The Technical Transfer Framework

A process with supporting resources to equip conservation professionals to plan effective technical transfer efforts

What is the Technical Transfer Framework?

Effective technical transfer, like most other elements of land management, requires spending time and capacity on thoughtful planning. The following framework was developed from the broad collective experience of a suite of technical transfer professionals and is meant to help those who engage in the technical transfer process conduct more efficient and effective technical transfer. The loose and prompting nature of this framework provides guiding principles to spark thoughtful dialogue and planning rather than a prescriptive, linear approach. This makes it well suited for the vagaries of technical transfer efforts, which vary widely in the management needs they address, their desired outcomes, and the suite of possible appropriate approaches. We suggest working through the framework prior to doing any technical transfer in order to set clear expectations and leverage broad perspectives towards a well-planned and well-executed effort. The Technical Transfer Framework was developed by the Rangeland Technical Transfer Network (RangeNet).

Before Technical Transfer

What To Do Before Doing Anything

Most of the technical transfer work comes before the action starts. Before implementing any actions to transfer information, effective technical transfer efforts should identify the “why”, the desired outcomes, and the “what” of the effort. The “why” of the effort means understanding the management needs being served by the technical transfer effort and the audience it targets. The desired outcomes help focus effort and gauge success. The “what” is the approach used to address the management needs. The desired outcomes help focus effort and gauge success. Following these steps is important to avoid the seemingly human inclination to jump straight into doing something (like taking a hike!) before considering what purpose it serves. Consider the guiding principles below when planning any technical transfer effort.

Identify your “why”. To set your effort up for success, the “why” of your technical transfer effort will clearly define the management needs and audience. The pathways to identifying these components vary. You might first identify a management need and then an audience with influence on the associated management challenge, or you might be asked by a specific audience for help on a given management problem. Another pathway is planning technical transfer for a co-produced science effort to ensure end products have manager buy-in and input. Your “why” will help those involved understand the importance of the effort, will inform your “what”, and will provide guidance for evaluating progress towards desired outcomes.

Determine the management needs. These needs must be able to be addressed through technical transfer, such as situations where there are barriers to accessing, interpreting, integrating, and/or applying management-relevant information. Examine the cultural, social, and institutional context of those needs and use this information in your planning. For example, substantial remotely- sensed spatial datasets exist for invasive annual grasses, but they may not be integrated into agency planning due to a lack of internal capacity to identify and access appropriate data sources, understand the applications and limitations of the data, and determine how to use it to inform management decisions. Understanding which, or all, of these three needs to be addressed with tech transfer will dictate different audiences, tactics or approaches. 

Define your audience. The audience informs the approach and tactics used to reach technical transfer goals. Consider how you might plan a hike differently if you were leading a group of kindergartners versus a group of rangeland scientists. Large technical transfer efforts can engage multiple audiences, but tailor each action to a specific audience’s needs and to the proficiency level they require (Figure). 

Assess audience readiness. Consider the relationships needed to effectively work with the audience, and assess if your efforts are excluding any stakeholder groups. Build and grow relationships with the audience early and often throughout the technical transfer process. Leverage the relational capital of others when needed. Consider if there are interpersonal or interorganizational dynamics within the audience that will impact the technical transfer effort and adjust accordingly. Consider the potential impacts of having the right messenger deliver the right message at the right time.

Spell out what success looks like. With the “why” in mind, identify desired outcomes for the technical transfer effort. We suggest a process that fits within the group’s planning framework, from a simple conversation about desired outcomes to identifying specific goals and objectives. Success for technical transfer efforts takes on many colors. It might look like a rangeland specialist feeling more confident in undergoing a planning effort, a group of managers learning a new skill, or a collaborative group effectively using maps as a discussion-support tool. It could also be successful delivery and application of a co-produced science product to relevant end users. Usually, it involves helping the audience increase their proficiency in some way (Figure). 

Build out a technical transfer approach. Design an approach to technical transfer (the “what”) that is informed by the management need, audience, and desired outcomes. Consider relationships needed, appropriate and effective messengers, the level of proficiency the audience needs, synergy with other efforts, and possible formats that could achieve desired outcomes. Refer to the Proficiency Pyramid, which helps technical transfer practitioners to match the level of engagement to the desired level of proficiency for an audience (Figure). Hosting a webinar may help many people to gain awareness, but it will not likely result in the audience implementing a new practice that requires the development of technical skills. By contrast, working closely with a small group to address specific questions and build skills may be more appropriate for getting your audience to take action, but reaches a smaller number of people. 

During Technical Transfer

Telling Ain’t Training

With a management need and audience defined (the “why”) and a technical approach appropriately tailored to the audience’s desired level of proficiency selected, you are ready to begin technical transfer. Like a hiker who spent weeks memorizing the map and acquiring gear, you have a route planned and are ready for action. But as any experienced hiker knows, all the planning in the world won’t stop surprises along the way from slowing you down or veering you off course. Presented here are some guiding principles that can help keep your technical transfer journey on track and make sure everyone involved arrives at the destination together.

Keep it centered on the “why”. Stay focused on the management needs you established with your audience. Remember that you are responding to the audience’s needs, not your own. All elements of your approach should link directly back to this.

Empower for action, don’t just educate. Ideally, technical transfer focuses on integration of new science, technologies, tools, etc. with the current body of information beyond the shiny new tools. That includes the experience and ideas of everyone in the room, regardless of proficiency. Seek opportunities to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, spark conversation among colleagues, and foster relationship building among participants that extend beyond the technical transfer effort. Keep in mind that dissemination and communication of science alone is unlikely to equip land managers with desired proficiency levels beyond knowledge (Figure). 

Use plain English. The utility of acronyms, Latin names, statistics, and other jarring jargon ultimately fails when the audience is presented with a master’s project worth of information to interpret and apply. Keep asking yourself the question: What does the audience really need to know for this technical transfer to be successful? Then distill this into a handful of key takeaways and present these conversationally and often. This will help remedy the us-versus-them problem inherent to the science-to-implementation gap.

Consider alternative approaches. Imagine you just crafted the perfect webinar, which is fast approaching a thousand views, only to realize half of viewers had it playing on one of those twenty tabs open on their third screen. To address the varying learning styles, existing levels of proficiency, and attention spans of your audience, stay flexible and try integrating hands-on or other interactive activities. Rather than defaulting to a fact sheet or webinar, get creative and think outside the box.

Come prepared. Never underestimate the power of starting on time, having enough chairs, providing snacks, and not reading off your slides. Be thoughtful about what could distract from the effort. Technological issues or unprepared speakers are common challenges, and if you are organizing multiple speakers it can be helpful to remind them to center the “why”, use tools for audience engagement, and reinforce key messages. Also keep in mind how more complex issues like stakeholder dynamics might require special attention. No matter what your approach is, engaging in a technical transfer effort with professionalism and the capacity to make sure things run smoothly not only fosters a better learning environment but shows that you respect your audience, which builds trust.

After Technical Transfer

Tech Transfer is Not One and Done

Nothing beats a hearty meal after a big hike with time to kick back and reflect on the journey. Effective technical transfer should include a similar period of recovery and repose. Whether the approach was a simple one-on-one meeting or a conference workshop with 50 participants, now is the time for evaluation and meditation. This might look like working with your audience and other partners to evaluate outcomes, ask if anything was missing or needs further attention, establish next steps, and maintain newly forged relationships. Or perhaps for a smaller effort, individual introspection is more appropriate. Either way, the following points of guidance can help make the post-technical transfer effort more adaptive and meaningful.

Evaluate successes and lessons learned. Review the goals with your audience and assess whether they were achieved. Refer back to the Proficiency Pyramid and consider whether or not your audience was able to move from one tier to the next or were able to make connections with others at higher tiers of proficiency than their own (Figure). If the goals were not achieved, consider if additional work is needed or if conditions have changed in a way necessitating a reconsideration of your goals and approach. If the goals were achieved, identify ways in which this effort can become self-sustaining and consider sharing lessons learned by sharing it as a case study to help others learn from your experience.

Establish next steps. If additional work or planning is needed, get it scheduled. Consider whether or not new science, information, or technology have surfaced since the planning effort began and how they might change your approach. Address the possibility of employee turnover or organizational priority shifts which may require a change in your approach to technical transfer.

Maintain relationships. Keep in touch with audiences who may foster future collaboration with those in need of similar technical transfer support. Empower your audience to explore opportunities and lessons learned from this experience through open and continued communication.

Join Us!

Want to learn more about the RangeNet and how to get involved? Reach out to Andrew Olsen (Science to Implementation Coordinator, IWJV) and Megan Creutzburg (Rangeland Sustainability Lead, INR).

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