Reflections on the EET endeavour:
best practices and future challenges
The purpose of the present chapter is twofold: (1) to investigate the characteristics of the FAO-sponsored EETM communication network and its constituent members, and (2) to comment on the importance of these communication network patterns in the effectiveness of the EETM activities.
The present chapter is radically different in scope from the other chapters of this book, and the story of its inspiration is equally unusual and perhaps worth telling. The inspiration for investigating the characteristics of EETM network members came to author Singhal at about 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning in the last week of August 1996 in the Hotel Grace, Beijing, China, where the third EETM network meeting was under way. This meeting was Singhal's first exposure to the EETM network. Having spent three days with the EETM network (Monday to Wednesday), Singhal was struck by the formal-informal, visible-invisible communication network patterns among EETM members. While they came from a dozen different countries2, and represented a diversity of disciplines and occupations, it appeared that the lives of many members had crossed and run contiguous to the lives of other network members.
Intrigued by the role these seemingly innocuous communication network patterns can play in organizing, maintaining, and sustaining development initiatives (such as EETM) and encouraged by Dr Ronny Adhikarya, the founder of FAO's EETM network, the author created in the early hours of that Thursday morning a small survey instrument, which was then refined, pretested and administered to the EETM network members a few hours later. The method of conducting the present investigation was based on the "firehouse" tradition of conducting research, that is, without much prior thought and planning, and we acknowledge the limitations of this research strategy. Nevertheless, we hope our modest effort here is useful in understanding the role of network relationships in organizing development and social change.
A communication network consists of interconnected individuals who are linked by patterned flows of information (Rogers and Kincaid, 1981). The study of networks helps illuminate communication structure, the differentiated elements that can be recognized in a system (Rogers,
1995). For instance, the communication structure of a network can reveal which individuals are more or less influential in the system. This communication structure is usually so complex that even in a very small system of individuals, the members of it do not completely understand the communication structure of which they are a part (Rogers, 1995, p. 308). In the next sections, we will be illuminating several characteristics of the EETM communication network structure. The kind of data we collected allows us to focus more on the characteristics of the EETM network structure, as opposed to analysing communication flows between network members, as is done in the more traditional communication network studies.
Our investigation of the characteristics of the EETM network structure was guided by several research questions:
Our method and data collection procedures included: (1) a structured survey of EETM network members, (2) informal conversations by author Singhal with EETM network members about their relationship with other network members, and (3) personal, participatory observations of author Singhal, who is a member of the EETM network. Prior to administering the survey, a list of EETM members was compiled by the author with the help of Dr Ronny Adhikarya. The survey was administered to EETM network members in Beijing, in August 1996, where 17 of the 25 EETM network members were present. The survey was mailed to the remaining eight participants of which four completed the survey by mail. Our present analysis is based on the responses of the 21 completed surveys.3
The survey questionnaire was divided into a structured and an unstructured part. In the structured part, participants reported on the EETM meetings they had previously attended and listed the other FAO-supported networks to which they belonged. Each respondent answered six questions about their relationship with other network members, including when they first met; the total number of times they had met; their rating of the strength of their professional relationship; their rating of the strength of their personal relationship; whether or not they had talked about personal matters.
In the unstructured part, respondents were asked to answer two questions: (1) What does participation in the EETM network mean to you and how has it benefited you professionally and personally? and (2) What are some "invisible" relationships between you and other network members which may not have been tapped by the structured part of the survey instrument? For instance, the respondent may have gone to graduate school with other respondents (as was indeed the case with several participants), or shared a common mentor and so on. Most past investigations of communication network structures have not usually incorporated such open-ended questions, which, as we will show later in the chapter, can provide rich insights about the network structure.
Our method was not free of limitations. As mentioned earlier, our data collection strategy was a "firehouse" strategy to capitalize on the presence of 17 of the 25 EETM network members in Beijing, 1996, and hence did not have the benefit of detailed planning and foresight. Another limitation revolves around the issue of recall. Several members found it difficult to recall the exact year when they first met other network members and also how many times they had met them previously in international meetings. Indeed, certain EETM network members had known each other for over 23 years and had met over 20 times. To overcome this problem, respondents were encouraged to provide a range in case they were unsure of when they had met or how many times they had met, and the lower value was included in the analysis to err on the safe side. So, if anything, our data represent a somewhat diluted measure of the actual strength of the EETM network characteristics.
Research question 1 asked: What is the degree of association between EETM network members? How long have EETM network members known each other, prior to the formation of the network?
In aggregate, EETM members displayed a high degree of association with each other. Many network members have known each other for many years. Table 1 displays the total length of association that each EETM member reported with all other network members. Ronny Adhikarya, displayed the highest degree of association with other EETM members. The total length of time that Adhikarya has known the other 20 EETM network members is 165 years, with a median length of association with each network member spanning nine years, and a mean length of association of 8.25 years (Table 1). Adhikarya has known two members, Dr Sulaiman Yassin and Dr Soedradjat Martaamidjaja for over 22 years, and another eight members for over ten years. Considering that the EETM network was officially constituted with the first meeting in Kuala Lumpur in June 1994 (only two years prior to our data collection), most network members were known to Adhikarya for a long period of time before he introduced them to the network. Obviously, these were able individuals, who had earned Adhikarya's confidence.
Table 1: The high degree of association between EETM network members
The network member who reported the lowest degree of association with other EETM members was the author (see Table 1), whose involvement with the network only began with the third EETM meeting in Beijing in August 1996, when the present data were collected. Even so, Singhal had met 12 of the other 20 EETM members prior to arriving in Beijing through his involvement in other FAO-supported networks.
In essence, many EETM network members had been associated with each other for a considerable period of time. The founder of the network, Dr Ronny Adhikarya, knew the EETM network members several years in advance of launching the EETM initiative. Adhikarya carefully selected key "known" individuals and institutions, whom he knew were able, trustworthy, collegial, and uniquely placed to deliver the goods. Clearly, the careful selection of network members and the relatively high degree of familiarity among them, has helped contribute to the effectiveness of the EETM initiative.
Research question 2 asked: To what extent do the network patterns of EETM network members overlap with members of other FAO-supported networks?
Dr Ronny Adhikarya had, in previous years, launched and consolidated at least three other networks of individuals and institutions, who implemented specific FAO-supported initiatives in several developing countries. Each of these networks, akin to the EETM network, furthered activities in the realm of agricultural extension, education, and training, focusing on a particular topical activity. These included: (1) the PETM network, which was involved in developing population education training modules for use by agricultural extension workers in various countries; (2) the Strategic Extension Campaign (SEC) network, which developed and implemented strategic agricultural extension campaigns in various developing countries; (3) the Microcomputers network, which developed and implemented programmatic efforts directed at using microcomputers in agricultural extension, education and training in various developing countries.
To what extent did members of the EETM network belong to other FAO-supported networks? Figure 1 shows that many EETM members also belonged to other FAO-supported networks. Of the 21 members of the EETM network who responded to our survey, five belonged to all four networks (EETM, PETM, SEC, and Microcomputers), 11 belonged to three, three belonged to two and only two members belonged to just the EETM network. So more that 90 percent of the EETM network members (19 out of 21) belonged to at least one additional FAO-supported network. In this sense, EETM network members display a high degree of communication proximity, defined as the degree to which two linked individuals in a network have personal communication networks that overlap (Rogers, 1995, p. 308).
The overlapping involvement of EETM network members in other previously-initiated4 FAO-supported networks was greatly beneficial to the conduct of EETM activities. The fact that all four networks were initiated by Dr Ronny Adhikarya, and led by him, provided an informal cohesive structure to the conduct of EETM activities. Members knew each other, were familiar with each other's ability and skills, and felt they were part of a larger purpose and team. Such an overlapping network structure created trust, support, efficiency and transparency in EETM activities (and in the other three FAO-supported programmes).
Research question no.3 asked: To what extent did EETM network members have an opportunity to renew their relationship with each other? To what extent have EETM network members met each other outside EETM meetings?
The strength of communication network relationships, especially among individuals who are based in different countries on different continents and pursue diverse occupations, are often a function of the opportunities available to network members to renew their relationships. In aggregate, EETM network members had several opportunities to renew their relationships with each other, even prior to the launch of the EETM initiative. Table 2 displays the total number of times that each EETM network member reported renewing their association with all other network members. Once again, Ronny Adhikarya, displayed the highest frequency of renewing his relationship with other EETM members. Adhikarya renewed his relationship with the other 20 EETM network members 216 times, with a median as well as a mean measure of frequency renewal of 11 times (Table 2). Adhikarya reported renewing his relationship with 13 EETM network members over ten times, including five network individuals with whom he renewed his relationship over 20 times. The mean average frequency for renewing network relationships was computed at four and a half times (Table 2), even though participation in the EETM network had only provided three opportunities for network members to renew their relationships (in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in June 1994; in Bali, Indonesia in October 1995; and in Beijing, China in August 1996, when the present data were collected).
Table 2: The high frequency of relationship renewal among EETM network members.
Table 3: Number of EETM meetings attended by each network member
Note: *Meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1994); Bali, Indonesia (1995); Beijing, China, (1996).
Table 3 lists the number of EETM meetings attended by each EETM network member. A modest but significant correlation was observed between the number of times EETM network members renewed their relationship with each other and their degree of participation in the three EETM meetings (Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.496, p < .01). Also, as expected, a strong correlation was observed between the length of association among EETM network members and the number of times they renewed their relationship with each other (Pearson correlation coefficient 0.833, p < .01).
In essence, not only had EETM members known each other for a long time, they knew each other well by virtue of having met several times previously in other international fora. Many of these international fora included meetings or activities of the three other FAO-supported networks discussed previously. Clearly, such opportunities to renew relationships among network individuals promotes professional affiliations, personal friendships and a common vision that is crucial for the organization of effective development.
Research question no. 4 asked: How do EETM network members rate the strength of their professional relationship with other members of the network?
One of the indicators of an effective network, it may be argued, is the presence of strong professional relationships among network members. EETM network members indicated on a scale of one to five the perceived strength of their professional relationship with other network members. Dr Tim Wentling, Professor of Human Resource Education at the University of Illinois and an expert in the design of training curriculum and implementation, perceived his relationship with other EETM network members as the strongest (Table 4), followed by Dr Ronny Adhikarya. This is not surprising given that Dr Wentling worked very closely with Dr Ronny Adhikarya in designing, monitoring and evaluating the EETM initiatives that were launched in six developing countries.
The mean score on the strength of professional relationships reported by all EETM network members was 2.9 (with a score of 2.5 average), showing that once again, in aggregate terms, EETM network members perceived their professional relations as being strong. Relatively new network members, Mr Bimoli from Nepal and Mr Chen Jianhua from China, whose work with respect to EETM was based mostly in their home countries, perceived the overall strength of their professional relationships with other members as being relatively weak. In sum, the key EETM network members who were responsible for initiating, maintaining, sustaining and evaluating EETM activities, perceived their professional relationships with other EETM network members as being very strong, a key factor in moving the EETM agenda forward at a brisk pace.
Table 4: The perceived strength of professional relationships among EETM
Table 5: The perceived strength of personal relationships among EETM network members.
Research question no. 5 asked: How do EETM network members rate the strength of their personal relationship with other members of the network?
EETM network members also rated on a scale of 1 to 5 the perceived strength of their personal relationship with other network members. The responses were similar to those provided in the previous section (Table 5). A very strong correlation was observed between the respondents' perceptions of the strength of their professional relationships with the strength of their personal relationships with other EETM network members (Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.958, p < .01). Once again, the key principals Drs Tim Wentling and Ronny Adhikarya, perceived the strength of their relationships with other EETM network members as being the strongest (Table 5); the mean score on the strength of personal relationship reported by all EETM network members was 2.9 (with a score of 2.5 average), showing that once again, in aggregate terms, EETM network members perceived their personal relationships as being generally strong. Relatively new network members, Mr Bimoli and Mr Chen Jianhua, perceived the overall strength of their personal relationships with other members as being relatively weak.
To what extent did EETM network members share their personal matters with other members of the network? An additional index of personal closeness (ranging from 0 to 1) was created for each EETM network member based on the degree to which they had shared personal matters with other members of the network. This index, perhaps more so than any other measure used in the study, is a function of network members' individual personalities and extrovert/introvert nature. However, despite its biases and slant, this measure yielded some interesting insights. The only woman member in the EETM network, Ms Mariam Rikhana, who displayed strong overlapping network patterns with members of all the four FAO-supported networks (see Figure 1), scored the highest on this index of personal closeness (0.95), followed by Dr Ronny Adhikarya (0.80), (Table 6). Adhikarya visited the homes of ten EETM network individuals (50 percent of all members), another measure of his personal closeness with the network members.
Clearly, strong personal relationships between key participants in a network exercise is a significant influence on the conduct of professional tasks. The strong personal relationships between key EETM network members helped in the implementation and sustenance of this organizational initiative.
Table 6: Index of personal closeness among EETM network members
Research question no. 6 asked: What are some of the "invisible", informal communication network patterns among the members of the EETM network?
In addition to the formal network characteristics of the EETM network (described in the previous six sections), many invisible, informal network patterns characterized the existing relationships among EETM network members. These informal network relationships usually exert a considerable influence on the interactional patterns of network members and impact organizational outcomes in ways that are often invisible yet important.
Consider the impact of the following invisible, informal relations between EETM network members on the functioning of the EETM network. Drs Sulaiman Yassin and Ronny Adhikarya attended graduate school at Cornell University in the United States in the early 1970s. Also, Dr. Yassin attended the same universities as Dr Chye-Hean Teoh for his undergraduate degree (at the University of Malaya in Malaysia) and Ph.D. degree (at Cornell University in the United States). Ho Nai Kin was also enrolled in the bachelors programme in Agricultural Science at the University of Malaya with Dr Teoh and Dr Yassin. Drs Ronny Adhikarya, Joseph Mbindyo and network member Dr Arvind Singhal had a common mentor in Professor Everett M. Rogers. Both Dr Adhikarya and Dr Mbindyo earned their doctoral degrees in communication at Stanford University in the early 1980s. Soon after, Dr Adhikarya worked on an FAO project in Bangladesh, where he worked closely with Dr Abdul Halim. Network members Saffian Mohd. Noor and Dr Chye-Hean Teoh were colleagues at an AET institution in Malaysia over a decade ago. Further, Saffian Mohd. Noor, Dr Soedradjat Maartaamidjaja, and Dr Ronny Adhikarya all spent time at the East-West Centre in Hawaii in the 1970s. Network members Dr Joseph Mbindyo and Dr Malindi had worked together previously in the Malawi PETM project. Similarly Dr Tim Wentling had worked with Dr Naranchai Patanapongsa in Thailand and Dr Wentling served as Dr Malindi's doctoral advisor at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign in the 1990s.
Several second or third order network relationships were also present. For instance, Dr Arvind Singhal and Dr Abdul Halim shared a common student advisee, athough at different points in time, in different academic programmes and on different continents. Tomas Cabuenos of the Philippines knew Dr Chye-Hean Teoh's wife, who comes from the Philippines (both Dr Teoh and his wife are now Australian citizens).
We have only begun to describe the nature of these invisible, informal network patterns that characterize the relationship between the EETM network members, and will go no further except to say that this network is clearly a very close, informal network of individuals whose professional associations, personal friendships and collegial ties intersect and overlap in unfathomable ways. Such informal, invisible network ties among professionals obviously contribute to a stronger, more effective network.
Research question no. 7 asked: What meanings do EETM members ascribe to their involvement and participation in the network? How has involvement in the EETM network benefited the members professionally and personally?
Several EETM members emphasized that participation in the network contributed to their professional development, enhancing their knowledge and skills base: "It has broadened my exposure,"
said Tomas Cabuenos. Dr Sulaiman Yassin said: "It has helped me in updating my professional skills, knowledge, and efficiency." Mr. Bimoli echoed a similar sentiment: "It has helped in sharing ideas and experiences, which have guided me to perform my job well". Several members pointed to specific areas in which the network benefited them: "It has generated my interest in the field of communication," said Saffian Mohd. Noor. Dr Narinchai Patanaponsa said: "It has helped me find some good strategies in extension communication".
Many EETM network members emphasized how participation in the network had bolstered their professional identity: "It has also helped me to work easily with professional personnel both nationally and internationally," said Dr Abdul Halim. Dr Alfredo de Torres noted that " participation in the network has contributed to my professional development and visibility among colleagues". Dr Sulaiman Yassin emphasized another important payoff of EETM network participation: "My professional contacts have been enhanced." Saffian Mohd. Noor emphasized another kind of payoff: "It has taken me to many parts of the world."
Some EETM network members emphasized that the network represented an important source of new ideas: "I can now keep up with innovative trends and developments in extension activities," said Dr Sulaiman Yassin. Dr Soedradjat Martaamidjaja noted: "The network has provided me with new information on educational and training opportunities available in other countries."
Several EETM network members emphasized how participation in the EETM network boosted their professional efficacy, enhancing their ability to launch new projects and take on bigger challenges. Dr Abdul Halim said: "I could develop EETM modules for Bangladesh using Bangladeshi people at low cost. I was able to motivate policy-makers and bureaucrats about the inclusion of EET in agriculture extension and regular academic programmes in Bangladesh."
The most telling statement about the overall impact of the EETM network came from Dr Ronny Adhikarya: "This network has greatly contributed to the advancement of training strategies, methodologies and the smooth implementation of collaborative activities." He further elaborated on the advantages that accrue from having a closely-knit network of capable individuals, working towards a common goal: "The network has facilitated the successful completion of impossible tasks due to the willingness of the network members to go the extra mile.
In sum, EETM network members feel that participation in the network benefited them both in their professional work and at the personal level. Their skills, knowledge base and professional efficacy were boosted through their interaction and collaboration with other network members. In turn, such personal and professional enhancement contributed greatly to the effectiveness of the EETM initiatives.
Our investigation points to the important role of professional/personal, formal/informal, and visible-invisible communication network patterns in initiating, implementing, and sustaining collaborating EET initiatives. Members of the FAO-supported EETM network knew each other well, and had several opportunities to renew their professional relationships, even prior to the official establishment of the network in 1994. This finding was especially notable in the case of Dr Ronny Adhikarya, who hand-picked other network members based on his prior knowledge of their abilities and skills to implement effective EETM programmes. Further, 19 out of 21 EETM network members belonged to one or more of the other three FAO-supported networks, which were also launched by Dr Ronny Adhikarya and, akin to the EETM network, were focused on agriculture extension, education, and training activities. These overlapping networking patterns provided a synergy of purpose, vision and commitment for the EETM network members. Moreover, key EETM network members perceived their professional and personal relationships with other network members as being very strong; many members knew each other well enough to discuss personal matters on a regular basis.
Various invisible and informal network patterns were observed among the EETM members in a communication structure so complex that despite the relatively small number of individuals in the EETM network (N=21), members of the EETM system did not completely understand the communication structure of which they were a part. For instance, several of the EETM network members graduated from the same overseas-based universities, studied with the same mentors and worked with each other in different countries in different capacities at different points in time. These invisible and informal communication patterns, while fostering trust and credibility, form the backbone of effective collaboration.
It was notable that EETM network members ascribed various positive and common semantic meanings to their involvement in the network, highlighting the professional and personal advantages that had accrued to them as network members. They were not just "satisfied" with their involvement in the network; rather they were "energized". Clearly, such energy and synergy bolstered the quality of collaboration among network members, resulting presumably in more effective EETM activities.
What lessons can be learned about development organizing from the present investigation of the characteristics of the EETM network? What lessons can be transferred to other global networks of individuals who come together to tackle a common social cause? Clearly, there are implications for the selection of network members. Whenever possible they should be selected on the basis of their skills, track-record and their institutional-political positions. Previous familiarity with their work and a sound personal knowledge of their abilities to take risks, innovate, and overcome challenges can be a tremendous advantage, as exemplified by Dr Ronny Adhikarya, who carefully hand-picked the EETM network individuals based on such criteria. Further, tremendous advantages can accrue to development networks by including academicians, policy-makers, and implementers in the network, as was the case with the EETM network. They bring diverse viewpoints from the perspective of various stakeholders, each important to the overall implementation of a development initiative. Further, cross-involvement of participants from other development networks, institutions and countries, facilitates in transferring best practices and experiences across programmes, organizations and national borders. This practice of "cross-sharing" of knowledge, skills and agendas is rare in international development organizing and as the EETM experience suggests, communication networks are central to realizing this purpose.
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