Extension 3.0: Knowledge Networks for Sustainable Agriculture

Extension 3.0 Visual note-taking sketch
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The overarching goal of this proposal is to understand the structure and dynamics of sustainable agriculture knowledge networks in California. We will analyze these networks using survey methods, cognitive maps, and computational social science. In addition to answering basic research questions, we will develop best management practices for using network concepts in agricultural education and outreach programs.

The overarching goal of this proposal is to understand the structure and dynamics of sustainable agriculture knowledge networks in California. Agricultural knowledge systems have transformed as agricultural production has scaled-up and become more concentrated, specialized, and knowledge-intensive. Sophisticated local networks have evolved to link growers to a diverse range of stakeholders and knowledge brokers throughout food systems. The emergence of communication technology such as social media and smart phones has enabled new network connections and real-time social learning. While some outreach professionals have developed programs to capitalize on these trends, there is not a set of guiding principles, organizational structures, or training. California has an opportunity to be an international leader in developing outreach programs that catalyze knowledge networks.

The project focuses on five main tasks:

1. Map sustainable agriculture knowledge networks in California: A web-based snowball survey will be delivered to a seed population of ANR employees and other sustainable agriculture knowledge brokers in every California county. The survey will ask them to identify the other key stakeholders in their network, who will then also receive the survey. Social network analysis will be applied to the resulting relational data.

2. Inventory the uses of social technologies among knowledge network members: The survey will ask each respondent to identify any social media platforms or smart-phone applications they use for accessing and sharing agricultural information. This will help develop a broader understanding of how communication technologies are linked to networks.

3. Analyze the dynamics of communication technology using “big data” methods: The inventory of communication technology can be analyzed to understand the dynamics of online communication. For example, “big data” methods use Twitter #hashtags to see who tweets and re-tweets various types of messages, allowing the uncovering of online communities-of-practice.

4. Measure stakeholder belief-systems about sustainable agriculture: Belief systems about sustainable agriculture can be elicited with cognitive networks in which nodes represent goals and strategies and links measure a participant's degree of belief in the causal relationships among the nodes. We will measure the belief systems of central stakeholders in the knowledge network and the implications of those belief systems on the likely diffusion of information.

5. Develop a knowledge networks and social media short-course: The results of the study will be used to develop a short-course that will train outreach professionals in social network theory and analysis, and principles of social media outreach. Such training will be useful statewide for providing a more principled basis for effective program development, and catalyzing effective knowledge networks.

While the idea of knowledge networks can usefully be applied to any type of agricultural issue (e.g., disease and pest management), sustainable agriculture is an excellent starting point because it integrates social, economic, and environmental issues, and complements the broader concept of food systems. Sustainable agriculture is a high priority throughout the world, including programs within ANR and at individual UC campuses. Sustainable agriculture embraces the ideas of knowledge networks (Lubell et al. 2011), boundary spanning (Guston 2001), communities of practice (Wenger 2002), cooperation (Ostrom 1990), innovation (Rogers 2003), and communication technology—themes that will be central to our project.

The term “Extension 3.0” encompasses many of the ideas addressed in this proposal. The core goal of Extension 3.0 is to capitalize on the structure and dynamics of local knowledge systems (Bartholomay et al. 2011; Cash et al. 2003) to deliver relevant information to the right stakeholders at the right time and place. This project supports the idea of Extension 3.0 with evidence-based research into how ideas about sustainable agriculture are transmitted through networks, along with specific training on how to incorporate network principals and social media into education and outreach programs. The scientific results and training generated from this project can thus help improve the effectiveness of local knowledge networks in California, with lessons applicable to agricultural systems across the globe.

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