Learning how to use communities of practice to address sustainable agriculture issues

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2008: $65,958.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Richard Pirog
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Beth Larabee
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: workshop
  • Sustainable Communities: social networks


    A Community of Practice (CoP) building curriculum was developed and made available on the web. Two workshops (one for the north-central region and a pilot for Iowa) were held in 2009 reaching more than 100 educators. Four follow-up calls on different aspects of building CoPs were completed in fall/winter 2009-2010 following the regional workshop. Pre- and post-evaluations were completed for both the training sessions. Changes in attitudes and knowledge gained were significant in the regional workshop; the Iowa impact results were adversely influenced by ISU Extension staffing changes announced the day of the workshop. Experiences of the facilitators and discussants and dialogue and interaction with fellow participants were critical for helping them understand the structure and function of the communities of practice and options for creating new ones. In 2010 the Leopold Center held a workshop at the request Iowa State University (ISU) Extension for more than 60 ISU Extension staff and their community partners on creating and supporting Communities of Practice (CoPs) or working groups. The workshop was part of the Leopold Center’s effort to increase capacity in the North Central states to initiate, manage, fund, and brand working groups to further work in sustainable agriculture. After the workshop, 90% of all respondents reported the workshop had prompted them to consider working with groups or individuals with whom they had never partnered before. A follow up workshop was held on April of 2011 for the SARE PDP participants who attended the first workshop. This session focused on participants sharing best practices as their new CoPs develop.

    Thirty-six percent reported they wanted to learn how to foster collaboration and how work together with other groups and network with their peers who were involved in CoPs. Project participants and local partners have been able to leverage over $300,000 to support their work in sustainable agriculture using the Community of Practice model. As a result, organizations, agencies, institutions, and businesses involved in this work say they are reaching new audiences and serving those audiences more effectively. As we concluded at the end of our first year evaluation report, over time, we hope to see more impacts trickle down to farmers and consumers through increased opportunities to create and consume farm products and services that contribute to the triple bottom line goals of creating environmental, social, and financial good. We’ve seen some of that already happening in Year Two and expect SARE and our other partners in this effort will see more of it in years to come.

    Project objectives:

    This Value Chain Partnerships (VCP) project proposed to: (1) develop Community of Practice (CoP) curriculum and workshop materials; (2) pilot test CoP Workshop training and materials prior to its formal launch with 20-24 Iowa State University (ISU) Extension county and field staff participating; (3) provide the CoP Workshop in Year 1 to 48 Extension, agency, and/or non-profit educators and researchers in the north central states to address challenges in sustainable agriculture at a two-day workshop; (4) allow participants to participate in a community of practice meeting; (5) share all training materials on Communities of Practice on the web; (6) provide regular conference calls and creation of a listserv to provide networking and problem solving support; (7) develop a workshop in Year 2 where participants can share best practices as their new CoPs develop and evolve; (8) workshop materials and short presentations also will be shared on the web; (9) train an additional 120 Extension, agency, and/or non-profit educators and researchers in the north central states; and (10) evaluate activities using project surveys to measure short-term learning outcomes after each workshop in both Years 1 and 2. Year 2 evaluation activities will rely on face-to-face and/or telephone interviews to measure medium-term impacts of this project in terms of changes made by participants and representative organizations/agencies as a result of their participation.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.