Notification: The section is reproduced with the permissiomn of the Decision Analysis Initiative (DAI) 2010-2015 the extension service of the George Boole Foundation Ltd (London).
Extension is an activity of spreading useful information and knowledge about new technologies1 and techniques2 as a proactive means of raising awareness, providing opportunities to assess their worth and to provide guidance in the most appropriate way to use them by those interested in adopting a new or improved practice. The term innovation refers to the process of something being done for the first time3 in a given location. In this context, extension has the role of spreading innovation through geographic space so that an increasing number of people benefit and thereby stimulating a sustained rate of economic growth4 (see the box below).
Extension systems have existed for many years in the agricultural sectors as a system to assist farmers take decisions in a complex environment.
Extension services do not normally operate on the basis of a one-way "technological-push". They also have a vital role in conveying challenging user circumstances and requirements to those who are concerned with the creation of new technologies or the improvement of existing technologies. Extension services can often become intimately involved in the assessment of promising new techniques by carrying out applied research and evaluation. Quite often experiments can be set up to assess "state-of-the-art" against issues of importance to the likely users of technology. The assessment of applied research and development output is often undertaken in collaboration with extension services so as to present results in a transparent form of use to the potential user; the DAI has such a role.
Most innovation arises from the adoption of proven state-of-the-art technologies as opposed to specific activities attempting to advance technology.
An extension service has the role of introducing an adequate level of transparency and objectivity into the process of assessment of new applications. This supports potential users with a more balanced technical, economic, financial and environmental assessment that can place promotional arguments of commercial systems producers in context. The role of extension is to point out the full range of benefits and costs, and not just the benefits, associated with the adoption of a new process.
The challenge facing anyone observing a demonstration is to make sure that they understand what is required to emulate what was observed in practice. Is there a need for training? What resources and equipment are required? How much does it cost? More to the point, observers always need to check to see that the circumstances under which a demonstration takes place are the same or similar to their own. If not, to what degree might the performance observed be affected by the specific circumstances of the potential adopter of the innovation? For people to be in a position to decide there is a need for parallel information inputs such as guidelines on what is needed for success, a means of communicating with those who already use the practice and an ability to analyse, in an objective fashion, the demonstration environment and the intended environment in terms of possible differences that might affect outcomes.
1 Technology is the specific combination of resources, tools and devices used to undertake some action such as producing an industrial product, the processing of information or the production of a crop.
2 Technique is the way in which a given technology is used by a specific person or work group. Quite often people using the same technology can achieve different levels of performance as a direct result of differences in technique. The evolution in technique is a learning process whereby individuals adapt the way they work as they gain more practice (experience) in making using any given technique; technique is constantly evolving.
3 Mansfield, E., "The Economics of Technological Change", pp.99-100, W.W.Norton & Co., 1968.
4 McNeill, H.W., "Planning & Managing Actions to Stimulate Agricultural Efficiency & National Economic Growth", in "Towards a Market-based Privatization Strategy for Hungarian Agriculture", pp. 40-48, Ministry of Agriculture, Budapest, 1993.