Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Handbook for Best Practices for Extension Educators

Date Published: 
February 29, 2016

This handbook is designed as a reference manual for front-line extension staff to use in their day-to-day work. It offers a set of tools for effective communication, program planning and evaluation. It is meant to support and educate agricultural extension workers worldwide. The intended audiences of this handbook include: governmental agriculture, fisheries, natural resources and community development ministry officials; governmental and non-governmental extension district/regional managers; extension-related faculty and their students—preservice extension workers; and field-level agents, whether governmental, non-governmental or for-profit. We hope that this handbook will help advance efforts to empower and continue educating extension personnel through in-service training opportunities, continuing education programming and “train-the-trainer” programs. Such efforts may include targeting specific tools of interest to audiences and inviting scholars/practitioners to teach participants about them.

Agricultural extension and advisory services are transitioning from a focus on technology transfer to a focus on facilitating a range of interventions in complex contexts. No longer is extension first and foremost a conduit of innovations coming from research and passing them on to farmers. Today’s agricultural extension and advisory services are being challenged to serve as the connecting actor in complex agricultural innovation systems. The role of extension in agricultural development is continuously evolving, and effective front-line staff members need skill sets that may differ from those they learned in school. Extension professionals must have an understanding of the communities they work in and have compassion for the people they serve. They should be well-versed in adult education principles. Besides sound technical knowledge, they must possess adequate knowledge and skill in participatory tools and techniques for planning, implementation and evaluation of extension programs. Good communication skills are critical in all aspects of their work. This handbook attempts to provide some tools and approaches that can help front-line extension staff do their important work. 

Most of the process skills or tools in this handbook are grounded in communication, education, rural sociology and applied development science. These tools are valuable for the trainers of field extension workers. This handbook was created to help meet the need for a simple but comprehensive guide for extension workers that focuses on process skills and competencies. Our goal was to create a concise yet complete, easy to read, user-friendly explanation of some of the skills that extension workers need to help farmers improve agricultural productivity and to help create a sustainable and inclusive agriculture system through demand-driven and participatory approaches that have gained prominence in the past two decades. 

Please note that neither the length of each tool’s description nor its numeric order in this handbook is meant to convey the tool’s importance, complexity or usefulness. Not all tools are equally useful in particular circumstances. Furthermore, some complex and powerful tools are easier to describe than others. We present a brief overview at the end of this handbook of some of the ways for extension personnel to evaluate the potential usefulness and appropriateness of the tools. However, in the end, educated and well-trained extension staff members will be expected to use their best judgment on how best to proceed. We hope this handbook helps them do so.