There has been a spurt in the number of conferences and workshops related to extension in the recent past. Many of these fail to have any impact due to lack of clarity on its objectives and the way it is conducted. The recent International Conference on “Extension Educational Strategies for Sustainable Agricultural Development‐ A Global Perspective” organised at Bangalore during December 5‐8, 2013 was one such event. Dr R. M. Prasad who was a lead speaker at this conference reflects on his experiences at this
event and argues for adopting innovative approaches in organising similar conferences.
It is natural that we attend and participate in seminars, conferences and workshops with much expectations‐ of obtaining recent knowledge about the subject, understanding new concepts and approaches, identifying researchable issues, establishing professional contact with other researchers from different parts of the country/globe, etc. When professional societies organise such events we also expect to benefit from valuable inputs and deeper insights on the growth and development of the discipline and its practice.
I attended the International conference on “Extension Educational Strategies for Sustainable Agricultural Development‐ A Global Perspective” jointly organised by the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bangalore and the International Society of Extension Education, Nagpur (INSEE) during December 5‐8, 2013 with lots of such expectations. Though I could meet and interact with senior stalwarts, senior extension administrators, colleagues, budding scientists and my students, I must honestly admit that I am dissatisfied with the outcome of the conference. This is not the case with respect to this conference alone. Increasingly most of the recent extension seminars and conferences have been disappointing the participants.
At the outset, I would like to record my appreciation to the organizers of this conference who had taken lot of effort and pain in organizing such a mega event by bringing more than 400 extension professionals from various parts of India and also abroad. But on the other side, I feel disappointed that the conference could not emerge successful professionally. We need to analyse the reasons for the same and should take sufficient measures to address these concerns.
Mine is neither a fault finding exercise nor a note of disappointment. My objective is to sensitise and make the extension fraternity introspect the process and methodology of organising professional conferences and seminars so that we may learn from our failures. I would like to share my concern and apprehension with my colleagues through this meeting note to get their feedback and rethinking about organisation of such professional events in the future with better outcomes.
- Specifying Outcomes: We need to clearly spell out the outcomes of organising professional conferences and should organise the sessions, presentations and discussion to achieve these outcomes. How the conference can lead to the development of the discipline and its practice needs to be clearly articulated. The usual trend is to bring out the proceedings of the conference and come out with recommendations, which are read out in the plenary session. Generally, there is no follow up of the recommendations. This is the common Business As Usual (BAU) syndrome that we see and experience in many conferences. If we are serious about the future of this discipline, we have to shift to a Business As Warranted (BAW) approach. It is warranted that both the organizers as well as the participants engage in serious deliberations and prepare an action plan for implementation. A list of researchable issues for future research in the field of extension could have been a valuable output of such conferences. This conference failed to clearly specify the outcomes and also failed to provide adequate time or space for serious deliberations on the current status of extension or its future.
- Quantity Vs Quality: The international conference held at Bangalore covered 12 wide ranging themes, which itself is a reflection of lack of focussed attention bestowed in organising this conference. 17 lead presentations were listed of which 10 were presented. There were 536 abstracts printed and circulated, out of which more than 200 presentations were made. Besides, there were about 25 poster presentations. One can very well observe that the present conference focussed more on number of papers and participants and not on the quality of the papers. It appears that there was no rigorous scrutiny of the abstracts. Had it been done, many of the abstracts could have been discarded. The deliberations would have been more effective if only quality is given importance over quantity.
- Abstracts ? : A cursory look of the abstracts indicate that majority of the abstracts are too general and not based on any type of research. Most of the abstracts failed to convey the nature of the research or the methodology adopted to arrive at the findings. In other words, most of the abstracts are statements of general nature and are not supported by any research evidence. I feel that our young researchers should be given proper orientation in preparing research abstracts. Guidelines for preparation of research abstracts should be prepared and circulated among our young scientists.
- Focus? There were too many overlapping papers under the different themes and there were several redundant topics. There were several papers on topics like Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), organic farming, Farmer Field Schools (FFS), women empowerment, entrepreneurship, Self Help Groups (SHGs), Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and adoption of technologies that have no research value. Development of tools and techniques and measurement of concepts did not figure adequately in the compendium of abstracts. Moreover, many of the emerging concepts and topics (convergence, innovation system, skill development, etc) were not covered adequately.
- Time Management: There has to be a paradigm shift in the conduct of the sessions. In most of the conferences/seminars, time is a constraint and in the present case also, most of the speakers were forced to rush and complete the presentation, without any discussion by the participants. Many speakers expressed their concern about the lack of enough time allotted for presentations. As chairman of a session, I was forced to conduct a session of two and half hours in which 28 presentations were made. How can one expect qualitative deliberations and information sharing within such a short period?
- Young Vs Old: I feel young scientists and student researchers ought to have been given priority in presentation of papers over the old and experienced extension professionals. The seasoned and experienced extension professionals (academics as well as administrators) should provide necessary professional leadership and guidance to the budding scientists and young researchers who present their research papers. Organisation of seminars and conferences should serve as effective platforms for such healthy relationships, mentoring and networking. This would encourage our young extension professionals to appreciate, understand and implement high quality research on emerging areas relevant to the practice of extension.
- How to organise professional meetings? We often discuss about innovative methodologies for better delivery of extension services but not on how to better organise professional meetings. It is high time that we conduct a SWOT analysis of existing pattern of organising seminars and workshops and design innovative ways for organising professional seminars in an effective way creating a ‘win‐win’ situation for both the organisers as well as the participants.
I request my professional colleagues to ponder over these concerns and issues. Let us come out with innovative methods and effective solutions to address these issues.
R M Prasad is Former Associate Director of Extension, Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur, Kerala. (firstname.lastname@example.org)