E. Moyo and J. Hagmann1
Evison Moyo is an adviser and trainer in participatory extension at AGRITEX/GTZ, PO Box, Masvingo, Zimbabwe.
Jürgen Hagmann is a process consultant, Talstrasse 129, D-79194 Gundelfingen, Germany; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article describes the learning experiences in competence development in participatory extension approaches (PEA) of the Zimbabwean Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) within the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture. Since 1995, with support from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), AGRITEX has piloted and tested the development of competence in PEA among field-level extension agents in Masvingo Province. The effort was carried out as an integral component of wider change management through an organizational development programme geared towards improving organizations' performance in service delivery. This article focuses on the experience of developing a learning programme, the large-scale implementation of that programme, and the lessons learned.
Apprendre à appliquer les approches participatives à la vulgarisation rurale; faciliter le processus de modification des attitudes et des comportements
Cet article décrit les enseignements des approches participatives de la vulgarisation, appliquées au développement des compétences dans le département de l'agriculture, des services techniques et de la vulgarisation (AGRITEX) auprès du Ministère des terres et de l'agriculture du Zimbabwe. Avec l'appui de l'Office allemand de la coopération technique (GTZ), AGRITEX a lancé des dispositifs expérimentaux pilotes dans le but d'améliorer les compétences des agents de vulgarisation travaillant sur le terrain dans le cadre des approches participatives de vulgarisation depuis 1995 dans la province de Masvingo. Cette initiative est partie intégrante d'un plan plus ample de modification des méthodes de gestion à travers un programme de développement organisationnel, destiné à améliorer la fourniture des services. Cet article met l'accent sur les enseignements tirés de la mise au point d'un programme d'apprentissage et de son application à grande échelle.
Aprendizaje para llevar a la práctica los enfoques participativos en la extensión agraria; manera de facilitar el proceso de cambio de actitud y comportamiento
En este artículo se describen las experiencias de aprendizaje en el fomento de la competencia para los enfoques de extensión participativa del Departamento de Servicios Agrícolas, Técnicos y de Extensión (AGRITEX) del Ministerio de Tierras y Agricultura de Zimbabwe. Con el apoyo de la Sociedad Alemana de Cooperación Técnica (GTZ), AGRITEX ha llevado a cabo planes experimentales para aumentar la eficacia de los agentes de extensión que trabajan sobre el terreno desde 1995 en la provincia de Masvingo ocupándose de los enfoques de extensión participativa. Esta actividad es un componente integrante de la gestión de un cambio más amplio mediante un programa de fomento de la organización, orientado a mejorar el rendimiento en la prestación de servicios. Además de la aplicación de enfoques de extensión participativa como principal elemento para mejorar la capacidad de respuesta de las organizaciones, el programa se orienta a mejorar la cultura, la estructura, los procedimientos y la comunicación en la organización. Los autores se concentran en la experiencia de la elaboración de un programa de aprendizaje, su aplicación en gran escala y las enseñanzas aprendidas.
In many countries, public sector extension services have been accepting that
there is a need for participatory approaches to agricultural service delivery
ever since the potential of such approaches was demonstrated by non-governmental
organizations (NGOs). The acceptance and promotion of these approaches and processes
in hierarchical government bureaucracies, where they are often implemented by
low-paid extension agents with low-level qualifications, has proved to be difficult.
Many existing organizations will have to transform their approaches to extension
from ones that are based on top-down teaching and a narrow orientation on production
to ones that are people-centred, learning-oriented and participatory (Thompson,
1995). Such a shift in the modus operandi requires substantial changes
in the culture and structure of the service organizations themselves, especially
at the field level where particularly deliberate changes of extension agents'
attitudes and behaviour and of capabilities to facilitate social processes are
required. Such a reorientation and transformation of technically oriented extension
agents necessitates a broader framework of human resources development in which
training in participatory processes is carried out.
This article analyses the practical experiences in competence development in process facilitation in participatory community development and extension of the government extension services in Zimbabwe. It describes the demands put on extension agents who engage in process facilitation, which represents a radical move away from technical-based extension services towards a broader approach comprising the development of problem solving and innovation capacities in rural communities. Learning was enhanced at the cognitive, behavioural, attitudinal and emotional levels in order to facilitate such a change in individual capabilities. In addition, organizational capabilities were simultaneously strengthened through organizational development at different levels. The article reports on substantial successes, and the lessons learned are applicable to many situations beyond the case of Zimbabwe.
On the basis of pilot activities in research and extension, carried out by different actors between 1990 and 1995, a participatory extension approach was developed iteratively with farmers, researchers and extensionists in Masvingo Province. In 1995-1996, in response to growing interest in integrating alternative approaches to service delivery within the mainstream extension system, these experiences were synthesized into a common framework, called "participatory extension approaches" (PEA)2 (Figure), which organizations accepted increasingly as a mainstream approach to extension delivery.
PEA, as developed and understood in Zimbabwe, is an extension approach that involves a transformation in the way extension agents interact with farmers. Community-based extension, full community ownership of the process and joint learning are central to PEA. The characteristics of PEA include:
PEA integrates elements of participatory technology development (PTD), social
development approaches, experiential learning (Kolb, 1984) and training for
transformation (Hope and Timmel, 1984). The PEA learning cycle and operational
framework suggest a holistic and flexible strategy following a step-by-step
process in which a variety of extension methodologies and tools (including participatory
rural appraisal [PRA] tools) are flexibly integrated into each step. For example,
farmer-to-farmer extension or Farmer Field Schools can be part of the PEA framework.
In isolation, these methodologies might address only a few farmers and even
be used in a top-down manner but, within the community-based PEA framework,
they can be more inclusive and effective, as whole social entities are addressed.
PEA is far more than a participatory methodology and is distinctly different from PRA, which is essentially a tool-box. PEA is a comprehensive, iterative learning process approach to rural innovation and problem solving that enhances governance and civil society in rural areas. Through the PEA process, both farmers and extension agents accumulate knowledge and skills. Inclusiveness and community ownership of the development process are core values of PEA.
The role of the extension agent is to facilitate the process in a way that focuses on human development at the local level. This involves:
- development of social mobilization and local organization in order to enhance community management capacities, and articulation of demand for services;
- community needs identification and action planning processes;
- community self-evaluation that reviews the successes and failures critically so that learning can become effective.
- leading the different actors to learn and experiment together so that their understanding and management capacities are improved;
- developing appropriate technologies and enhancing the spread of solutions to farmers' problems from one farmer to another;
- introducing social innovations to improve processes for negotiation on land use and by-laws for natural resource management, which often takes place in situations where there is conflict.
- identifying knowledge about given technologies and sources of innovation;
- linking various actors to bring together the knowledge and experience they possess and are seeking to obtain;
- documenting existing knowledge in order to make it available to a wider audience;
- preparing materials for effective dissemination (based on the knowledge generated).
The new role of managing and facilitating learning processes requires special skills and competencies that lie far beyond the present technical focus and thus need to be developed.
Practical experience of implementing participatory processes in pilot studies carried out between 1991 and 1995 provided a deep insight into the critical capabilities that extension agents require in order to facilitate complex and dynamic learning processes in communities. In many instances, participatory approaches are largely associated with PRA tools and components which are included in conventional projects through tools training. Such a reductionist approach to training obviously results in the mechanical application of tools without a full understanding of the dimension of paradigmatic change towards learning at all levels (Rölings and de Jong, 1998). This results in failure, because it is in no way sufficient as a way of managing and facilitating action learning processes owned by communities. The Zimbabwe experience with PEAs went beyond this stage, and succeeded in identifying the core capabilities (Box 1).
Core capabilities needed for PEA
Extension facilitators need to have the following capabilities:
It is obvious that these are high-level capabilities that require a cadre of
field agents who are professional and experienced. They need to be able to manage
dynamic complexity, which is almost the opposite of the linear, mechanistic
and rigid teaching schedule of the old type of extension agent. Competence development
therefore needs to stimulate and enhance the cognitive, behavioural/attitudinal
and emotional levels simultaneously in order to build individuals' capacity
to transform themselves and act in a different way.
At the cognitive level, the major thrust is to move from rigid and structural thinking to lateral thinking in terms of processes and systems perspectives. This shift can be facilitated by critical self-analysis and the challenging of certain mind-sets, as well as by exposure to divergent concepts and paradigms. Creativity and mental flexibility need to be enhanced through experimentation with new ideas and action learning in social interaction. Without a focus on creativity, people always return to their old patterns of problem solving, even when the problems have new dimensions. Orientation towards a vision, development of guiding principles for interventions and establishment of conceptual and operational frameworks (such as matrixes) can help to overcome the fear of the unknown by providing the cognitive understanding, security and confidence to engage in new ways of working. An example of such a matrix comprises the steps of a process, the objectives of these steps and key issues for dealing with possible methodologies and potential partners.
At the behavioural/attitudinal level, prevailing values, social norms and expected behaviour need to be reviewed critically. For example, formal education is often valued much more highly than non-formal practical knowledge. This puts farmers, with their local knowledge, and extension agents, with their "common sense", in a position of inferiority. The valuing of external inputs more highly than communities' indigenous knowledge often undermines the esteem and confidence that drives development. This denial of actors' roots and knowledge creates enormous insecurity and inhibits open dialogue. To facilitate change, social norms, values, attitudes and behaviour need to be made clear to the extension agents. Consideration of alternative choices needs to be informed by awareness of the consequences of preserving the status quo.
At the emotional level, confidence, self-esteem, equilibrium and cultural identity need to be factored in to the management of communities' complex social processes, the fluid nature of which entails continuous uncertainty about the course of action that should be pursued. A mixture of common sense, empathy, self-awareness and self-control, in other words, "emotional intelligence" (Goleman, 1998) helps people to "read the process" and thus reduces uncertainty for decision-makers. Enhancing emotional intelligence and intrinsic motivation is probably the most difficult aspect of competence development, and can only be achieved through a gradual engagement in the process of change and experimentation. While phases of insecurity are necessary for breaking old patterns of behaviour in any change process, it is important to start a learning situation with small steps in which success is likely. Such a procedure allows a relatively fast increase in levels of confidence, and frequently motivation, despite the obvious setbacks that occur in processes where emotions are involved.
The three levels are integrally linked and strongly influence one another during the transformation process. So, it is not a matter of addressing them separately, but of being aware of when and how to deal with the different aspects of an iterative approach. One-off events can trigger some awareness, but rarely lead to action and sustainable change. Experiential learning through iterative action and self-reflection, based on practice in the field as well as theory, is highly likely to lead towards ownership and internalization of learning that is focused on personal development. Experience has shown that this approach of learning by doing, through intervals of training and practice periods backed up by peer learning groups and coaching support, has great potential to develop these skills gradually.
Individual capability development took place within the wider context of institutional and organizational development. This is probably one of the unique features of PEA in Masvingo Province, compared with many other experiences of participatory approaches which were often developed and implemented without regard to the need to adapt certain variables within the organization, e.g. management styles, incentives, procedures and clarification of individual roles. The details of the process go beyond the focus and scope of this article, but have been partially described elsewhere (Hagmann et al., 1998). Without such processes of organizational change, PEA could risk becoming a series of one-off ephemeral projects.
The principles and conditions discussed in the previous section were put into
practice in a pilot training/learning programme for the development of an experience-based
strategy and learning curriculum for PEA capability development (Box 2). This
lasted for 18 months and involved a group of 23 field extension agents. Based
on the insights gained from the programme, a set of materials - comprising a
guide booklet about the PEA approach, a trainer's guide and a video (see References)
- was developed and published to support the large-scale training process.
The fact that field-level cadres were trained before higher-level staff created an interesting dynamic, as field staff knew more about PEA implementation than their superiors. In general, the effect on training of this "discomfort model" was positive, as many superiors became highly committed to being trained themselves as soon as they realized that they knew less than their subordinates. The usual hierarchy and training methods, with all their limitations, were interrupted and would probably never have been effective for such a demanding transformation of field cadres. In some cases, however, the delays were too long and distances grew too large, resulting in resistance from higher-level staff who feared the threat of losing face. It must be noted that PEA training is very demanding, especially in the early stages, when trainer competence, organizational skills and adequate resource allocation are crucial.
An iterative learning programme in PEA
The sequence of training of field staff in PEA follows the action learning and reflection cycle that was found appropriate during the pilot phase of the training, as described in the following. (Details of the curriculum are described in the trainer's guide - see References):
With a staff complement of around 300 field extension agents, it became obvious that one or two external facilitators would have taken a very long time to train all staff in PEA. Subsequently, the training of trainers within AGRITEX-Masvingo was chosen as the best strategy for achieving fast and wide coverage. A total of 20 PEA trainers were trained, so that each of the seven districts of Masvingo Province now has a team of PEA trainers. Most of the trainers were recruited from the pilot group of 23 field extension agents, and their training skills were further developed through training and coaching by external facilitators/trainers. This strategy put the practitioners at the forefront of training, with the training specialist, rather then the expert, having a coordinating role using the learning programme described above and in the trainer's guide (see References). The large-scale competence development programme in PEA has been a substantial investment in terms of resources and time. All AGRITEX staff in Masvingo will have gone through the five major learning phases by the end of 2000, and the other provinces are about to start the process.
To draw conclusions regarding the lessons learned on training/knowledge gained and capability development in general, the outcome of the pilot group and large-scale competence development in PEA in Masvingo needs to be analysed at the farmer and field agent levels.
Farmers' response to the extension agents' implementation of PEA during the learning process was encouraging. Farmers took on ownership and responsibility and, in some cases, even paid their own expenses for exposure trips and field days. These are indicators that the process of developing self-organization and demand-oriented extension is evolving. The extension agents of the pilot group set themselves PEA performance evaluation criteria that indicated their high level of competence in PEA. In their practical interaction with farmers in the early stages of PEA facilitation, the extension agents were faced with severe challenges in the areas of leadership, cooperation and power relations within communities. The problems and needs that were identified by different groups within communities revealed themselves to be strategically directed towards potential donor contributions. Certain groups also tried to influence the needs analyses in their favour. Such problems relate to the core of PEA aims and have always existed, but were not previously dealt with. Now they have been recognized as stumbling blocks and are being tackled. A detailed impact assessment of PEA implementation through the newly trained extension agents is currently being carried out.
The impact of the transformation process on extension agents' abilities to
implement PEA was highly dependent on the different personalities of the individuals
concerned and was not uniform across all staff. Some capabilities (e.g. facilitation
of local organizational development, conflict resolution) proved to be difficult
to acquire. The analytical skills, critical self-analysis and culture of inquiry
and questioning needed for the facilitation of PEA have proved to be crucial,
but developed slowly and unevenly. The impact of the transformation increased
over time, but as regards the shift from a non-questioning hierarchical culture
to a liberal, self-reliant culture, in many cases, the process of change will
probably take more than 18 months. The same applies to the development of lateral
thinking and flexibility. However, the trainee group generated an encouraging
number of ideas for solving the major problems. Participants' tendency to do
only what they were told to do, and their belief that they could not solve their
own problems, gave way to a proactive approach in which solutions and mutual
help were developed to overcome problems. This indicated that the self-reliance
and problem solving capacity of the extension agents had been strengthened during
the competence development process.
Key issues emerged with regard to incentives for change. Within extension organization, there are no formal incentives for good PEA practitioners (e.g. better remuneration, or advancement), yet there is great enthusiasm for and commitment to the approach. In an evaluation, the pilot group defined the motivation for practising PEA as being centred on value-based and emotional issues rather than material incentives (Box 3).
The second major motivating factor was linked to an increased recognition of work resulting from increased work output. Extension agents emphasized that, until recently, neither the recipients of extension, nor their own superiors cared about their work. Now that the situation is changing visibly, everybody is becoming interested and suddenly the work of extension agents is being recognized. This revealed a stronger than expected work ethic: "We all want to do a good job". However, the extension agents need opportunities for showing that they are able to perform. They also need recognition from inside and outside the organizational system. This incentive does not involve any cost, but requires a change of attitudes and culture within the entire organization.
Becoming active members of farmer development teams
The responses indicate that the testing of PEA has
created intrinsic motivation based on better relationships and greater
recognition of farmers' work. There is also
a link with the increased sustainability of the programmes. The improved
relationships with farmers, who are now free from tensions and friction,
highlight how uneasy some extension agents felt when they had to impose
their programme on farmers. Most of them clearly did not believe in their
mission of educating farmers and, therefore, had to operate in an ambiguous
environment. They owned the extension programme and, consequently, farmers
did not take an active part in it. This caused agents to suffer from work
pressure and emotional stress resulting from discord. Accordingly, extension
agents perceived their previous workload to be greater than it is with
PEA, where farmers carry out their own programmes with minimum assistance.
The reduced stress resulting from this sharing of responsibility is a
relief. "Before, we only used one brain, and farmers' brains remained
dormant; in PEA we use all our brains together," as one participant
put it. Farmers' increased ownership of the programmes is perceived as
a positive change of attitude.
The major success factor in capability development was the iterative nature
of the learning and coaching process over 18 months, which made it possible
to enter into the work environment and see the problems that extension agents
faced. During the systematic follow-through of the sequence, extension agents'
problems shifted and there was increasing engagement in the process over time.
Although the capability development sequence ended after 18 months, it appears
crucial to maintain backup mechanisms for continuous, long-term learning in
order to improve service provision (e.g. peer learning groups at the district
The importance of actively linking theory and practice in order to build capability for flexible process facilitation and management has been confirmed. However, the pilot activities also revealed that not everyone is a conceptual thinker, nor a flexible process manager. The appropriate mixture of structure and process in training/learning is one of the greatest challenges for trainers. The provision of structural elements (e.g. stepwise procedures, tools) helps to create pathways for action, but at the same time these structures should not be allowed to become blueprints. The mixture therefore needs to be carefully monitored and flexibly alternated as it develops. The pilot testing of capability development as a "learning laboratory" for the testing, modifying and refining of PEA through trial and error was crucial in the development of a quality learning programme.
PEA competence development was positioned within the wider framework of improving extension service delivery as a whole. The experience gained also has the following implications for the whole organization:
PEA competence development was only able to succeed because organizational factors were dealt with through the organizational development programme. If problems arising from a hierarchical organizational structure, bureaucratic procedures and management styles had not been addressed, any field-level motivation would have been reduced in the long term. As "delivery software", organizational development and PEA are integral to the change process and to the improvement of this public service organization's service delivery.
The major challenge in the future is how to institutionalize a continuous process
of learning and optimization of service delivery approaches within the whole
organization, particularly in the districts. This will be difficult if managers
in the organization do not share a vision of participatory open management styles
and philosophies. Continuity is often another problem: when managers are redeployed,
new managers who are not familiar with the process are not able to support it.
PEA trainers are now attractive market commodities and can get better paid jobs
outside the government. The next major step will be the scaling-up exercise
in other provinces of Zimbabwe. This will be a massive venture, as there are
more than 2 000 field extension agents to be engaged in PEA competence development.
When all staff have been trained in PEA, there will be a need to refocus more strongly on the technical extension content. New areas such as marketing and processing in which extension has not so far had much of a stake need to be developed as technical thrusts for better service delivery. Issues such as farmer-paid services and pluralism in service provision will also need to be firmly taken into account when service delivery is developed further in the future.
The key to making service provision client-responsive in a sustainable way lies in developing appropriate mechanisms for quality control and impact assessment by the clients. Such mechanisms need to be progressively developed by all interested groups.
PEA competence development has so far been carried out as a fundamental reorientation of existing extension agents. In future, much more attention needs to be paid to the training institutions where new cadres are educated. The curricula of agricultural colleges in Zimbabwe are still reductionist and disciplines-based, with a traditional focus on production and commodities. To prevent the persistence of obsolete paradigms that do not include critical contemporary knowledge, the primacy of extension needs to be re-established in such centres of learning.
1 The authors would like to thank Mr Mike Connolly for his constructive comments and editing of this paper. The comments on the manuscript of Mr Kudzi Marovanidze are greatly appreciated.
2 The development process of this approach, the emerging PEA framework, and the successes it achieved have been documented and published in Hagmann, Murwira and Chuma, 1996; Hagmann, Chuma and Murwira, 1997; Haggman et al., 1998; and 1999; and Moyo, 1996, as well as in the set of PEA training and resource materials listed in the References on p. 157.
Goleman, D. 1998. What makes a good leader? Harvard Business Review, Nov/Dec 1998: 92-105.
Hagmann, J., Chuma, E. & Murwira, K. 1997. Kuturaya: participatory research, innovation and extension. In L. van Veldhuizen et al., eds. Farmers' research in practice: lessons from the field. London, IT Publications.
Hagmann, J., Murwira, K. & Chuma, E. 1996. Learning together: development and extension of soil and water conservation in Zimbabwe. Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture, 35(2): 142-162.
Hagmann, J., Chuma, E., Connolly, M. & Murwira, K. 1998. Client-driven change and institutional reform in agricultural extension: an action learning experience from Zimbabwe. AgRen Network Paper No. 78. London, Overseas Development Institute.
Hagmann, J., Chuma, E., Connolly, M. & Murwira, K. 1999. Putting process into practice: operationalising participatory extension. AgRen Network Paper No. 94. London, Overseas Development Institute.
Hope, S. & Timmel, A. 1984. Training for transformation. A handbook for community workers. Gweru, Zimbabwe, Mambo Press.
Kolb, D.A. 1984. Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, United States, Prentice Hall.
Moyo, E.S. 1996. Rethinking community-level planning and development (CLP&D). Conceptual considerations for the future. IRDEP Discussion Paper, Masvingo, Zimbabwe, IRDEP.
Rölings, N. & de Jong, F. 1998. Learning: shifting paradigms in education and extension studies. Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 5(3): 143-162.
Thompson, J. 1995. Participatory approaches in government bureaucracies: facilitating the process of institutional change. World Development, 23(9): 1521-1554.
The following is a list of training /learning materials
on PEA which can be obtained from the authors:
Learning together through participatory extension - a Guide to an Approach Developed in Zimbabwe
Learning together through participatory extension - a Trainer's Manual
Learning together through participatory extension - a Video on an Approach Developed in Zimbabwe