The conference in Wageningen, The Netherlands, was great! It combined two extension streams – the Association of International Agricultural and Extension Education (US dominated) and the European Symposium on Extension and Education (European dominated) and brought about 380 delegates to the combined event. The theme was ‘Competence and Excellence in Extension and Education’ – and there was certainly a smorgasbord to choose from! I gave a paper on Changing Evaluation Approaches in Australia (see the papers section) and chaired a session on evaluation. It was fitting that the event was held in Wageningen – it has a long history of taking the lead in extension thinking and practice over the last decades. For me, it was where my family lived while I completed my Masters and then completed my PhD.
I was recently on holidays in Majorca (easy to do when living in London – not so easy from Australia!) where we stayed overlooking a lovely Mediterranean beach called Cala Esmerelda.
Now this is where I say something along the lines of while I was on holiday I was thinking about evaluation and had a ‘light bulb moment’ – except that didn’t happen at all! I was thinking about when I was going to have my next icecream, when the next swim was and did I want red or white wine with dinner.
As well as using social media to engage and build relationships with your audiences – it can be very useful as a listening post. While it might be interesting for project/program managers to understand what is being said online about relevant topics, this is probably more important for larger organisations and bodies who should be on top of what is being talked about online. Particularly those interested and impacted on by sensitive subjects.
There are so many ways to collect data in today’s online world that simply weren’t available even 10 years ago. Information can now be collated in many different ways from even the remotest locations.
Observation is a data collection method that has been around for a while. One example of this methodology is the use of photos taken at regular intervals to record changes of land use over time. A particularly useful method for Natural Resource Management (NRM) projects focusing on land rehabilitation.
In my experience social media as a communication channel can still feel overwhelming to many people. So taking the next step and thinking about how to meaningfully evaluate the use of it can almost feel too much of a mystery – which often means it doesn’t happen!
However, the more I’ve worked with social media evaluation the less mysterious I think it is. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers that get thrown around like – we reached 20 million people with our tweet. To that I would say great, what does that number mean and so what?! (And there’s a whole other conversation to be had around how reach numbers are derived and what reach actually means.)