said. 

A turnkey solution for agricultural extension 

The extensionAUS platform enables the development of communities of practice (CoPs), which are networks of subject matter experts who discuss, learn and share knowledge in a subject area. It enables collaboration between individuals and organisations regardless of their location and affiliations. At present, there are 16 CoPs on extensionAUS, with scope for many more to be added.  

Kellyanne Harris, Agriculture Victoria, stresses that extensionAUS is much more than a website; it is a collaborative system, a tool for providing extension and interaction. 

“extensionAUS does two things. Firstly, it’s about getting real collaboration across boundaries and over time. The second is about getting information out to an audience in a very targeted way,” said Ms Harris. 

“A community of practice, or group of likeminded professionals, is at the core of extensionAUS. This network is where the real value of the platform lies.” 

Amplification and authenticity in collaboration 

It’s what happens behind the scenes that makes the extensionAUS platform so valuable. A Google-based space for collaboration and discussion allows users to peer-review content and in addition to the workspace, CoPs have access to dedicated support services, tutorials and webinars to make the most of the platform functionality.   

Felicity McIntosh, Senior Extension Officer – Poultry at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland coordinates the Chicken Meat RD&E CoP on extensionAUS. Ms McIntosh said the platform strength is in its set up, which made it an obvious choice when looking for a way to approach extension and collaboration with chicken meat researchers and practitioners. 

“The process and the platform are established,” she said. “It’s an efficient structure. Our time is better spent because it’s all set up and ready to go.” 

Ms McIntosh said that for the chicken meat industry, where there are multiple players including a range of government departments and organisations spread across the country, extensionAUS provides a common ground on which to collaborate. She said the platform doesn’t duplicate existing work, but rather provides a way of working across boundaries. 

 

“I like the term amplify to describe what extensionAUS does – and the platform makes it even more accessible to the end user.” 

Mr Beever said communities maintain ownership of their IP, but the processes within the extensionAUS platform and agreements provide protection in publishing their information.  

“An agreed peer-review process ensures that all information that appears on the platform is authenticated,” he said. 

A user-driven platform delivering results 

Ms Harris said that within a CoP, different people will choose to contribute in different ways. 

“Some will just come to annual meetings,” she said. “Some will contribute content and some will just review content. Others will regularly participate in discussions and face-to-face meetings, when able.” 

Ms Harris said it is difficult to clearly articulate exactly what the value of extensionAUS is to those who aren’t involved, partly because it is a whole new way of looking at collaboration and interaction. 

“Everyone gets something out of it though,” she said. “Otherwise they wouldn’t keep coming back.” 

Mr Beever agreed. “We haven’t had any community of practice members who fold up or withdraw, in fact our footprint continues to grow year on year. The community of practice members really enjoy their engagement and the focused discussions extensionAUS enables. 

“extensionAUS wouldn’t exist without that ongoing involvement and the support of champions. The three-way partnership between AgriFutures Australia, Agriculture Victoria and NSW DPI is unique in its ability to collaborate at a state and national level, this combined with the variety of communities of practice they support has validated the benefits of an online extension model that works across boundaries. 

“The continued support of our champions will ensure the future growth and expansion of the platform in years to come.” 

Looking for a turnkey solution for agricultural extension? Learn more about extensionAUS and how the online platform can support practice change and adoption for your rural industry via: https://extensionaus.com.au/  

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