April 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA1

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A Contrast of the Australian and California Extension and Technology Transfer Processes

Distinguishing features of the California and Australian Extension programs are identified and discussed. The purpose of this activity was to identify similarities and differences between the two approaches, with an interest in evaluating how privatization or cost-recovery might alter California Extension programs. The commonalities of the Australian programs were determined by in-depth interviews with Extension providers or users in seven states or territories. The conclusions were that fundamental differences in philosophies and objectives of California and Australia make direct comparisons difficult, that there are important similarities and differences between the two approaches and that there are opportunities for both systems to learn from each other or adopt portions of the other's methodology that are appropriate to their respective missions.

Mike Murray
Farm Advisor and County Director
University of California Cooperative Extension
Colusa, California
Internet address: mmurray@ucdavis.edu


There are many models of public Extension utilized throughout the world. Some interesting contrasts are provided by examining the Australian and California systems. While there are clearly differences in philosophies and practical applications between the seven public Extension providers in the Australian states and the Northern Territory, there are also commonalities among them. Conversely, while there are similarities between California and other U. S. Land-Grant College Extension programs, there are also important differences.

A 4-month study tour in 1996 focused on examining technology transfer, information delivery and Extension methodologies in Australia. During that period, more than 500 interviews were conducted. Producers composed the largest segment of persons interviewed (27%), followed by Extension field officers (20%), private industry representatives or consultants (16%), Ministry of Agriculture researchers (13%), university faculty (10 %) and Extension administrators (10%).

The questions asked of the interviewees were open-ended and not consistent between individuals. Rather, participants were asked to articulate their thoughts about how technology transfer had changed, what they viewed as the strengths or weaknesses of the changes, how the changes had affected them personally and how they would characterize the public Extension programs in their locations. Through these interviews, certain common features of Australian Extension programs continued to surface.

The discussion of the California Extension program is based on 18 years of field and managerial responsibilities with the University of California Cooperative Extension. Additionally, interactions with the National Association of Agricultural County Agents and previous experiences have provided a basis for comparisons of the California and other U. S. Extension programs.

There is no single "right" or "wrong" way of delivering Extension services to clientele, and these types of judgments should not be inferred from the observations discussed here. Many constraints or external forces have precipitated the ways in which various organizations approach Extension. The two models discussed have distinctly different missions and have evolved to address specific needs. The common factor is the desire to help people improve their quality of life and maintain viable, profitable agricultural ventures. The way in which these objectives are accomplished forms the basis for this discussion.

The California Extension Model

There are at least three aspects of California Extension that immediately distinguish it from most foreign, and to a lessor extent, other Land-Grant Extension programs. While other systems share one or two of these characteristics, none have the same level of commitment to all three. The three factors are Extension program delivery from a university base, delivery of Extension programs through multiple local county offices, and a strong reliance on applied research, at the county level, as an Extension tool.

University Affiliation

California Extension was established 83 years ago as a natural evolution of the Land-Grant College movement (Scheuring, 1988; 1995). Its history is intertwined with the University of California. County-based farm advisors conduct Extension programs in all 58 counties in the state. These advisors are academic staff of the university and provide Extension as an educational function, rather than a routine service. California Extension has been described as "the greatest adult educational effort in the world" (Scheuring, 1988).

Advisors status as university educators greatly influences how, and why, they provide Extension programs. While conducting Extension programs from a university base is the norm for Land-Grant colleges, it is uncommon in the rest of the world.

County-based Delivery of Programs

California Extension is funded through a three-way partnership between the federal, state, and county governments. Each funding partner contributes resources, with approximately 60 percent provided by the state and 20 percent from the federal and county partners. The state's contribution supports advisor salaries, administration and experiment station-based infrastructure (i.e., specialist support, diagnostic laboratories and other county support services). The Federal contribution is received and redistributed by administrative headquarters to counties and experiment stations. The counties, while only supplying an average of 20 percent of the total monies, provide essential support. This consists of office space for advisors, clerical and field support staff, telephones, computers and other communications equipment, automobiles, fuel and maintenance, and general office and research supplies or equipment.

This linkage to the counties results in an important "check and balance" that insures that Extension is responsive to local needs and is delivering programs appropriate to the community. As total demands for county services have exceeded available resources, county officials are demanding that local Extension programs be accountable and document the positive impacts of Extension programs on the quality of life and well-being of county residents. The county Extension support budget is negotiated annually and may be adjusted upward or down, depending on Extension's perceived value to taxpayers.

There is a movement in other states, and abroad, to move toward "regional Extension centers" for program delivery. These are a group of counties or a region of the state that are serviced from a centralized location, with the elimination or substantial downsizing of individual county offices. While this may be attractive from a managerial or fiscal perspective, as it reduces redundancies involved with staffing multiple offices and allows wider use of highly-trained professional staff, the result can be less responsiveness to localized problems or issues. To date, California has avoided this approach, but is susceptible to the same pressures that have caused other Extension providers to embrace it.

Strong Commitment to Applied Research at the County Level

This is, perhaps, the single feature that separates the California Extension programs from many others. External and internal forces have precipitated this situation and they have been discussed previously by Murray (1997). This integration of applied research has important implications for the way in which local Extension programs are developed and delivered.

Many other states utilize on-farm demonstrations to encourage adoption of agricultural research that has been developed elsewhere or as a learning tool. However, they do not typically encourage or reward county staff for conducting original research or performing research at the expense of the more traditional Extension methodologies of group contacts, production meetings and mass communication. It should be clear that California advisors utilize these other techniques, as well, but often as supplementary delivery methods for distributing the results of their own individual applied research programs.

Generalizations on the Australian Extension Programs

The priorities and objectives of the various Australian Extension and research providers are well described in publications prepared by the respective organizations, and will not be individually reported here (Department of Agriculture, New South Wales, 1987; Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries-Tasmania, 1994; Northern Territory Government, 1994; Office of the Minister of Primary Industry-Western Australia, 1995; Primary Industries, South Australia, 1995; Queensland Department of Primary Industries, 1990; South Australia Research and Development Institute, 1995; Watson, et al, 1992). Rather, the discussion will focus on twelve factors that appear to be common and recurring themes.

1. Programs are conducted by the state departments of agriculture and include regulatory and other ancillary responsibilities. Extension is only one element of the department and is not linked to educational institutions. One result of this structure is the potential for politicians to use Extension programs as pawns for their own personal agendas. Politicians appear to routinely utilize Extension to garner visibility on an issue that they want to promote, at the expense of other activities perceived as higher priority by field staff. A related issue is that Extension organizational priorities or programs may change, depending on which political party is in power at the moment. That makes medium - and long-term priority-setting - difficult, at best. Additionally, there are barriers to gaining the trust and respect of clientele when an Extension field officer is functioning as both educator and regulatory agent. The two duties are often incompatible.

2. A reduction in publicly-supported resources, with commensurate increases in external funding. While this is not a problem unique to Australia, it seems to be more pronounced. In some cases (for instance, Tasmania), decreases in funding have resulted in staff reductions below a "critical mass" and the Extension programs are largely non-functional. This has led to attempts to augment the funding through cost-recovery, fee-for-service, and other ways, which will be discussed in more detail later. External funding sources usually require that they also participate in establishing priorities or activities. Their priorities may be inconsistent with the larger objectives of the Extension organization.

3. Separation of Extension and applied research functions. Historically, some of the Extension programs have had a degree of integration of the two functions. This has changed in South Australia, where Primary Industries South Australia (PISA) performs the Extension functions and South Australia Research and Development Corporation (SARDI) conducts the research. Victoria is currently in the process of establishing separate corporations to conduct applied research and Extension.

This inevitably leads to decreased communications between the researcher and field officer, redundancies, and other obstacles to effective technology transfer. It is ironic that after time has passed, some research agencies have "reinvented" ways to get the research results out to the end-user (technology transfer). This is currently a topic of much concern and debate within the Australian Research and Development Corporations.

There are Extension programs where this movement is not as prevalent. Queensland and the Northern Territory, in particular, have managed to maintain strong linkages between research and Extension and, in some cases, encourage integration of the two functions.

Typically, applied research or Extension programs are delivered through regional research institutes or Extension centers.

4. Separation of the purchaser and provider functions. Many of the state departments of agriculture share a belief that potential conflicts of interest arise when the same persons decide both what activities are going to be funded (purchaser) and perform the task (provider). They suggest that when these functions are integrated there is a perception that it is in the provider's best interest to continue historical funding. This may result in an unjustifiably optimistic view of the value of that activity.

Separating the activities has resulted in decreased abilities for project managers to control or prioritize funds and has created competition between entities, within the same department, for limited funding. This can precipitate the partitioning of Extension and applied research activities into separate corporations, as noted above. When the functions are separated, the purchaser makes independent non-biased decisions about where they will get the greatest return on investment. Additionally, the service provider becomes more competitive and innovative, as they may be only one of several public or private entities vieing for funds.

5. Poor or non-existent relationships between Extension/applied research and universities. There appear to be few examples of institutional collaborative efforts involving Extension or applied research providers and the universities. There are examples where individuals have developed collaborations and excellent communication, but this does not extend to the organizational level. Staff from both the local universities and Extension/applied research programs may be working on similar problems, in isolation from each other. Redundancies could be reduced and progress enhanced if communication was improved.

6. Movement from one-on-one services to group facilitation. The current emphasis is away from individual services toward encouraging farmer self-help and discussion groups. The rationale is that individuals profiting from public advisory services should rightfully pay for that service. Conversely, bringing groups of information users together to collectively solve their own problems and generate funding to support ancillary activities is perceived to be in the best interests of the larger society.

Some farmers feel that Extension is abdicating its responsibilities to assist former clientele and that they no longer have access to non-biased information. This is especially pronounced in lower profit-margin enterprises, such as pastoral crops or sheep operations. On the other hand, some of the longer established or better functioning groups feel that there are advantages associated with not being as dependent on public agencies.

7. Problems with staff recruitment and retention. Field Officer staff appear to have serious morale problems. The instability of funding, relatively low entry and top-end compensation, constant changes in organizational directions, and general instability are cited as reasons. It appears that public Extension programs are becoming training grounds for industry, where recent college graduates go to get some experience and leave after 2-5 years for a perceived better job in the private sector. This is to be causing complications with program continuities and delivery of long-term Extension programs (such as Land Care).

8. Disregard or apathy from farmers/industry toward public Extension and applied research. As both the quantity and quality of services for primary producers or industry diminish, former clientele are withdrawing their support for continuation of those services. Many clientele feel that public Extension programs are no longer relevant to their needs and "the quicker the agencies take the next step of totally eliminating the services, the better".

9. A sociological approach toward Extension and technology transfer. The public Extension agencies spend a significant amount of time considering the sociological ramifications of issues such as urban unemployment, land/resource degradation, the impacts of cropping patterns and environmental stewardship. The emphasis has shifted from individual profitability and survival to larger societal concerns. A good coverage of this aspect is provided by Vanclay and Lawrence (1995). There is a greater emphasis on group interactions, dynamics and facilitation, compared to the technological concerns common in many foreign Extension systems.

10. Production of high-quality, user-friendly learning materials. Concurrent with the movement away from individual assistance is a recognition of a need for learning tools to fill that void. There are numerous examples of the development of computer software, brochures and other learning aids throughout the Extension programs. Queensland was especially committed to this endeavor and has developed comfortable "learning centres" to facilitate clientele self-education activities.

11. A belief that it is all right for farmers to fail. Most of the Extension agencies share a feeling that farming should not be viewed differently than any other free enterprise venture. They realize that some farmers are better businessmen than others. As in other small businesses, those that are inefficient and resistant to change will fail, while those that are progressive and embrace improved technologies will succeed and prosper. Many agencies are putting their efforts into helping unsuccessful farmers make a graceful exit from farming, rather than artificially keeping them in business.

12. Trends toward cost-recovery, fee-for-service, and privatization. State agencies are frantically investigating all possible ways of enhancing their income or shifting functions to the private sector. These efforts have been successful to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the specific circumstances. There does not seem to be great resistance to full-recovery pricing for training sessions or high-quality learning aides. However, there are few examples of successful fee-for-service options. When farmers are faced with the decision of paying comparable rates for public agency advice or private consultants, they typically favor the private sector, which they view as being more technically competent and competitive.

Almost all of the agencies are privatizing some services, with mixed results. The Tasmanian Extension program has gone further in this direction, for a longer period of time, than any others. Bloome (1993) concluded that the Tasmanian experience has failed to meet its intended outcome: "After ten years of the policy, fees don't total five percent of annual departmental revenues" (p 24-25).


Direct comparisons of the California and Australian Extension models are inappropriate, as they have evolved to meet different mandates or needs. However, contrasting the two models is enlightening and identifies both strengths and weaknesses. Some of the perceived strengths of the California model would be identified as weaknesses by those having philosophically differing views of the appropriate functions of Extension. Likewise, the emphasis of the Australian model on public-good activities, the concurrent de-emphasis on individual service, and the ultimate goal to privatize Extension is poorly understood by Land-Grant Extension faculty.

Hopefully, one can learn from the successes and failures of each other, and apply those portions that are relevant to their own specific situations. As stated earlier, the two models share many common objectives; they have just decided to "skin-the-cat" differently.


Bloome, P. (1993). Privatization lessons for U. S. Extension from New Zealand and Tasmania. Journal of Extension International. 31(1) 24-25.

Department of Agriculture, Sydney, New South Wales (1987). Organization and structure.

Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries--Tasmania (1994). Hobart: Strategic directions--1994-96 strategic plan.

Murray, M. (1997). The integration of county-based Extension and applied research functions: The California experience. Proceedings of the 2nd Australiasia Pacific Extension Conference, (65-71), Albury, NSW.

Northern Territory Government (1994). Darwin: Rural industries in the Northern Territory--Future directions.

Office of the Minister for Primary Industry--Western Australia (1995). Perth: Primary directions---Supporting professional and profitable agriculture in Western Australia.

Primary Industries, South Australia (1995). Adelaide: PISA'S service delivery policy---New directions.

Queensland Department of Primary Industries (1990). Brisbane: QDPI Extension policy review--1990.

Scheuring, A. F. (1988). A sustaining comradeship---The story of the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1913-1988. Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Berkeley: University of California.

Scheuring, A. F. (1995). Science and service---A history of the land-grant university and agriculture in California. Oakland: ANR Publications, University of California.

South Australia Research and Development Institute (1995). Adelaide: SARDI annual report--1994-95.

Vanclay, F. & Lawrence, G. (1995). The environmental perspective (eco-social concerns for Australian agriculture). Rockhampton: Central Queensland University Press.

Watson, A., Hely, R., O'Keeffe, M., Cary, J., Clark, N;, Allen, J. (1992). Review of field-based services in the Victorian Department of Food and Agriculture. Agmedia.