The International Farming Systems Association Europe Symposium in Berlin in April included presentations on evaluation of policy interventions. Jeff Coutts (with Neels Botha and James Turner) presented a paper on evaluating “co-innovation” – based on a project in which we are involved in New Zealand. The paper can be downloaded here. You can also go to the Symposium website and read key note presentations from Andrew Campbell and Janice Jiggins.
The 22nd European Seminar on Extension and Education will be held in Wageningen in The Netherlands from April 28th to May 1st 2015. Jeff Coutts is on the Scientific Steering Committee and is planning a session on evaluation of extension and education. Paper proposals need to be submitted by October 1st. The website is www.esee2015.nl – and more information is available on the flier.
Amy is back working at Coutts J&R from London as a Principle Consultant. Amy has a long term history with the company and has served in many roles over the last decade. She took a break with her husband Chris to London and had been working for a company that evaluates public relation programs and their effectiveness. This experience has added to her skills and approaches to our evaluation support and consultancies.
Meanwhile, Ben – who has been based in Canada over recent years – is temporarily back in Queensland. Ben has developed and manages our on-line M&E platforms – as well as provided expert input in data analysis and its reporting. Its been great to see the increased interest in managing program and project level M&E data and lift reporting quality.
There has been a long history of projects using monitoring and evaluation frameworks. MERI (Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement) Plans have been mandatory with Caring for Our Country funding for some time. Recently, however the interest has spread to industry R&D organisations. There is a lot of interest and work being undertaken in the Dairy and Beef and industries in Australia in particular at state and national levels in Monitoring and Evaluation Frameworks – and in which we at Coutts J&R are involved. Essentially a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework is about providing a clear basis for defining investment choices that are made:
“We are investing 1 million dollars in a project over 3 years to improve these specific reproductive practices used by producers in the industry and so improve reproductive performance by 5% calculated to improve productivity by 3% across the national herd/flock resulting in an increase in economic return for the industry by 8%. This contributes to the strategic industry objective of “increase herd productivity by 2% per year over the next five years”.
It also provides a consistent and clear basis for capturing evaluation data and reporting against the project impact and hence contribution by the funding organisation to their strategic goals. It is about providing a way to better collate the whole story from a range of related projects – using the same terminology, categories and basis for calculation.
If you want to find out more about Monitoring and Evaluating frameworks and how they can impact on your program, project or organisation, contact Jeff – firstname.lastname@example.org
Coutts J&R have further developed its Monitoring and Evaluation YourDATA Platform so that it can track data inputs from individuals and allow them to have individualised M&E reports for their activities. This is providing an incentive for individuals to put data into the system – helping them to demonstrate the impact of their work for reporting, performance reviews and/or job applications!
The use of a ‘master sheet’ for data entry means that data from the full range of activities or projects is consistent and can be collated for reporting at different levels and for different purposes. It still allows automatically generated reports to be provided for individual events or series of events – as well as providing an overall picture.
More clients are beginning to seek assistance with M&E data collation and management and we are more than happy to work with them to provide them with their needs.
Jeff Coutts recently attended a workshop in New Zealand run by AgResearch (a Crown Research Institute) and involving other organisations and stakeholders in Research & Development which seriously considered how they could all work even more effectively together to bring about innovation and practice change to benefit the country. The workshop used the concept of the Synergy Matrix to look at past and future scenarios and map where the different players contributed/could contribute to increase overall effectiveness.
As part of the inputs into the process, a paper had been commissioned to look at the adoption literature – and also to bring together the critical principles of effective evaluation (undertaken by Jeff). It is part of broader initiative from the NZ Government – and shows a real national leadership that the Australian RD&E community can learn from.
Greg Leach has just successfully defended his PhD dissertation Barriers and Bottlenecks A case study of the implementation of extension policy for enabling sustainable natural resource management in Queensland, Australia. Jeff was fortunate to be able to part of the proceedings as a member of the examining committee at Wageningen University in The Netherlands.
Its an exciting thesis which followed the (lack of) development of extension in a government department of natural resources in Queensland over a decade – as well as exploring developments in extension policy thinking nationally. The thesis is just as relevant to what is happening in Queensland now. A new government has brought about the inevitable changes in departments. A new Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is already shedding 200 staff – with a vision of “not providing an extension officer and ute to visit farms – but to use modern extension methods”! Meanwhile, the department of natural resources in Queensland is looking at introducing more extension to undertake its projects rather than contract them out.
It is hoped that in both cases they take note of what Greg has discovered in his research! If you want to be put in touch with Greg and read his work, email Jeff (email@example.com)
Extension is still a hot topic in Australia and overseas. In May, Jeff joins Jeanette and Bill Long in Canberra to present a second year of extension training to seasoned farm consultants in an innovative project by GRDC. The aim is to provide them with a greater understanding of GRDC’s projects and objectives and tools – and increased skills in extension planning and practice to complement their considerable technical skills. Great to see the recognition of the role that this sector plays in bringing about change on-farm!
Likewise, Jeff is also heading off to Chile again to undertake another round of extension training for agronomists and vets in the Dairy Industry. The first round of training was big picture stuff – adult learning, extension planning and evaluation. This round focuses more on the practical side of working closely with farmers and putting theory into practice. Although Jeff has brushed up on his Spanish – he will still be needing an interpreter for a while yet!
The year started with floods in Toowoomba and South East Queensland and also brought on a flood of projects in both the extension and evaluation areas. The year saw Jeff in Chile (running extension training for the dairy industry) and New Zealand (looking at evaluating extension and development impact in dairy). Extension training was also undertaken in the grains industry as GRDC funded a project to pilot such training with the private sector.
Other projects focused on North Queensland with the use of extension, regulation and incentives to fast track change in land management to improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef zone – and took us to Tasmania and New South Wales to review sheep extension projects. We even had our hand in a marketing project that sought to boost Queensland horticultural exports overseas. A on-going impact evaluation of a large program researching the northern rivers across Australia added to the range of interesting and challenging projects.
The Productivity Commission’s review of the Research and Development sector in agriculture has certainly put the focus back on extension, training and education programs directed at on-ground change – and hence an urgency for more and even better evaluation! 2012 is shaping up as equally busy. We will keep you posted. May it be a good year for all of you.
Focus on South West Queensland
As 2011 starts, we find that we have a strong focus on the rural and remote areas of South West Queensland – an area that has been hard hit with first drought and now floods. Jeff Coutts is part of a project run by the Centre of Rural and Remote Area Health and funded by the Collaborative Partnership for Farming and Fishing Health Safety (through RIRDC). This project is running workshops in 12 rural and remote areas to see what more can be done for farmers and their communities to build their capacity in the face of climate variability. A related input is facilitating meetings in two centres in the region to look at how Human Services and Volunteers can best coordinate their response to flood recovery within their communities.