The Pathways Project

Why Examine Learning Pathways in Nutrient Management?

During the 2013 Waste to Worth Conference, a session on “Nutrient Management Standards: Making Them Work Where We Work” sparked discussion on the need to match manure nutrient management (and other related topic) tools and content with the end user. This discussion also highlighted organization and institutional language barriers that also challenge information transfer among users.

Technology has opened up new communication lines between various groups, but unless we can speak the same language and recognize the goals and needs between groups, establishing effective partnerships is difficult. Furthermore, the potential and realized reach through outreach methods available to different groups is not well understood.

A map of the pathway between information producers (i.e., researchers) and users is vital, along with the identification of end user format and language necessary for comprehension and usefulness. By providing a pathway to audience types and needs, research groups can realistically identify the target groups for their specific project outcomes and produce targeted products, information sources, and formats for those end users. In addition, this hierarchal pathway allows researchers to select project partners from specific agencies and industries in their Region to communicate directly with in order to produce a tailored and more impactful product.

What did we do?

A national team of Researchers, Extension specialists, Consultants and Government Staff came together with the overall objectives to: (1) document effective information transmission methods, pathways, and formats for different audience types; and (2) demonstrate a hierarchal approach of information dissemination through various audience types. Based on input and guidance from the national team, an electronic survey was developed to quantify and qualify information source (inputs), information products or sharing mechanisms (outputs), and collaborations (existing links) between organization types. The survey also qualifies the barriers to information flow between organizations and individuals regarding manure nutrient management.

A pilot test of the survey was conducted in 2014 in South Dakota. Based on the results of that project, minor refinements were made to the survey, which is being distributed nationally in the Spring of 2015. The electronic survey is being disseminated via cooperating agencies, organizations and personal contacts to technical service providers, producers, university personnel, regulatory personnel, private sales or service enterprises and other professionals who contribute to manure nutrient management.

What have we learned?

The South Dakota pilot project gave us a peak into the viability and potential impact this national survey can have. We were able to infer important connections and barriers that will lead to very important modifications to information transfer in the future. The collaboration and input from the national team members has been critical to the development and vetting of the survey tool. Through this team, organizational language differences have emerged. Over time, we look to document these terms for future reference to a broader audience.

Future plans

The results of the national survey will be analyzed in the Summer of 2015. In the Fall of 2015, the exercise of documenting pathways based on the survey data will be conducted with a focus on data collected for the North Central Region. A similar process will be followed for other regions of the country. An intended outcome of this project is the creation of a reference document/tool and process that enables integrated research projects to identify a vetted method for successful dissemination of research results to the correct target audiences in the most impactful formats.


Erin Cortus, Assistant Professor and Environmental Quality Engineer, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, South Dakota State University,

Nichole Embertson, Nutrient Management Specialist, Sustainable Livestock Production Program, Whatcom Conservation District,

Additional information

Key contributors for the North Central Region are Teng Lim (University of Missouri), Amy Schmidt (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), and Jill Heemstra (University of Nebraska-Lincoln).


The nationwide team who contribute to and guide the Pathways project are gratefully acknowledged. Funding provided through the South Dakota SARE Mini-Grant Program supported data collection and analysis for the survey pilot test. The North Central Region Water Network provided funding for analysis and dissemination of data collected for the North Central Region.

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2015. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Seattle, WA. March 31-April 3, 2015. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.