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Spring 2017

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
It is Spring already – I am not sure where winter went, and the update with it! Although, when I think about it, we lost some of the winter by going to the Mediterranean to participate in the 23rd European Seminar on Extension and Education (ESEE) at Chania in Crete. We combined this with a visit to Croatia – and loved the crystal clear water and sense of history that permeates cross the Mediterranean.

The ESEE brought together people involved across Europe and beyond (even from Australia) to explore the changing face of extension, education and rural development and what we are learning about the best approaches. My contribution was a paper (with Neels Botha from NZ) looking at how to build evaluation into multi-stakeholder/collaborative program delivery. It was interesting to hear how ‘co-innovation’ and ‘innovation systems’ thinking was impacting on rural development policies across Europe.

The other conference was the International Australasian Pacific Extension Network (APEN) conference in Townsville. I was convener of an international extension conference in about 1992 at the Gold Coast which also triggered the establishment of APEN. Now seeing the interest, professionalism and commitment of those at the conference reflects the value and success of this network. I was part a workshop that explored the need for a special ‘Reef Extension Network’ for those working in regions impacting on the Great Barrier Reef. This is complex situation that calls for strong technical and extension skills and support from peers. There was a lot of interest and now steps are in place to put something in place.

Other initiatives have also been triggered from the review. This includes appointing a cross-reef region coordinator to maximise collaborative strategic effort, training in extension and increased interest in facilitating ‘peer-peer’ learning. We have long known in extension the value of providing structured opportunities for producers to come together, plan and learn from each other – rather than being seen as recipients of expert ‘teaching’. Now is an opportunity to build this more strongly in the mix.

I also had the opportunity to participate in two national forums in Wellington, New Zealand. These were the final national workshop of the NZ Primary Innovation program (Co-Innovation) where the results of the 5 year project were presented and discussed with a national audience and also a national forum on ‘adaptive governance’ as part of the Scion ‘Weaving the Korawai’ project in which we are involved. Both co-innovation and adaptive governance have a lot in common.

Next on the agenda is a visit back to Chile to test my Spanish in the delivery of another set of workshops around extension delivery. And of course to take the opportunity for fly-fishing in one of those perfect rivers that flow from the Andes to the coast!

Autumn 2017

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
That was quite a Summer! The heat and then the cyclone. How much is global warming and how much is natural variation I have no idea – but the indication that extremes will increase going forward is certainly a concern.

The reef (Great Barrier Reef) of course is caught up in these extremes. I have just returned from a series of regional workshops with people involved in agriculture and natural resource management in the reef areas. We have been looking at how to strengthen the underlying extension and education system to best support producers as they seek to adapt to continuously improve the way in which they farm and manager their properties – with benefits to water quality and reef health. This also coincided with another major coral bleaching event that threatens general reef health and adds urgency to do all we can to provide an environment for protecting our world treasure.

The Summer also saw me in New Zealand on two occasions. One visit was associated with the Weaving the Korowai of Papatūānuku – Adaptive governance and supported environmental decision making project where we visited the community to better understand the challenges facing them. It was incredible to view a ‘glacier’ of what rock and clay moving down their river system and taking an entire mountainside with it over time. The downstream effects are the loss of land and livelihoods and a stress on an already disadvantaged community.
The other visit was for the on-going Primary Innovation Project – or Co-innovation Project’ as many know it. It is coming to the end of its five year exploration of a different model to fast track innovation and positive change across rural industries. It has been an exciting project with significant learning and it is hoped that a new project can build on this and demonstrate some real transformation of the way do business in research, development and extension.

The other significant occurrence in Coutts J&R is the return of Amy from maternity leave and from living in London. Amy (Samson) is already doing a great job pulling together the different project strings. We have also been fortunate to have had Evie Grove Smith adding her expertise to our projects over the last six months.

It’s good to see the demand for, and interest in, program evaluation – especially when it comes to planning ahead and embedding in long term projects. Hope you all enjoy the changing season!

Summer 2016: From England to Canada and a few places inbetween

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
Yorkshire MoorsIceland by horseDolmen at CarlowCanadian familyFlyfishing in the Miramichi
I am coming to an end to six months of working remotely!  This has been quite an experience and only made possible by the internet, skype, zoom and e-mail – and having excellent and accommodating clients.  Having had all our immediate family living away and wanting to travel and explore, we decided to go and spend some time with them and get out and about.  This meant England and Canada primarily – with some side trips to Ireland, Norway and Iceland.  We were able to welcome a new granddaughter (Myla – Amy’s second daughter) into the family in London, explore Dorchester-on-Thames with Ben and Evie and go searching for moose and bears with grandsons Beni and Alex in New Brunswick!

While in Ireland, I was invited to give a seminar on evaluation at Teagasc – the extension delivery organisation in the Republic of Ireland – at their head office in Carlow.  This was a great opportunity to share ideas and approaches on this topic.  It emphasised the need to be prepared to demonstrate value for money in investing in extension services.  Then, Ben and I attended the 12th European IFSA (farming Systems) conference at Harper Adams University in England.  Robyn and I had attended the last one in Berlin in 2014 and it was great to catch up with colleagues and friends and see what was happening in the ‘systems’ world.  The Primary Innovation Program – in which I am involved in the evaluation area – ran a successful workshop on “Using a co-innovation approach to improve innovation and learning”. I presented a paper on behalf of the other authors on the lessons learned about the “nine principles of co-innovation”  in the program.  There was a good range of papers well worth having a read.

Meanwhile, back in Australia two of the Research & Development for Profit Projects in which we are providing evaluation support are gaining momentum – as is the ‘Weaving the Korawai’ project in New Zealand which is addressing the roll out of a 100 year MOU to restore and develop a catchment in collaboration with the Maori Community.  On the other end, the Primary Innovation Project and the NCCARF project are on the homeward run.  At both ends, monitoring and evaluation planning and implementation are paramount.  By thinking through what is needed through the life of a project at the beginning, then life is much easier at its end to demonstrate its effectiveness and measure its impact!

I don’t get to relax for too long in one place when I get back to Australia – a week in New Zealand in October for work with the ‘Weaving’ project in New Zealand and then back to Chile in November for the second series of workshops directed at developing capacity in consultants working with smallholders – a great experience.  One upside will be having Ben and also Amy back in the same time zone –they are moving to Brisbane – at least for a while.

Spring in England

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
Australian Gum Trees English Daffodils
This blog is coming from London.  I left Autumn in Toowoomba for Spring over here!  I’ve always enjoyed coming over this way – the history in the buildings and cobblestones, green meadows and stone walls.  Its not that I don’t also enjoy gum trees, kookaburras and windmills – its just different.  I wonder how many generations it takes before one fully identifies with the country in which you were born, and not, in part, the country of your ancestors?

It has been a terrific smorgasbord of projects as we have gone into 2016.  The Research and Development for Profit projects have commenced and, as well as evaluating the ‘Stimulating the Private Sector’ project being lead by Dairy Australia, I also have the opportunity for input via the Expert Panel on the ‘Extension and Adoption for Australian Farmers and Fishers’ project lead by RIRDC. So good to see the effort and resources being put into understanding and supporting contemporary extension! What stood out with these federally funded projects was the requirement for a monitoring and evaluation plan as the first milestone!  And this practice is becoming more common place for projects funded by some of the Rural Development Corporations!  Extra funds are being allocated specifically for evaluation – so it becomes an integral part of project management and not an ‘add on’.

Speaking of R&D 4 Profit projects, I have been fortunate to be involved in early discussions and a workshop lead by MLA looking at the potential to use a co-innovation approach to look at the long term management of recurring drought.  There was a high level of interest of progressing this approach to this issue and developing a proposal for the next round of funding.

In New Zealand, I participated in a ‘writeshop’, where all of the researchers involved in the Primary Innovation (Co-innovation) Project were facilitated to develop joint papers – aimed at conferences and/or journals.  It was an excellent collaborative experience with some great outcomes. I was part of a team writing a paper for the upcoming IFSA conference on the “Nine principles of co-innovation” based on a survey undertaken of the experience of innovation project teams.  While in NZ, I was also a part of the initial team meeting for a project led by Scion, called “Weaving the Korowai of Papatuanuku – Adaptive governance and supported environmental decision making” – a holistic project looking at catchment rehabilitation and community capacity building.  There is a very strong focus on relationships and this was the focus of our first meeting.

So 2016 has started with a good deal of interest and energy and, for a while, greener pastures over here in the UK.

Designing effective surveys in three easy steps

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink

Dr Jeff Coutts outlines the three key steps you need to take to design effective surveys for monitoring and evaluation activities. (Published August 2012)

9 principles of co-innovation

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink

This webinar features Jeff Coutts presenting the results of a survey on the 9 principles of co-innovation.

Hobbits and Hope

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
Visiting HobbitonGRDC EATS Group NZWorkshop in ChilePuerto Varas Chile
The Christmas and New Year break is now past – and January 2016 has started with a rush!  Some welcome rain is falling around Queensland and it gives some hope for many of the properties that have faced drought over recent years.A delight in a recent trip to New Zealand was a visit to Hobbiton.  A great example of diversification!  There in the middle of a sheep and cattle property, among the beautiful green rolling hills of New Zealand was this magical legacy of Hobbiton – with clothes drying on the line, food on the tables in front of the hillside dwellings and so well kept that you can imagine that the hobbits are just away for the day!

The reason for being in NZ was to accompany a group of grain consultants from Australia as part of the GRDC EATS project to explore different ways of working in extension and advisory work with producers.  The dairy industry provides a wealth of effective approaches.  We also met with James Turner from AgResearch to discuss insights from the Primary Innovation Program/Co-innovation project.

Visiting Chile again was a highlight!  So good to catch up with my Chilean colleagues. This time the focus was on workshops with consultants who are contracted to support smallholder farmers.  It was a learning experience for me as well!  The course covered the family farm system and how to consider technology in the context of the social aspects on the farm as well as understanding learning processes and barriers to change.  This project goes for a couple of years – so there is an opportunity to support this group over time.

The APEN conference in Adelaide was excellent.  There were new conversations about supporting change with a focus on the public and private complementary roles – a lot of energy and new insights into extension.  And the conference organisers did us all proud with a great social program and special touches as well.  With many of the participants from the private sector finding this extension network as a key support group, it bodes well for the future and direction of extension.

So on with 2016 – and hope!

Spring, a New Prime Minister, and a New Reef Report Card

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
Carnival of Flowers 2015 #2Carnival of Flowers 2015 #1Alotau 1976 #2Alotau 1976 #1
It’s now Spring – and it is very evident in Toowoomba – host to the annual Carnival of Flowers!  This year we even got to the parade and viewed some of the flowers – usually we are away somewhere and leaving Toowoomba for the tourists!There are other ‘new beginnings’.  Australia has a new Prime Minister and who knows what that will bring for rural and agricultural policy?  One interesting change already is putting agriculture and water together in the hands of the rural focused National Party!  Agriculture certainly has a strong interest in water and its management and it is hoped that it is mature enough to recognise other water needs and to be able to negotiate mutually beneficial policies and approaches.

We’ve also seen the new Report Card on the Great Barrier Reef – with concerns about slower than desired progress.   There was a change with this report card where reference was made to ‘hectares of (agricultural industry) managed under Best Management Practice’ for such areas as nutrients, pesticides and soil.  This is a more useful number than previous ‘numbers of producers who made a (water quality friendly) change’ and it does signal the need for evaluations to include relative ‘on the ground’ impact.  These figures would be based on assumptions and extrapolation – and it is hoped over time that accuracy continues to increase to show the base actual data available.  Recent surveys we have undertaken for the sugar extension and grains BMP programs have been structured around the Water Quality Risk Framework and linked changes to areas affected.  Monitoring and Evaluation of practice change is also a stronger component of the updated Reef Plan Extension Strategy and implementation guide.  This is certainly providing improved data for assessing change – but there is a way to go yet to capture the full measure of what is happening across all agriculture in the reef catchments.

What is emerging is a need to get better at capturing practice levels and change across agriculture in all its forms to assist in planning, targeted RD&E and more accurate reporting in achievements and outcomes.  It has been great to see the Rural Development Corporations rising to this task.

Coming up are some interesting travel experiences – back to Chile to assist in a project targeting capacity building for consultants who provide government funded support to smallholders; to NZ for a very short sabbatical at Waikato University and then as part of the GRDC ‘Extension Adoption, Training and Support’ (EATs) program field visit for participants.

Meanwhile we take a short visit ‘back to the future’ to PNG to celebrate our October birthdays – calling in to Alotau – where it all began in 1976 (first position post-degree) – see the photos of the then main street of Alotau and (then) young Volunteers!  So quite a packed ‘rest of year’ program.

Desktop reviews don’t have to be boring

  • Published: by Amy Samson | Permalink

Many evaluations I’ve worked on have either been focused around or include a desktop review. This could be of existing documents and/or trawling the web for other sources for information.

Trying to find relevant information is not always easy and can be very overwhelming, particularly when you have a big pile of documents to go through! It’s easy to fall into the trap of including too much information (just in case) into the report which then ends up huge and essentially just repeating what is already out there. This isn’t a very useful or analytical approach.

So I thought I’d share a few strategies which I have found helpful when having to trawl through a lot of information.

  1. Understand the end game. Is the review a main part of the evaluation or a contributing data source? What needs to come out of this report? An analytical conclusion or a summation of data?
  2. What are the key evaluation questions? Write them down. These guide your data collection and help keep you focussed on what information is important. Think of them as your interview questions and the data sources as your subject.
  3. Develop a report structure. This I find is the most important – it is your roadmap. By working out report headings (focused around the evaluation objectives) you’ll have a clear understanding of what information you need which means you won’t miss things and you won’t get lost. You should be able to intelligently read through your sources and address your headings. No one wants to have to go back over reports again and again re-checking data. But remember too that new information may emerge so you might need to add new headings as you go along – don’t become so focussed that you miss the little unintended outcome gems.
  4. Interrogate methodically. Go through your data sources methodically, one at a time, using your headings as a guide to pulling out the relevant information for your report. Don’t forget to attribute quotes and information (I find footnotes very useful for this) and include a list of all the data sources. Whether you state this up front or include in an appendix is up to you.
  5. Data presentation. Try to be as succinct as possible, use your own words and don’t data dump. By this I mean just cutting and pasting big sections of text from other reports etc. This isn’t useful and most likely, your audience has already seen this text many times and doesn’t need to see it again in your report! There may be different ways you can present the data. Could a table or graph be useful? Maybe an infographic could tell a great story?

While not exhaustive, hopefully these ideas give a little food for thought, help you to craft an interesting story and enjoy what is often seen as a hard slog!

Is doing some evaluation better than nothing?

  • Published: by Amy Samson | Permalink
Majorca Holiday

 

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.

That being said, the day we were leaving, a survey was left on the table for us to fill out about our experience at the resort. Being a sympathetic evaluator, I was compelled to fill it out, although I can imagine that many people intent on squeezing the last bit out of their holiday wouldn’t take the time. I wondered how many forms were filled out and whether the resort took action on the feedback they received? Was it worth their while?

Now I don’t know what other type of evaluation this resort does, but if this is it, at least they are doing something to find out what the end-user (us) thinks and hopefully acting on it. To me it demonstrates a frame of mind and it means that the organisation (hopefully) is thinking about improving.

In my opinion having some sort of evaluation is better than having none. Of course nothing beats a well-designed evaluation program feeding directly into organisational goals (and this may well be the case at the resort we visited), but being in the right headspace and seeking some sort of feedback is where it all starts.

Jeff has also updated his blog!