The Pilot Agricultural Capacity Building Program, managed by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) with funding from the Queensland Government, was completed in August 2018 in response to the recommendations made by the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce. The project’s overall objective was to build the capacity of agricultural extension officers who work in the Great Barrier Reef (GRB) catchments and play this vital role through training, networking and mentoring opportunities.
The pilot project had two primary focal points: targeted training for new and existing extension officers; and a one-year work placement/mentoring project wherein early career extension staff were provided with mentoring, training, and access to networks. Six early career extension officers completed the pilot project, and a total of 20 specific-topic workshops were delivered to new and current extension officers by August 2018 with participant numbers ranging from 17-47 per workshop.
Because it was a pilot project, the project had a very thorough evaluation approach. Empatheia Consulting designed an evaluation framework and completed both a mid-term and final project evaluation.
The results of the final evaluation reveal the objectives of the project have been successfully delivered against the designated indicators, as a participant in the program observed:
“Overall, I would say this experience has been an immense learning journey, both professionally and personally. I have appreciated the support that QFF has provided and the ample opportunities for training and practical, hands-on learning. Extension is an important industry and I feel as though my skills and knowledge have increased immensely because of this program. As a pilot program we knew there would be kinks to be straightened out along the way and maybe some uncertainty at times. However, the program was very worthwhile, and I definitely think it should be continued into the future”
The findings show that extension performance had been enhanced; with new knowledge and skills gained, confidence strengthened and the intention to use those new skills in their work settings, extension officers reported a positive change in both their skills and knowledge to provide extension across GBR catchments.
Findings indicated that there was increased connectedness for extension staff as a result of the opportunities provided by the project to grow existing learning and professional networks and to build new ones. Trainees involved in the work placement component were especially supportive of the contribution improved networks have made to their work.
Most mentors and organisations believe there is value in using the work placement model in the future and trainees reported that the placement met their expectations, with a direct benefit from the work placement for the work they do.
Five out of the six trainees were offered ongoing roles with their host organisation reflecting the success of the program. Mentors also valued their involvement in guiding the new graduates, with the host organisations also experiencing multiple benefits. Organisations believe that the program is an excellent process to train new graduates.
Overall, the Pilot Agriculture Extension Placement Program was successful and met its goal to increase ongoing capacity in extension services to better support landholders in Reef catchments. Evidenced by data collected in the survey, interviews and focus groups, there was strong support for the pilot project from key stakeholders and they continue to be supportive of further investment in extension capacity building strategies.
As a pilot program, it was not all smooth sailing and a number of valuable lessons have been learned as a result. One of the evaluation’s recommendations is to manage extension training and work placement mentoring as separate projects, but with strong linkages between them including timing, stakeholder engagement and capacity building approaches.
Finally, a big thank you goes out to the trainers, extension coordinators, steering committee, trainees, mentors, and host organisations for their contribution to the program and also to the Queensland Government for the funding provided to deliver this program.