[This post is a short overview of peer-to-peer learning to inform family forest decisions. The text was developed by Paul Catanzaro with input from some other members of the WON group.]
Research and experience show that when people need to make a decision about their land, they often turn to a trusted friend, neighbor or family member. Peer-to-peer learning offers an excellent opportunity to efficiently inform landowner decisions.
What is peer-to-peer learning?
Peer-to-peer learning involves landowners sharing their knowledge and experience with one another. It can happen through existing social networks or facilitated peer learning opportunities. Peer-to-peer learning:
- Spreads information through formal or informal social networks;
- Involves two-way (or more) communication;
- Recognizes that every participant can be a teacher and a learner;
- Is community- and participant-driven; and
- Can occur through either an ongoing forum or one-time exchange.
What is not peer-to-peer learning?
- Lectures or traditional expert-driven workshops;
- Fee for service; or
- One-way communication through fact sheets, publications, or websites.
Benefits of peer-to-peer learning
People are more likely to hear and internalize messages, and thus to change their attitudes and behaviors, if they believe the messenger is similar to them and faces the same concerns and pressures. Peer-to-peer learning provides locally relevant information when landowners need to make a decision about their land, delivered by the people they naturally turn to for information. Peer-to-peer learning is effective because peers:
- Understand the goals, issues, and pressures of that landowners face;
- Have direct experience regarding forest management and protection;
- Are seen as credible, unbiased, and trusted sources of information;
- Have specific local knowledge, such as recommendations for trusted professional service providers or sources of assistance;
- Speak the same language and can help each other distill information to the critical pieces needed to make a decision; and
- Are easy to contact when important decisions need to be made
Peer to peer learning can take place…
- Formally through woodland owner organizations, cooperatives, master volunteer programs, or learning circles;
- Informally, such as neighbors talking over the fence or at the local coffee shop; or
- Through Internet-based tools, such as discussion boards.
Role of the Resource Professional
Intentional development and support of self-sustaining peer networks by agencies, nonprofits, Extension, and others can be an efficient and effective way to engage landowners and inform family forest decisions. This can occur either through development of new networks or support of existing, independent networks.
Resource and outreach professionals have important roles as conveners, facilitators, and / or source of information. Professionals can create learning spaces where landowners can meet, exchange ideas, and share experiences and information. Alternatively, professionals can tap into existing, independent networks to offer information as requested.
Who else should get involved in peer-to-peer learning?
Engaging a large number of family forest owners with diverse goals will require new partnerships. Local grassroots organizations are often excellent partners in convening peer-to-peer learning opportunities and information networks. Diverse partners such as watershed groups; religious organizations, clubs, recreation, woodland, or wildlife associations; or civic associations will help attract landowners that have not yet been reached by or attracted to traditional forestry messages. In addition, these groups also often have well-established networks.
A Few Program Examples
Alabama’s Treasure Forest Association: This organization, including their “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” training program, helps build and maintain a strong network of forest resource stakeholders that communicate through education and encouragement of a feeling of pride and respect for the land and landowners. (website)
Oregon’s Women Owning Woodlands Network (WOW Net): An Oregon program targeting women woodland owners. WOW Net is largely self-organizing and self-sustaining. Members organize their own events, with some coordination and support from Oregon State Extension Forestry.
Pennsylvania’s Forest Stewards Program (Penn State Extension Forestry): A 16 year old program with about 350 active woodland owner volunteers. This group has started approximately 22 county-level woodland owner associations. According to the most recent evaluation, in 2007 the volunteers contributed the equivalent of 21 full time equivalents in volunteer effort. (website)
Massachusetts’ Woods Forums (UMass-Amherst Extension Forestry): An educational program sponsored by local conservation organizations, delivered in a 3-5 town cluster with underlying emphasis placed on what landowners can learn from each other. The bulk of time is dedicated to an open forum discussion in which landowners ask questions and discuss topics of interest to them. (website)
Wisconsin Family Forests: A non profit organization that works with professional wildlife managers, foresters and experienced woodland owners who act as advisors as they strive to bring more woodland under sustainable management. (website)
Links to many more programs are available on the programs page.