Challenging the traditional forestry extension model:insights from the Woods Forum program in Massachusetts
Traditional forestry education and outreach activities tend to focus on transfer-of-knowledge, often through workshops initiated and led by professionals to “teach” landowners about forest management and conservation. Less than 10 percent of family forest owners in the US have a management plan, participated in cost-share programs, certified their forest land, or hold a conservation easement, suggesting flaws in this traditional model. Some researchers and practitioners have suggested the need for a paradigm shift away from transfer-of-knowledge to more facilitative, participatory approaches, among which peer learning has gained growing attention and is supported by a number of behavioral theories. By analyzing data from participant feedback of a peer learning pilot program in Massachusetts and a follow-up mail survey, this paper examines the perceived usefulness of peer-to-peer interactions and the effect of peer learning over time. The results suggest peer learning did not only appeal to landowners with forestry background, but also succeeded in attracting inexperienced landowners. Participants rated their peer-to-peer experience positively. The retention of information obtained through the program was reflected by participants’ ability to correctly identify foresters, land trust organizations, and reasonable sources of forestry or land management advice. Participants also shared a strong willingness to spread information obtained through peer learning. This study contributes to the identification of potential barriers to and opportunities for peer learning, informs forestry extension efforts in the US and beyond, and highlights the importance of integrating peer learning into the broader forestry education, technical assistance, and financial incentive programs to increase participation and promote sustainable forest management and conservation.
Ma, Z., Kittredge, D.B., Catanzaro, P. 2012. Challenging the traditional forestry extension model: insights from the Woods Forum program in Massachusetts. Small-scale Forestry 11(1): 87-100.