From Dissemination to Impact: Using Peer to Peer Learning in Natural Resource Extension

Date & Time (Eastern): 
Sep 17 2020 - 1:00pm

Webinar Summary:

We, as Extension educators, know that information dissemination is not the same as education. But how do we move beyond “dissemination” to encourage stakeholders to reflect and integrate natural resource-based information for actual impact? With more than half of the forests and rangelands in the US under private ownership, and most others managed through local, state or federal entities, how do we work with land managers and owners in order to support complex natural resource decisions for resource health? 


Reference Materials:  


This webinar will highlight:

  • Dr. Sanford "Sandy" Smith, Teaching Professor in Forest Resources and Natural Resources & Youth Extension Specialist, Penn State University, Peers and Pros 360
  • Dr. Eli Sagor, Extension Specialist, University of Minnesota, The Great Lakes Silviculture Library
  • Retta Bruegger, Western Region Specialist in Range Management, Colorado State University Extension, Peer-to-Peer Learning in Drought

Join the discussion

From the webinar. To all presenters. Same question for all presenters about addressing misinformation. Sometimes peers have excellent observations that are relevant for only their locations; they may not be supported by science that seeks to generalize to a wider scale. They aren't "wrong" - but their wisdom may not be applicable to others. How do you deal with this?

From Eli Sagor during webinar. I can't answer for the others, but in my case it's just not an issue. Any learning environment can include disruptive and unhelpful people. Most adult learners are good at filtering them out. On the silviculture library the review process helps us deal with bad information by asking authors to explain or clarify before publication. Bit it really hasn't been an issue.

And as Eli said in the webinar - addressing misunderstandings are great learning opportunities!

My 2 cents: Misinformation and misunderstanding are always issues in peer to peer and all types of programs for that matter. However, with the method I use, it is built in that I get to address things I hear that might be incorrect and guide them to a better understanding. I try to do this in a gentle way without singling anyone out or even looking at the person that might have said the incorrect thing. I keep my response about a misunderstanding to that of a third party who hears something that needs a little realignment. Often, peers correct each other when the hear something amiss, or latter in the program, the correct answer comes out clearly anyway. At the end of the day I don't get too worried if someone goes away with a misunderstanding or two. They might anyway even if it was correctly presented to them in the first place. As I said in the webinar, they may have made good strides of learning in some areas, and perhaps a few backsteps in other topics. In the words of the great American road scholar and philosopher, Bruce Springsteen, "That's just the way it is..."

From the webinar. To all presenters. How have you engaged with indigenous communities in peer learning? What would be your advice to other Extension professionals who aren't currently connected with indigenous communities?

From Eli Sagor during the presentation. We do have several case studies from Tribal lands or nearby public lands featuring silviculture informed by Tribal stakeholders including the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in WI, the Leech Lake Band and Fond du Lac Band in MN (maybe others too?). I'd like to see this info grow.
From the webinar. To Retta Bruegger. What's the best way to determine whether a presentation or interactive activity is more appropriate/desired?

I don't think anyone has ever asked specifically for an interactive activity. I've just done them. But in general, I think working with partners is a great way to understand the social context. Also, I think activities/ discussion are more suited to certain types of information and topics - for example, where there is more complexity/ nuance and there is explicit value in exchange and peer learning, and or where participants have significant local/ expert knowledge. I have had a few situations where I've worked with partners with whom I've shared ideas for more interaction, which they didn't want, and I have accommodated their desire for a more presentation-heavy workshop. In general, I don't think people will request a discussion-based if you want to experiment with more interactive teaching methods, I'd encourage you to do so and learn from your efforts and missteps.

Retta explained this really well. A framework that helps me think about this is explicit vs. tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be easily codified. It might be quantitative, or describe a specific set of steps to enroll in a program or deal with a plant pathogen, etc. Tacit knowledge is different - it involves insight, intuition, "know-how," interpretation, and judgement -- the kind of information can't easily be codified or written down.

Presentations are a great way to teach about explicit knowledge. Peer discussions are a great way to teach about tacit or implicit knowledge because there's such value in hearing how "people like me," operating in a similar context interpreted and made sense of this issue, and chose a path forward.

From the webinar. To all presenters. I'm struck by the message that several (if not all) presenters mentioned: sometimes people aren't comfortable with peer to peer interaction. They have to learn how to do it! Perhaps people would like to talk more about how thy have done this?

Maybe saying they are "not comfortable" was the wrong way to phrase this on my part. Better said, it's almost as if they can't believe that you are letting them share and teach each other. I find that if your peer to peer activity gets peers talking about the things of importance and interest to them, it takes off naturally without them thinking that they are "teaching" each other. They generally trust their peers more than Educators or Agency folk, and they feel that their peers understand their experiences and speak their language.

I agree with Sandy. Sometimes we just have to really emphasize that no, we want YOU to talk now! It can be tough to get momentum going but once it starts (maybe once "they get comfortable with it,") it can really take off. Techniques that have worked for me: awkwardly long pauses after asking them to share, to convey that you're not going to back down! :-) Structured activities like Sandy's cards that get them reading (talking) can prime the pump well. Small group breakouts can also break the ice, because people are more comfortable talking to 3-5 others than the whole group and instructor; etc.

Agree with what Eli and Sandy have said, and also emphasize that someone with facilitation or education experience can be very helpful if trying interactive methods for the first time. Other things that help are room set-up (i.e, an auditorium is naturally intimidating vs smaller groups or more of a classroom format). Structuring the discussion, or at least having a back-up plan if things don't emerge naturally can help too. Sandy's cards are a great example as they provide a place for people to start talking without appearing incorrect (the statement originates on the card, not with the individual). It has also been my experience that people can be 'reluctant to talk,' but can talk quite a bit if you get them going.

From the webinar. To Eli Sagor. Have you discussed sharing case studies with the NIACS Adaptation Workbook effort or vice versa?
From Eli Sagor during webinar. Great question. Yes, we have a great working relationship with NIACS and have talked with them about what content would benefit from cross-posting. Our formats are different enough that it requires some extra work, and no doubt we could do more, but we have done some of that.
From the webinar. To Retta Bruegger. Retta is there a solution to fostering reticent ranchers to improve your one way presentation by tweaking your canned recommendations? As in how would you make this work on your ranch? What would you do or what are your work-arounds?

For sure and I like your follow up questions. Good ideas. We did find that by starting off with a discussion, folks felt empowered to comment and interject during presentations, so the overall workshop was more of an exchange. Also, sometimes reticence is OK.

From the webinar. To Eli Sagor. Is the Great Lakes Silviculture Library accessible to small, private forest landowners as well If so, so you have any information on how they are using the information? Do they find it useful?

Yes it is - the library is a free and open-access website. Anecdotally, I know some foresters send their clients to the site to give landowners a way to validate things like "aspen really needs (almost) full sunlight to thrive and doesn't respond well to thinning, so clearcutting is the best silvicultural option in most cases." Or "red pine shoot blight is damaging enough that if full stocking is your goal, leaving residual mature red pine on site can be problematic." In other words, it can be a way for relatively inexperienced land owners or land managers understand conventional and novel ways to manage certain plant communities for certain (stated) objectives.

BTW - the library is at No need to keep the URL a secret!

From the webinar. To all presenters. Have any of you used the flipped classroom method in peer to peer learning? Having participants explore the topic information ahead of the workshop and then focusing the workshop time on Q&A?

Yes, I have done this several times and it works well to do Peer to Peer activities after the peer group has undertaken some assignment and then come together. The best thing about it is they get clarification and correction from their peers on what they did and learned in their self study assignment!

We've done this quite a bit as well, and it can be very effective. A challenge is that some will complete the pre-work and others may not. I've found that the completion rate is higher in "higher-investment" learning situations like multi-session courses or workshops they've paid more to attend. Also higher when they know that we'll know whether they did it or not! :-)

From webinar. To Sandy Smith. Sandy, have you had situations where people share misinformation, and how do you address this?

See my answer to the similar question above.

From the webinar. To Sandy Smith. How often do you have to step in and moderate if the discussion turns into an argument about more controversial

Almost never. But you should be prepared to do so if needed. I sometimes interrupt wayward discussions politely and say "we have to move on now and cover another theme before we end the activity." If someone talks too much over others, I have asked them to finish up their comment and make sure we give others a chance to share. That usually is sufficient.

From the webinar. To Eli Sangor. Eli, how do you elicit case studies from managers?

This is a bit of a challenge - great question. A few strategies that have worked:
-Our state DNR has asked interns to write up case studies along with veteran staff.
-Marcella Windmuller-Campione, or silviculture faculty member, has her UG students work with a professional to write up a new case study. Not all get published, but some do.
-A few agencies have promoted this and recognized it as a valuable contribution by their staff.

All of these help, but getting land managers to sit down and write can be challenging.

From the webinar. To Eli Sangor. Who is developing the library in the NE?

Not sure of the current status, but Tony D'Amato, who during his time at the UMN helped to found our silv library, is exploring the idea in northern New England.

Sandy, I just watched this recorded webinar and really enjoyed your Peers and Pros 360 approach. You mentioned having done it online. What adaptations did you make to do this method online? I'm thinking about using this approach for some MN Women's Woodland Network programs that must move online. Thanks!

That's great Angela, and yes I have done this via Zoom 4-5 times in the past few years. I usually have the three statements for an entire theme put up in one slide (with representative photographs of the types of peers I am addressing), and then I ask them (the peers only) to discuss the three statements via chat comments for 7-8 minutes. They need to be sure they send their comments to all participants and panelists in the chat pod so we can all see them. After these are all written in and they have gone back and forth some, I (the pro) and any other pros I have working with me (that I have prepped), discuss what we saw in the chat and the strengths and merits of some of the ideas and thoughts that the peers might have made. It's also the time to gently correct any misunderstandings or where research may say something different than what they did. I hope this is clear Angela, if not I would be very happy to talk to you directly via Zoom, Teams, or a cell phone call. I am even willing to help you do your first program - to model how it can be done (fairly easily).

p.s. Just to be clear. When the pros discuss the peer chat remarks we do this via audio (not via written chat remarks) and we are careful not to be overly dismissive and critical, or call anyone out specifically. If you did, you most certainly will stifle discussion from that point on, and the peers biases about you will be confirmed!

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Supported By

This work is supported by the Renewable Resources Extension Act Program [grant no. USDA-NIFA–EXCA-005457] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

United States Department of Agriculture
The project to update the 2012-2016 RREA Strategic Plan was awarded to The Rangelands Partnership in 2016.