Webinar recording now online

A recorded version of my January 8 webinar called “Woodland Owner Networks and Peer-to-Peer Learning: A research review” is now available online, courtesy of the National Network of Forest Practitioners. 

Watch a complete recording at http://nnfp.acrobat.com/p73834210/. It’s long but you can skip ahead.  Presentation begins at the 5-minute mark, and discussion at around 55:00.

Webinar: Woodland owner networks and peer-to-peer learning: a research review

The National Network of Forest Practitioners has announced a webinar that may be of interest to some of this site’s readers.  It’s free and open for anybody to attend.

Update: The webinar is now over.  Watch a complete recording at http://nnfp.acrobat.com/p73834210/. Presentation begins at the 5-minute mark, and discussion at around 55:00.

Woodland owner networks and peer-to-peer learning:
A research review

Thursday, January 8, 2009 @ Noon Eastern

Presented by Eli Sagor of the University of Minnesota Extension
and Woodland Owner Networks project lead

Active sustainable management of private forest (PF) land provides public value through rural economic activity, forest ecosystem management, and water quality protection. PF conservation program administrators and funders recognize a need to engage many more private forest owners than they have in the past. Woodland owners consistently select peers as a preferred source of information to support forest management decisions. However, beyond Extension master volunteer programs, peer-to-peer learning has received little attention as a forestry outreach tool. Can peer-to-peer learning through woodland owner social networks influence landowner behavior? If so, how can Extension and allied outreach professionals mobilize and support landowners to provide accurate decision support to their peers? And what kinds of outcomes can be expected?

workshop groupIn this hour-long presentation and discussion led by Eli Sagor, we’ll explore research from sociology, social psychology, and related fields that may help answer these questions. We’ll also briefly discuss case studies from New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Ample time will be available for audience questions and input.

This webinar is the first in a series focusing on innovations in landowner outreach. Subsequent webinars will address regional variations on woodland owner networks projects.

The webinar is now over.  Watch a complete recording at http://nnfp.acrobat.com/p73834210/. Presentation begins at the 5-minute mark, and discussion at around 55:00.

Diffusion models: two-step flow vs. network

More than once I’ve heard Everett RogersDiffusion of Innovations described as “Extension’s bible.”  Many Extension interventions apply diffusion theory to encourage adoption of target behaviors from horticultural practices to sustainable forest management.

But how do innovations move through a social network?  Two very different models are nicely summarized in an article I read recently (Watts & Dodds 2007; full citation below).  This post describes the two models, with some thoughts on applications to private forest management situations.

Two-step flow model


Source: Watts & Dodds 2007: 441.

Under the two-step flow model, a small number of early adopters receive information and pass on information from a central source to a much larger number of people.  These folks tend to access many media sources, filter information, and multiply certain messages through their networks to much larger audiences.

A common private forestry example is a master volunteer (e.g. Oregon State Master Woodland Manager or New York Master Forest Owner) who has received extensive training and subsequently shares her new knowledge with her neighbors.  She’s heard of every new idea, but has opinions that her less-involved neighbors have come to trust.

Because of the reputations they’ve earned, individuals like master volunteers also serve as opinion leaders rather than mere conduits of information.  Others look to them not only as sources of information, but as trusted filters or interpreters of that information.

Under the two-step flow model, opinion leaders play crucial roles–without their work to multiply and disseminate information, the information doesn’t reach other potential adopters.

Network model


Source: Watts & Dodds 2007: 441

Under the network model, information reaches all (or a much larger proportion of) the members of the community more or less equally.

Under the network model, influence occurs less through controlling the flow of information and more through filtering and interpreting it.  The individuals with more ties are those to whom others look for leadership.

A woodland owner example here might be downturns in stumpage prices.  Everyone might be aware of the market conditions, but would look to one another for help interpreting the information, speculating about future conditions, and deciding how to act.  Although all members have access to the same market information, some are clearly more influential than others.  For instance, in the figure at right, the individual at bottom center is consulted by many more of his neighbors than most others are.

The nature of an actor’s influence is not easy to quantify, and of course varies based on the community and situation.  One common decision rule is the threshold rule, which posits that a given individual will adopt a behavior when a certain percentage of her contacts has adopted.

Extension applications

These models, while sharing some common elements, are quite different.  Understanding which model applies, if either does, is obviously important to program design.  Classic master volunteer programs are based on the two-step flow model.  This model is well entrenched and demonstrated to be efficient and effective.

However, for some types of information and behaviors, new media may penetrate more deeply into a community, flattening the information hierarchy.  In these cases, landowners may be less dependent on others for information and more so for interpretation, discussion, and processing

Which of these models applies better to your situation?  Does thinking about diffusion in these ways suggest changes in the way you reach out to your key audiences?

Full citation: Watts, D.J. and P.S. Dodds. 2007. Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation. Journal of Consumer Research. 34(4): 441-458.