Third Generation Extension

Over the past few years the thinking about the practice of extension has changed significantly. It reflects in part the change in development theory away from an input-dominated model toward a participatory model. But to a large extent the shift has been an internal process, reflecting a growing awareness that extension programs have not been successful and are searching for more effective modes of operation.

The difference between what might be called "first generation" extension and "second generation" is distinct. The first generation process can be defined as research-dominated; based on a top-down, hierarchical model of knowledge transfer. The limitations of this approach are increasingly apparent, and the model is now considered outdated. The primary shortcoming is that when researchers set the agenda, field-level workers ultimately try to persuade farmers to adopt innovations that were devised in a research context which may have little relevance to their immediate needs. The result is a lack of motivation and interest on the part of the farmers. This directive approach has been largely ineffective, yet is still widespread and is being taught in many extension training programs.

"First generation" has been replaced by "second generation" extension. The new ideology of extension starts with the farmers' existing knowledge and needs, basing research and development on those needs. This responsive approach overcomes the problem of motivation by starting with the farmers' immediate concerns.

But second generation extension has at least two potential problems. It may not provide the opportunity for extension workers to communicate the messages which they consider important and which may be important to the national welfare. Also, most of those who adopt this approach retain a good deal of the "first generation" model. For example, second generation extension workers may ask farmers their problems, go back to their offices, and return with answers. Often the farmer's role is to identify problems and ask questions, not to provide solutions. Once the answer has been provided by the extension worker, the farmer has little choice. This may result in increased dependency on the extension worker and the dismantling of traditional ways of learning and problem solving.

New Approaches

The "third generation" approach to extension is based on two premises:

1) Knowledge cannot be transferred: That is, one cannot learn another's knowledge, one can only create one's own knowledge. "Learning is not finding out what other people already know but solving our own problems for our own purposes by questioning, thinking and testing until the solution is a part of our life." (Sir Charles Handy.)

2) Learning is a lifelong process: Farmers are already solving their own problems and have developed learning styles and strategies which suit them. In terms of learning, farmers are not resource-poor. They possess a great fund of existing knowledge, skills and networks with which they tackle problems. According to development worker Dr. Mohammed Anisur Rahman, "...learning is always an act of self-search and discovery. In this search and discovery one may be stimulated and assisted but cannot be taught."

Creating Knowledge

Second generation extension is based on the premise that farmers cannot solve their own problems and must rely on extension workers for answers. Third generation holds that farmers already possess much knowledge and have traditional ways of solving problems. It seeks to strengthen those customary practices. Instead of providing answers, it seeks to encourage and help farmers pursue their own path to creating knowledge, and to question, analyze and test possible solutions for themselves. Third generation extension does not spoon feed farmers, rather it facilitates the learning process.

Such an interactive approach may be slower than the direct or responsive approaches. The dialogue proposed by third generation extension will involve change on the part of farmers and extension workers alike. Farmers must adjust to an approach that will enable learning to continue when the extension worker is no longer present. Only when people learn to be self-reliant and to deal effectively with their own problems can self-sustaining development begin.

Third generation extension will call for extension staff to adopt a new relationship with their client group, and will require a longer period of interaction. Extension agencies must adopt new approaches to help their staff and to move away from set statistical targets to longer-term engagements with regional populations. The third generation extension agent is called to help learning alongside the client, instead of being an outside visiting agent.

Field-level extension staff need to develop a more positive attitude toward participant groups and to take a more humble view of their own expertise. This calls for major changes in extension education. A greater emphasis on the attitudinal development of extension workers is required to help them relate more meaningfully to participant groups. To do this, they must develop the skills of listening, observing and humbly sharing what they know.

Rogers, Alan. 1993. Third Generataion Extension: towards an alternative model. Rural Extension Bulletin 3 pp. 14-16.


Alan Rogers
Education for Development
Woodmans, Westward Row
Tilehurst, Reading, RG3 6LT, UK
Tel: 0734-426772
Fax: 1734-352080