How we can do a better job at getting research results into practice
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
Research plays a key role in the growth and development of the livestock industry. Most livestock producers, through their service fees or checkoffs, support research in their respective sectors – but there is general agreement that more needs to be done to ensure the outcomes of that research are ultimately used on the farm.
That’s the outcome of a survey of Ontario producers and industry partners into the effectiveness of Getting Research Into Practice (GRIP) activities, where 64% of faculty respondents and 80% of producer representatives indicated there is significant room for improvement.
The survey is part of a project led by Jennifer Ellis, assistant professor in Animal Systems Modelling in the University of Guelph’s Department of Animal Bioscience, that is looking at how to improve getting results to producers and how to encourage more adoption of those outcomes.
“In order for the Ontario livestock sector to be competitive and sustainable, farmers need a system that makes research results accessible in a way that encourages them to make effective decisions for their businesses,” says Mike McMorris, CEO of Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC).
Most researchers believe GRIP - also known as extension or Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) – to be part of their role, but most don’t dedicate much of their time to determining the best ways to do that.
“Right now, GRIP is at the discretion of the researchers, but they need support in order to do this,” explains master’s student Kendra Hall who is on Ellis’ project team. “There’s a need to create resources and information on how to do this, especially for early career researchers.”
In a 10-episode podcast series available on the LRIC website, the research team explored barriers to research implementation and ways to bridge this gap. They also spoke with producers from a wide range of livestock sectors.
Based on that work, researchers should:
• Talk to the people who will be adopting to the research and ask them what they really need – and make sure this is done when developing a research project and not when it’s finished.
• Take into account the practical realities of farming. A project must solve a problem on the farm, so it’s important to test and validate in real-life farm environments and situations.
• Make their communications more effective throughout the project and consider timelines that meet both their needs and the needs of farmers.
• Do more to understand the end user and their needs for innovation. This includes farmers, industry and government.
“For producers, the barriers to adoption are time, money and energy. They don’t want to waste their time, money and energy on something that doesn’t work,” adds Hall. “It doesn’t have to just make them more money, it also has to save them time and if it’s not faster, it likely won’t be better for them.”
Steve Roche of Acer Consulting has also been doing research in this area, focusing particularly on what motivates – and hinders – change.
“This isn’t a new question and it’s not agriculture or Ontario-specific. There’s a lot of research already out there that’s very multi disciplinary into what drives people to do what they do, or not do, what we think they should do,” Roche says.
He’s putting an agricultural lens on this through a current project that includes a literature review, and consulting with livestock farmers and farm advisors from sales reps and consultants to veterinarians and hoof trimmers to develop core recommendations and best practices for messaging. The project will wrap with development of a tool kit.
Through the consultation part of the study, he’s hoping to determine things like what programs farmers and industry partners use or don’t use and why, who their trusted and non-trusted sources of information and guidance are, and what the characteristics are of the “hard-to-reach farmer.”
Roche says that when it comes to encouraging change, agriculture often uses the carrot and stick approach. But for true success in encouraging change, it’s important to understand the mindset and personal experience of the audience. That means taking the time to gain that understanding at the individual level and packaging that into a program.
“We have a huge tendency to think that we need to just educate people and that they’ll apply our information in a rational way, but that’s not usually the case,” he says. “People often require motivation, not information and we’ve lost the plot there.”
This article was originally published in the Late Summer issue of Milk Producer magazine.