March 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // 2TOT2

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Communication Strategies


Edwin H. Amend
North Dakota State University

Communication Strategies: A Guide for Agricultural Change Agents. Herbert F. Lionbergerand Paul H. Gwin. Danville, Illinois: The Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc., 1982. 239 pp. $8.95, soft cover.

Communication Strategies explains how to translate researchers' language to users' language to get research findings adopted.

The recommended communication strategies are based on research about diffusion and adoption of agricultural innovations. But some examples come from health education and public schools as well.

Lionberger and Gwin believe that their communication strategies apply across cultures, and offer examples from around the world. However, they recommend that change agents carefully adapt their communication strategies to each local situation. Just as a farmer integrates agricultural technology into a farming operation, a change agent fits communication strategies and technologies into plans for reaching clients.

The change agent should be people-oriented rather than innovation-oriented. Through their use of interpersonal and mass media communication skills, change agents earn credibility right where they work. Clientele need a different type of information at each stage in the adoption process and the communication strategy should be targeted accordingly.

The authors assume that client success yields the most total good to society and they define a change agent's success in terms of helping clients achieve their goals. Therefore, mutual planning itself is probably the greatest communication and teaching tool Extension uses. It enables community representatives and change agents to learn as together they study alternatives to improve agriculture and family life.

The book off ers five communication maxims: (1) plan communication strategy to serve users, not the agency; (2) use many communication channels; (3) include a communication specialist in planning; (4) seek aid from professional journalists; and (5) review how clients respond to mass media messages and strategies.

How to use Communication Strategies? It doesn't read like a novel; it provides a mix of theory, research findings reported in the jargon of social science, and "how-to's" for the change agent. It includes a useful glossary.

Extension specialists may find the book useful in understanding relationships between the local agent and client. Administrators will find clues about why a successful Extension agent may relate more closely to clients than to the university. Those who aspire toward administration will find the discussion of Extension systems helpful. The book is a beginning reference for Extension systems in other countries. Training officers and professors will find portions useful in teaching. But probably change agents themselves will find the book of greatest use, for each chapter contains practical suggestions for applying communication strategies in the local setting.

Communication Strategies offers an overview of terms and research findings; it's a handbook of "how-to" suggestions, useful in developing one's own communication strategy.

Lionberger and Gwin conclude that of all the strategies studied, the one most associated with success is involvement of people in planning programs and strategies. Change-agent success isn't so much a question of how people are involved in the communication/decision-making process; it's more a question of whether they're involved.