June 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA1

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Transferring Technology Through the Internet Channel

The Cooperative Extension Service has been in the technology transfer business for nearly eighty years, and the National Science Foundation's Internet computer communication system can aid this process. This article explains how the use of the Internet channel can be viewed as another tool, similar to newspapers, TV, and radio, for transferring technology. The technology transfer process is presented with six interactive phases to distinguish progress through a flow-system model. The process is presented to promote awareness and understanding of the role Internet service can play within the Extension community.

Penny Risdon
Cooperative Extension Volunteer
Cooperative Extension Computer Facility
University of California - Davis

Technology can result from the application of science to add value, simplification, diversification, and productivity to a process or product. However, technology's value wanes unless it can be transferred to a user who can apply the technology to create a tangible benefit. This article presents ideas on how the National Science Foundation's Internet computer communication service can facilitate the technology transfer process by projecting its use in a flow-system model. Such a flow-system model can serve as a strategic planning tool for Extension personnel and other key decision-makers to make constructive interventions to facilitate progress in transferring technology to a tangible end use.

The technology transfer process is presented with six phases: technology requisition, technology innovation, technology confirmation, technology marketing, technology application, and technology evaluation. Each of the six phases is briefly described with examples of Internet's services in aiding key actions which facilitate the transfer of technology.

The Internet computer communication services can be viewed as an international newspaper which has different sections for specialized information. Internet has three basic services, e-mail, telnet, and ftp. Electronic mail (e-mail) is similar to placing a message in a personalized newspaper, in which only the receiver(s) gets that part of the newspaper. Telnet is similar to subscribing to a specialized section of a newspaper. It is used to connect to other computers on the Internet. File transfer protocol (ftp) is similar to having a specialized section of a newspaper sent to your computer. It allows transfer of files from another computer to your computer (Knol, 1992). Key actions for the six phases can take a multitude of forms, involving these or other Internet services.

The technology requisition phase is depicted by research priorities being established by advisory councils at the county, state, and/or federal level. The technology transfer process begins when citizens raise concerns about a situation or problem and request a solution. An Extension agent can send a message (e-mail) to the state subject-matter specialist to ascertain if the problem has been confronted previously and request related references. One example of requisitioning information was the requests for emergency information generated during the "Hugo" disaster to be made available during the 1993 Midwestern states flood crisis. A specialist may refer the agent to resources available through one of the Internet information storage areas or information servers. Within the Cooperative Extension System, several state Extension Services have electronic storage areas which contain agriculture and family resource information. Two examples of such information servers are PENPages at Pennsylvania State University and almanacs at the Oregon State and the University of Wisconsin.

If resources weren't easily available, the specialist could communicate about the problem with other specialists nationally or internationally through e-mail discussion groups. Discussion groups, forums, mailing groups, and listservs are special interest groups where issues are discussed via the Internet computer communication system. Additionally, the specialist could use Internet services (telnet, gopher, or wais) to search through informational sources to find related resources.

Once information has been accumulated, a specialist starts communicating ideas of how science can be used to solve the problem or improve the situation. This technology innovation phase is represented by the exchange of information which takes place between the specialist, colleagues, and administrators to advance ideas on the application of science. This activity may aid the specialist in further refinement of theories and gain suggestions for other possible applications of the technology. E-mail discussion groups should be actively supported by all Extension professionals to encourage analysis, support, and/or development of ideas. Trotter and Risdon (1990) address the issue of morale benefits which accrue from colleague interaction, establishing the close relationship between morale and productivity.

The technology confirmation phase is represented by the Extension professional conducting research which provides data in support of the underlying theory about technology and then communicating the results via Internet services (e-mail or discussion groups) to colleagues and administrators. Key actions in this phase would be in-house reports, presentations, and/or publications substantiating research success; such communications could be posted through Internet discussion groups or posted on information services and/or almanacs.

The technology marketing phase of the process is concerned with disseminating the technology beyond the land-grant college. Key actions for science liaison involve educating potential consumers to the social, economic, and environmental benefits of the new technology. During the fourth phase, decisions need to be made concerning consumers who could potentially benefit from the technology. There could be frequent e-mail interaction between specialists and agents to establish a demographic profile of anticipated consumers before organizing communication channels (Risdon, 1990). Knowing where the potential client usually gains knowledge of specialized products and or services will influence the selection of communication methods. E-mail discussions with news groups could be used to exchange ideas on communication channels for transferring the technology. It is best to use a variety of communication channels to stimulate public awareness and understanding of new technology (Kaimowitz, 1989). Tightly-focused educational programs presenting new technology could be shared with agents and selected clients in the next county, state, or half-way around the world via Internet.

The technology application phase concerns the understanding of users' or consumers' behavior and establishing predictable steps to monitor the application of technology. Social, economic, and environmental factors influence the rate of adoption of new technology. Extension professionals need to be aware of factors such as cost, convenience, and regulations which influence users' acceptance of new technology or factors which might serve to prevent the adoption of technology. The ratio of the number of clients applying the technology to the total number of potential consumers needs to be carefully monitored (along with the impact on special interest groups), to establish the market share reached. Again, e-mail messages between specialists and agents or e-mail discussion groups could serve as a platform for discussion and fact gathering.

The sixth phase of the technology transfer process documents the success level of technology adoption. Key actions for the technology evaluation phase are to establish assessment criteria for authenticating socio-economic and environmental benefits or harm. Guidelines for evaluating different types of technology innovations have been proposed (Echeverria, 1990). Such guidelines could be made available on information servers. Assessing technology transfer effectiveness generally requires specific criteria which can provide a basis for measuring the worth of new technology (Arnon, 1989). The stronger the evaluation criteria, the more useful it is for making decisions on present and future funding. Ideas for evaluation criteria could be exchanged through e-mail discussion groups. The technology transfer process ends when Extension professionals report evaluation findings back to the funding agency (Leifeld, 1993).

The technology transfer process describes the linkage which integrates the adoption of new science knowledge, and the role Internet services can play in aiding the process. The flow-system model has been presented to bring awareness and understanding of the role Internet service can have within the Extension community. The Internet computer communication service may empower Extension personnel with an effective tool to aid the successful application of new technology. Those wanting to learn more about how to use the Internet services should contact their local or state computer consultant.


Krol, E. (1992). The whole internet. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates.

Trotter, P., and Risdon, P. L. (1990). Performance counselling. College and University Personnel Association, XXXXI, 21-24.

Risdon, P. L. (1990). Developing effective extension educational publications. Journal of Extension, XXVII(Fall), 16.

Kaimowitz, D., Snyder, M., & Engel, P. A. (1989). Conceptual framework for studying the links between agricultural research and technology transfer in developing countries. The Hague, Netherlands: International Service for National Agricultural Research.

Echeverria, R. G. (1990). Methods for diagnosing research system constraints and assessing the impact of agricultural research. The Hague, Netherlands: International Service for National Agricultural Research.

Arnon, I. (1989). Agricultural research and technology transfer. London: Elsevier Science.

Leifeld, C. (1993). Victims or architects of change? Journal of Extension, XXXI(Spring), 6.