8. Improving Communication and Knowledge Exchange
The importance of good communication (between policy makers and farmers, between farmers and a range of stakeholders, and within the farming community) is a consistent theme in the literature. Types of information and knowledge that farming communities typically require, create, exchange and share include: market information (prices, buyers, retailers, demand, quality of products required for markets); location, availability and price of farm inputs; diagnostic information about plant and animal diseases and soil related problems; new agricultural technologies (iNARS e-conference, 2006); as well as the latest information on government policies and relevant research findings from scientists.
This chapter draws primarily on four, main, interlinked published sources, funded by Defra, as they are all recent and relevant:
- A literature review which examined the current state of understanding of knowledge transfer, effective communications and advice-behaviour change linkages relating to farmers in England (Dwyer et al, 2007)
- Fieldwork carried out as part of the same project, which involved identifying and examining a number of advisory initiatives in England. This included interviews and focus groups with a range of farmers and farm families; scheme promoters and key stakeholders
- A literature review relating to the provision of information and advice as a mechanism to encourage farmers to mitigate diffuse pollution (Blackstock et al, 2010)
- A good practice guide on influencing environmental behaviour using advice, which was produced by both sets of authors as an output from the research (Blackstock et al, 2007).
Communication issues also dominated the interviews with opinion formers, so the chapter also reflects this major focus. Opinion formers also focused on the quality, topics, and presentation of the science underpinning the information and guidance provided to farmers.
Providing farmers with appropriate, timely information and guidance is vital to ensure that they are kept up to date with scientific developments, news of regulations and incentives, funding opportunities. In the context of climate change mitigation, it is also important that information can persuade, or at least help farmers to overcome the real or perceived barriers they face. The following sections explore the range of communication mechanisms that exist; what is known about how to make messages more effective; and the impact of advice on uptake of environmental measures.
8.2 Communication mechanisms
The research by Dwyer et al (2007) investigated the means by which the advice provided by Defra and its agencies can best be implemented to promote long-term positive behaviour change in land managers. Dwyer et al considered the evidence on six key communication mechanisms; and findings relating to each of these are summarised briefly below. (Where other research has been included, this is clearly indicated).
This is the main vehicle for making farmers aware of new technology or schemes. The farming press is a particularly important source of information for farmers. Television, radio and audio/visual materials may have advantages as awareness raising vehicles, but are not so commonly used. However, other mechanisms are more effective in encouraging farmers to respond to the information they are given.
Farm visits from agricultural advisers have always been highly valued by farmers for keeping them abreast of the diverse range of factors affecting their businesses. Farmers particularly appreciate the fact that advice can be tailored to their specific farm situation. They value the opportunity to walk the farm with an adviser to talk things through: this is where they are most likely to feel relaxed and able to enter into a two-way communication. To be most effective, the one-to-one advice must be impartial and from a trusted and credible source.
These are particularly useful for showing how technologies and ideas can be applied in the unique local circumstances of particular farms. They also provide opportunities to interact with other farmers. To be effective, they must be widely promoted and marketed. However, often they only attract farmers with larger businesses.
Discussion groups can encourage interchange of ideas and experiences and are often highly valued by farmers. Their success, or otherwise, is often related to the character of group members and the facilitator.
Collective events (seminars, demonstrations) are popular with the farmers who attend, but tend to self-select the most interested and innovative farmers: ie 'preaching to the converted.' Messages from the case studies included in the research by Dwyer et al included the following messages in relation to good practice for events:
- Timing - maximum two hours
- Subject matter - relevant, understandable, focused, with a clear pay-off (helping farmers understand legislation, fill in forms, get a preview of business opportunities etc)
- Careful targeting to ensure the subject matter is relevant
- Some practical or applied element (such as a field walk, or case presentation by a real farmer)
- Good quality catering.
Information Technology (IT)
At the time the research by Dwyer et al was carried out, the available evidence indicated that few farmers would respond to information and advice provided through IT, although research carried out in 2006 had indicated that the situation was changing rapidly. With much greater use of internet / social media etc, farmers may be becoming more receptive to such methods of communication. More recent research, which focused specifically on the advice available to farmers across England, reported a growing trend for farmers to use the internet to source in formation and advice. In particular, it was suggested that use of the internet for discussion forums set up alongside podcasts is ideal to overcome time and money constraints faced by farmers (AEA, 2010).
Formal or structured education or learning
Few organisations target agricultural students or provide training materials for in-farm conservation. Farmers who attend training courses are already predisposed to farm conservation activities.
Any approach to information provision will have to recognise that adoption of new practices requires both time and the capacity to interpret new information. Information is classified by farmers depending on its accessibility and relevance. Demonstration events must be deemed to add value before farmers commit time. This may be why workshops run by initiatives that provide economic incentives as well as environmental benefits (win-wins) have been particularly successful. Smaller farms, with less labour supply, have less time available to attend such events.
Dwyer et al noted that advice is moving from supply to demand driven, and advisers must become proficient and develop new skills in line with farmers' changing requirements. They also highlighted that an increasing emphasis on facilitation requires advisers to develop new skills. They recommended that a combination of communication methods is required to move farmers from a level of initial awareness to a change in actual behaviour (Dwyer et al, 2007).
Messages from opinion formers on communication mechanisms
One clear message to come from the interviews was that face-to-face events are the best way to engage farmers, although interviewees acknowledged that this option is expensive, particularly if advice is provided on a one-to-one basis. A suggestion made by many of the opinion formers related to the usefulness of facilitating face-to-face discussion through monitor/focus farms. They pointed out that farmers like to look around their neighbours' businesses to see the approaches that they are taking. If they can visit other farms and see the 'win/wins' for themselves, they are more likely to be convinced of the benefits.
However, it can be difficult to persuade farmers to attend events. Even if they are keen to find out more on a particular topic, many cannot spare a day away from their farm, particularly if they are running a one-person business. Interviewees noted that farmers are more likely to have the time to consider changes to their management practices at certain times of the year: during winter months, for example. It is a good idea to target them before September, as after this point they are likely to have made their decisions for the upcoming year. It is not advisable to make contact during lambing or harvesting, and weather can also play a role. For example, 2011 was a long, wet harvest, so farmers had less spare time to consider making changes to their management practices.
Interviewees also made the point that, if farmers have too far to travel to an event, they are unlikely to attend. In addition, only those who actually attend events will benefit from them. Although minutes/key documents can be distributed, even if non-attending farmers read these, they will miss out on many of the advantages of seeing the farm first hand.
It was also noted that, if farmers attend events and feel that those demonstrating their learning are too far ahead, it can have a de-motivating effect and attendees think 'this isn't for me'. It is important that typical farms are used, so that farmers feel they can realistically follow the example of those demonstrating their learning.
To maximise the effectiveness of farming events, opinion formers suggested that they should:
- Combine multiple events to make best use of farmers' time
- Include question and answer sessions so attendees can ask the questions that make the information relevant to them
- Contain practical information that farmers can use in their businesses
- Be led by respected advocates who are good communicators and have 'done it themselves,' rather than written a book about it.
Interviewees also noted the importance of using major national events, such as the Royal Highland Show. Farmers attending such events are away from the busy, hectic environment of their farms, and may be more open to considering new farming methods.
Articles in the farming press were thought to be a good way of providing information to most farmers, as reading agricultural news is already part of most farmers' routine. This is likely to be much more effective than official documents or links to websites. However, even a well placed advert is still a one-way process. Interviewees were clear that the best way to influence farmers is through interaction.
8.3 The message
The research by Dwyer et al also focused on message content, message communicators and working with farmers and their social networks. The key findings (from the fieldwork and the review) are summarised below.
Producing and presenting credible messages
Measures should be aimed at encouraging what psychologists call 'central route-processing. The likelihood of success and achieving long-term attitude change is strongly linked to the ability to encourage people to think about the quality of the message. Key considerations are as follows:
- Written materials should be topical, snappy and able to be read in 20 minutes over breakfast. It is helpful to use colour and a font type and size that can be read in fairly dim lighting, as in the farm kitchen
- Messages need to be as personally relevant as possible, (for example, using 'you' rather than 'he' or 'she' in promotional literature)
- Information should be simple, clear, and of practical use to farmers' particular situations
- Questions should be produced within arguments, to encourage people to think things through
- Messages should aim to convince the receiver that the problem is serious, it affects them, the recommendations will solve the problem, and that they are capable of performing the recommendations
- Advice is most likely to be well received and acted upon if it offers a clear financial dividend and/or is fully compatible with running a successful business
- Farmers do not want to be patronised with simplistic messages, but their time is limited, so messages that are too complex may also fail to hit home
- Messages should contain specific recommendations for action, arguments should be measured and not too forcefully phrased and, if a counter-argument is referred to, its points should be addressed directly
- Farmers appreciate advice which helps them to address current concerns (for example in relation to new legislation, new grant schemes, time-saving techniques or innovations in business management)
- Messages should target as wide a range of people as possible, using a variety of approaches and a combination of different mechanisms. Market segmentation is desirable: farmers are a very heterogeneous group
- Farmers receive a lot of 'junk mail' and may only have time to scan their post for details of regulation and/or financial incentives. They feel that they receive a lot of duplicated information from multiple sources and that this wasted effort affects the senders' credibility
- Better coordination of advice would prevent duplication, and also prevent messages being undermined by conflicting statements.
Opinion Formers' views on the message
There was widespread agreement amongst the opinion formers that messages are much more effective when 'climate change' is not mentioned, since many farmers do not necessarily see the relevance of the climate change agenda to their businesses. The emphasis should be on 'efficiency.' For example, calling an event 'grassland & livestock management' rather than a 'low carbon event.'
'You need to 'grab' their attention. Don't beat them over the head with climate issues - get their attention with relevant messages, and once you have attracted them to your meeting, then you can incorporate climate change topics.'
'The only way you will sell measures is by focusing on their influence on profitability.'
Interviewees had a number of suggestions for improving written materials. Many of these suggestions echo findings from the research by Dwyer et al: materials should be written by people with an understanding of farming; should be short, punchy and eye catching, using pictures where possible; should address one issue at a time, with tangible actions for farmers to take. They were also anxious to point out that:
- Most farmers already have some understanding of the issues so, rather than focusing on the basics, more technical information would be useful
- Plain English is vital. For example, focus on 'tree planting' rather than 'locking up carbon;' and 'dredging' rather than 'sediment management.' Farmers generally prefer to be called 'farmers' than 'land managers.'
- If paper documents are made available at events, farmers can pick up those that they feel are relevant to them
- Laminated materials are ideal, as they last longer and survive 'grubby' farming environments
- Contact details should be included on written information, so that anyone with an interest can get in touch.
Better information to help farmers to save money
Many of the suggestions for increasing the uptake of climate change mitigation measures related to raising awareness and improving the quality of advice given to farmers. Despite general awareness of mitigation measures - especially renewables - opinion formers suggested that there are still several areas where more effective provision of advice is required. It is important that farmers are made aware that they are not currently maximising their resource use and that there is 'money to be made'. There is still a lot of uncertainty about exactly what the financial returns of mitigation measures will be and whether these will remain constant in the future. It was also highlighted that there is a need for more details in the press. For example, the Scottish Farmer should contain case studies and real world examples that farmers can relate to.
Opinion formers also highlighted a lack of awareness at the farm level of issues such as soil quality and the amount of fuel used for specific tasks. The latter point in particular was highlighted repeatedly as an area where greater awareness could enable farmers to save money through making more cost-effective choices. Interviewees suggested that this could be achieved relatively easily by installing meters on fuel tanks.
8.4 The messenger
The literature review and the fieldwork carried out by Dwyer et al produced consistent messages about the qualities required in those who communicate with farmers:
- Experience and practical knowledge are key factors that convince people of the reliability of a source
- Good listening skills, adaptability and resourcefulness/good networking with other experts are all essential qualities for effective advisers
- The trustworthiness of the source can be enhanced through the fluency of the speaker (and diminished through hesitancy)
- Regardless of organisation or circumstances, farmers evaluate individuals on a mix of factors, including affability, energy, enthusiasm and humour; familiarity and expertise with farming systems, common sense and ability to relate technical information to the particular farm setting
- Farmers are more willing to engage with advice when they perceive the process to be one of mutual respect and negotiation, rather than being told what to do by an external entity. The reputation of the organisations employing advisers is also important
- The ability of a message to persuade may be higher where staff with a farming background are used, although there are specific situations where non-farmers such as bank managers or academics are needed (financial/research presentations)
- The use of experienced farmers who have left agriculture prematurely may imply a failure to manage the farm properly - and the quality of the message may be diminished
- Farmers need to perceive that the organisation supplying the advice does not have its own agenda, or that , if it does, that the agenda has a good fit with the farmer's own agenda. For example, farmers are suspicious of 'advice' from consultants and commercial reps that may be advertising their own services; environmental organisations may be seen to be pursuing particular objectives in ways that do not relate to, or conflict with, the core farming business.
Who do farmers trust to communicate with them? Messages from the opinion former interviews.
There was widespread agreement among interviewees across the sectors that it is very important 'who does the telling'. It is vital that farmers trust the message deliverers and are sure that they 'know what they are talking about.' It is also preferable that message deliverers are perceived by farmers to share their interests. For example, farmers tend to be wary of the intentions of businesses who may be seen as promoting their own interests.
Organisations that are trusted include SAC, NFUS, agricultural advisers, vets, and other farmers. As noted in Chapter 3, messages about mitigation measures that come from within the farming community are likely to be more effective than messages coming from government or NDPBs.
It can take a long time to earn farmers' trust and, once it has been lost, it is not easily regained. One interviewee spoke of his own experience as an adviser. He said it took years before his opinions were valued and, once he left, his successor had to earn this trust all over again. Although agricultural advisers are generally trusted, ultimately they are being paid to do their job, and sometimes potential conflicts of interest can lead to mistrust.
Interviewees suggested that the relationship between farmers and Scottish Government and other regulators could be improved, particularly if regulators are innovative and communicate well, with the intention of building and maintaining good relationships.
It was noted that when the single farm payment was introduced, every government office had open evenings to explain the issues and NFUS, SAC also 'did their bit'. Relatively senior government officers attended and a big effort was put into explaining the change in subsidies, which was appreciated by farmers.
8.5 Working with farmers and their social networks
Provision of skills and trying new methods
- Even where the advice provided is sufficient to induce a change in people's attitudes (or knowledge beliefs), this, in itself, is not sufficient to change behaviour. Farmers must be convinced that the suggested alternative course of action is effective and that they, personally, have the ability to bring about a solution. They should have opportunities to try things out and reformulate them through direct experience. Fostering the development of skills on-farm should be seen as an essential part of any advisory initiative
- Farmers must be involved in identifying problems and solutions - effective knowledge transfer is a two-way exchange.
Localising understandings of knowledge
- Many farmers place a premium on information from locally known and credible sources, and personally relevant advice - all of which can be enhanced through localised programmes. There is strong evidence of a need to consider localising all aspects of the policy, from formulating the problem with the local community, to providing local examples for farmers to learn from, and ensuring that scientists whose research underpins advice have direct local experience.
Acknowledging the role of agri-cultures or farming styles
- Considering 'farmers' as a single cultural group fails to recognise that, within any community, there are a multitude of different 'agri-cultures,' each with their own concept of 'good farming.' Dwyer et al note that changing behaviours, therefore, involved targeting more than individual farmers - it involves targeting whole cultures of farming. Currently productivist symbols, such as yields or the tidiness of fields continue to provide the main source of farmers' cultural capital - they are what represents 'good farming' within much of the farming community. Changing the farming culture implies changing this system so that environmental assets or acts are able to generate cultural capital (generating status and self-esteem within the community through the approval of the peer group).
Developing solutions with farmers
- There is a need to involve farming culture in the process of problem framing and resolution. One potential problem with developing solutions to environmental issues with farmers is that farmers' understanding of environmental problems can be limited, and they may restrict feasible actions to those that fit with the existing farm system. In this case, collectively developing solutions with farmers may involve an iterative process of informing farmers about the issue and contextualising it within local farming, followed by a reassessment of potential solutions. Dwyer et al acknowledge that such an approach to problem solving is likely to be lengthy but may also be more likely to succeed where farmers develop a sense of both personal relevance and self-efficacy.
Connecting with social processes and networks/collective responses
Dwyer et al note that understanding how cultural groups construct and interpret knowledge is likely to be a key component in the success of any strategy to encourage behavioural change:
- Messages passed through a group are likely to have higher 'in-group' status and create a positive social norm (if most farmers in the group are participating)
- In the case of environmental change, it is likely to increase the perceived efficacy of action if all are working towards resolving the issue
- If the topic becomes widely discussed within the community, it provides an opportunity for repeated attitude expression which may again increase the consistency between intended and actual behaviour
- Collective responses can lead to farmers developing solutions from within their own knowledge cultures, thus making use of local intellectual capital. This type of approach may be particularly useful in cases where there are pre-established heterogeneous groups (agri-cultures, farming styles etc) as these groups may have pre-established networks along which information (and social pressure) may pass, as well as strong sub-cultural beliefs.
The fieldwork conducted as part of the research by Dwyer et al revealed a complex picture on collective farmer-to-farmer networks:
- Some farmers reported attending farmer discussion groups and making an effort to spend time with like-minded farmers or farm-related friends. These settings allow individual farmers to both provide advice and seek advice from their peers
- Others felt they did not have time to take part in such networks, and many contrasted their current lack of a local farmer-centred social network to times past, when they would have regularly attended the mart, or agricultural shows.
Overall, larger farm business (particularly arable ones) appear to create a certain amount of 'space' for their farmers to reflect and take time out to attend events and maintain social and business networks. Smaller livestock enterprises and small to medium-sized dairy farms suffer particularly from a lack of time to do anything more than cope with the day-to day business of running the farm. As a result, both business and community networking suffer, and these people can easily become isolated and depressed.
Dwyer et al noted that the key for Defra to establish long-term behavioural change is to try to ensure that the message is picked up and discussed positively within the farming community/ies. The most effective way to achieve this social learning is to ensure that certain social processes are operating within the community. For example, this includes making sure that different interest groups have the capacity to participate, and creating a favourable social environment for the use of information to underpin constructive change. Although the research found that traditional social networks have become increasingly fragmented, data suggested that farmers take a close interest in the activities of their neighbours 'over the hedge,' and react to visible management change (Dwyer et al, 2007).
Working with farmers and their social networks: messages from the opinion former interviews:
Sources of advice
Interviewees acknowledged that there is a wide variety of advice available, and many farmers take advantage of multiple sources. This range is important to meet the needs of different groups. There is no one optimum method for advising farmers.
Although there is a diverse amount of information available, some interviewees questioned its quality, labelling it 'vague'. Others suggested that farmers are a fairly conservative group so 'a few seminars and the odd leaflet is not going to cause widespread change'.
There was general agreement that messages from different sources in agriculture are broadly consistent about the main climate change issues. The main message is consistently 'Efficient use of resources will help reduce carbon footprints and save money.'
A number of the interviewees from environmental NDPBs pointed out that although the overarching goals are often aligned, different organisations may have different ways of getting there. For example, SNH focus particularly on preserving ecosystems, while NFUS are more concerned with improving efficiency of fuel use. Farmers recognise that these messages are underpinned by the politics of their parent organisation or, in the case of supermarkets and private enterprise, their marketing strategies and commercial ideologies.
It was also pointed out that farmers receive messages from a wide range of different sources that are not directly related to agriculture, and over which the Scottish Government and its agencies have no (or little) control. The outputs of tabloid newspapers, in particular, are often hostile to climate science.
Social factors and personal motivation
Farmers are influenced by the activities of their peer group and, if they see neighbours carrying out mitigation activities, they are more inclined to try new practices themselves, particularly if they can see that these actions are having positive consequences. Internal competition between farmers also plays a role here, as people do not want to be 'shown up' by their peers.
Messages about mitigation measures can be much more effective coming from neighbours, peers, farming community, machinery rings etc than from government or NDPBs. Once messages begin circling amongst peer groups there is a snowball effect and they can have a much greater impact.
It was also suggested that personal motivations and attitudes influence farmers' views of mitigation measures. There is a wide range of definitions of what it means to be a good farmer. Some farmers consider the impact of their behaviour on the climate to be a real concern and would strive to reduce these effects, even if this was not a profitable strategy. However, other farmers consider climate change to be nothing to do with them. This latter group are unlikely to take any actions to lessen their emissions unless they cannot afford not to (due to either generous incentives or punitive regulations).
8.6 Knowledge exchange
Understanding, and practical implementation of, the provision of advice have both seen a paradigm shift in response to a changing agricultural context. As explored by Blackstock et al, 2009, this shift has been from knowledge transfer approaches to human development or knowledge exchange approaches.
Knowledge transfer approaches promote, through dissemination of information and technical solutions, the adoption of predetermined practices. Criticisms can be grouped under three main concerns:
- The approach is no longer appropriate for modern multifunctional agriculture
- It does not reflect the empirical evidence of how farmers use information
- It takes no account of other influences upon the uptake of information and advice, including the knowledge generated by farmers themselves
Knowledge exchange approaches are based on the principles of 'participation, empowerment and ownership of the problem.' These approaches argue for validity to be given to non-expert forms of knowledge, including local farmer knowledge, and recognise the significance of social interaction. Communication within a social system or group is regarded as an important process in articulating, sharing and exchanging ideas amongst farmers. However, as reported by Blackstock et al, there have also been criticisms:
- The approach lacks a coherent theoretical foundation
- It fails to recognise the difficulties and dangers in working with multiple forms of knowledge
- It fails to recognise problems with issues of legitimacy, accountability and representation.
The authors conclude that no single approach to influencing farmer behaviour is likely to be sufficient, and that modern agriculture requires both top-down knowledge transfer and bottom-up knowledge exchange, with the middle ground between them providing most flexibility for future extension approaches.
Communicating good quality science to farmers to meet their needs: messages from the opinion former interviews
Many of the interviewees felt that farmers do not always receive the information they need from scientists, and that an important way to improve uptake would be to focus good quality research on areas where farmer understanding is lacking, and communicating the science in ways that are meaningful for farmers. Agricultural lobby groups, in particular, emphasised this.
Interviewees noted that, although there is still some doubt among farmers about whether climate change is happening, they are primarily concerned about three main issues.
The nature of the impact of climate change
Interviewees reported that there is a widespread view amongst farmers that the effects of climate change may not be totally negative, and could even be beneficial for Scotland, due to potentially longer growing seasons. There is less understanding of the likely negative impacts such as less predictable weather, as well as increased weed and pest proliferation. Opinion formers suggested that it is important to raise awareness of these issues: 'why are there not rainfall charts being actively published in accessible form that show 'this Oct we had X inches, last Oct we had x inches'.'
How can the behaviour of individual farmers make any difference?
Interviewees highlighted a degree of scepticism amongst farmers about what difference they, or even Scotland, can make. Even if they accept that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, they may be doubtful as to what impact they personally could have -'If I go from 100 to 80 cows am I really going to change the climate?'
Good quality science that meets farmers' needs
At the farm level, the science is considered to be too 'hazy' and 'not well-enough understood' to guide what needs to be done. It is not sufficient to say 'all farms should be doing X', as in reality one farmer's optimal plan could be substantially different from his/her neighbour's based on many factors including the nature of his land, elevation or farm type.
This feeling is particularly strong in the livestock sector where farmers complain that there are no robust answers to a number of key questions such as: which types of cattle emit more/less methane? Is it better for farming to become more intensive or extensive? Should cattle be farmed indoors or outdoors? Interviewees emphasised that farmers require this kind of fine-grained data, and they need to know what works at the level of individual farms. The averages on the marginal abatement cost curves are not helpful for determining what specific businesses should do.
Although it is inevitable that the science evolves, and policy initiatives and guidance change to accommodate developments in research, farmers may be confused by what they perceive as a lack of consistency in the actions they are being encouraged to take. For example, in the recent past, anaerobic digestion was not promoted as a viable option, then it was encouraged through the FiT scheme, and now the emphasis appears to have shifted towards wind turbines and hydroelectricity.
Dwyer et al note that, as receiver characteristics differ (which may influence the uptake of a message), any promotional strategy should use a variety of message approaches. Personal factors that can influence the persuasiveness of arguments, include:
- Levels of self-esteem and ability to comprehend
- Ability to recall relative beliefs and experiences
- As personally relevant as possible, as people are more likely to respond where self-interest is involved.
As discussed in earlier chapters, a good deal of research has looked at the characteristics of particular sections of the farmer population, in order to improve targeting. More sophisticated segmentation work allows such approaches to be further refined.
The segmentation model developed by Defra has been analysed in terms of the communication strategies required for different farmer categories (Pike, 2011; AEA, 2010). As described in Chapter 4, the segments may be summarised as follows:
- Custodians - farming is a way of life
- Lifestyle choice - farming is not the main source of income
- Pragmatists - a balanced approach to make a living
- Modern family business - ensuring succession to a viable family business
- Challenged enterprises - isolation is an issue
Famers in the Custodians and Lifestyle Choice segments (and Pragmatists, to some extent) favour engagement in terms of respect, partnership working towards mutual benefits, and protecting the future. People in these segments are more likely to be emotive and sensitive to needs, and appreciate an inclusive, rather than a directive approach. Modern Family Businesses and Challenged Enterprises (and Pragmatists, to some extent) are focused on business, productivity and input costs. They are more rational and pragmatic, and need hard facts and concrete reasons in order to pay attention.
Non-adopters may be farmers who are currently unaware of schemes but, if provided with relevant advice, could be persuaded to adopt them, or farmers who are aware of such schemes and resistant to them. Clearly, the messages sent to these two groups should be different. Clear and succinct information might be enough to persuade the first group, but policy makers need to have a good idea of the nature of farmers' resistance in order to engage effectively with the second group.
Barnes et al (2011) note the importance of appropriate targeting of policy intervention. However, the distinct group of farmers classified as 'apathists' in their research in Scottish NVZ areas highlight the problems involved in communicating with farmers who are averse to information seeking and, potentially, disengaged from agricultural policy in general. The authors suggest that, in times of dwindling resources, it may be more cost-effective to direct group level information transfer at groups that are already taking action, and those that are resistant, allowing an increased share of the budget to be spent on an individualistic approach to the needs and concerns of members of the 'apathist' group (Barnes et al, 2011).
Targeting communication: messages from the opinion former interviews
As noted earlier, opinion formers wanted to make it clear that many factors dictate what is possible on individual farms, and advice needs to be tailored accordingly. Most interviewees suggested a number of reasons why some kind of targeting of messages is likely to be helpful to improve the uptake of mitigation measures. Customising messages reflects the reality that there are many different situations facing farmers, as well as a range of potential solutions.
Targeting farm types
One suggestion was to focus on farm type. For example, arable farms would be likely to have certain characteristics in common, that are different from livestock farms. This method would be practical and easy to administer, as farm type would be easy to identify. However, it does not take into consideration the characteristics of the farmers themselves.
Prioritising the targeting of farmers
Interviewees focused on targeting farmers based on their potential willingness to adopt mitigation measures. Two possible approaches were suggested:
- Targeting early adopters: if the most influential farmers are convinced to adopt mitigation measures, this would influence the behaviour of other farmers. Those who are less interested will still receive information by 'looking over the fence'. Also, if early adopters demonstrate their practice, in focus farms or discussion groups, for example, farmers who are more cautious may be reached (as long as they can be persuaded to attend)
- Targeting the majority: 'early adopters' are likely to be proactive and seek out the advice and guidance they need to maximise resource efficiency on the farm. Focusing resources on reaching those who are neither particularly enthusiastic, nor too reluctant, might be more effective in the short term than targeting the most resistant farmers
Suggestions for reaching farmers who are more cautious about adopting new methods
A few interviewees noted that the messages themselves are already good, and the challenge is getting farmers to hear them. It was acknowledged that there is a 'long tail' of disbelievers who are unlikely to be convinced regardless of how they are approached.
Farmers who are most resistant are unlikely to be affiliated with SAC or NFUS, so they cannot be accessed using the usual communication channels. Several suggestions for reaching these farmers were made by opinion formers:
- The SG could take advantage of RPID's records to contact these farmers, if this was handled sensitively.
- Use the farming press. Even if farmers have no contact with the SG and SAC, they probably still read Farming News.
- Provide information at livestock markets/the Royal Highland Show/local events etc. It was noted that stalls should not just contain leaflets: they need something attention-grabbing or practical to pull farmers in.
Another consideration in relation to targeting is how farmers view themselves. For example, they may not even believe that what they are doing is farming if they are not dependent on farming activities for a living.
8.7 Using a range of mechanisms to influence behaviours
There is no specific focus in the literature on the limitations of communicating with farmers using written material alone, although the emphasis is on tailoring a range of communication approaches. However, the literature on influencing behaviour in the general population is more explicit about the need for effective written materials to be supported specifically with one-to-one (or group) interaction, and with some kind of social prompt (to demonstrate that behaving in a particular way is a new social norm, for example). In an international review of behaviour change initiatives, Southerton et al (2011) introduce an 'individual/social/material' framework of contexts which represent a good starting point for isolating behaviour change mechanisms and better understanding the rationale that underpins them.
- The individual context - covers initiatives that seek to change the attitudes and choices of consumers in ways that encourage more sustainable behaviours. Economic incentives - increasing the monetary cost of environmentally damaging activities, or offering financial incentives to undertake less environmentally damaging behaviours, are the most prominent. Such incentives do not necessarily foster long term changes in behaviour; and monetary penalties or disincentives can work to legitimate the behaviour being discouraged if people feel they have paid for the right to carry out the activity. Offering and promoting environmentally friendly alternatives to unsustainable practices is another mechanism that addresses individual choice. Such incentives make it easier for people to make the decisions that will bring about change. Informing the consumer relates to changing attitudes through education. Information campaigns are most effective when targeted at particular groups. Targeted marketing also opens the opportunity to developed campaigns attached to values that are not necessarily pro-environmental but which, nevertheless, foster more sustainable behaviours.
- The social context- addressing the social contexts of consumer behaviour involves attempting to shift the cultural conventions and social norms that underpin different activities. This is both difficult and problematic, as it requires shifting the foci of initiatives away from individual decisions and toward shaping and intervening in the shared behaviours of social groups. Social institutions represent social contexts through which people learn, come to understand and habituate certain behaviours. Households and families can be influenced, particularly at moments of life-course transition. A second mechanism is cultural tastes, which by definition are shared. Here the focus is less on influencing the decision making of the individual, but generating shared cultural understandings of what is fashionable and appropriate. Often, early adopters can set the trend. Community-based initiatives can aim to influence social norms by focusing on the importance of social networks for circulating information and expectations regarding appropriate behaviours.
- The material context - refers to the objects, technologies and infrastructures that both enable and constrain ways of behaving. Interventions in material infrastructures not only create the conditions for new habits to emerge, but have the potential to lock people into sustained environmentally friendly behaviours. Southerton et al give the example of a city's investment in a bus and cycle network - an expensive, but (it appears) effective way of providing a quick and reliable alternative to car travel.
8.8 Messages for policy development and delivery
This chapter has focused on a large body of research conducted for Defra in 2007 by researchers in England and in Scotland. A Good Practice Guide, Influencing environmental behaviour using advice, was produced as an output from that work (Blackstock et al, 2007). The Guide includes 16 good practice principles for its target audiences: 'policy makers who design such initiatives and their colleagues who manage such initiatives:'
- Farmers need to believe environmental protection is their responsibility, is serious, and they can make a difference
- Farmers need to be convinced of the utility of the advice for them, and understand why there is a need to change
- Messages should be specific, targeted and encourage a response by the receiver
- Different modes of advice provision work in different ways, so it is important to use more than one approach, recognising the limitations of each
- The credibility of the source is based on the reputation of the source organisation
- The credibility of the source is based on the reputation of the individual and their relationship with the farmer
- Harness existing knowledge networks, but be aware of the complexities involved
- Recognise other professionals also give advice to farmers (for example, vets, supermarket reps, crop consultants)
- Different farmers have different motivations for seeking, thinking about and acting on advice
- The same message will be received differently by different farmers depending on their own experiences and views
- Decisions, especially strategic decisions, are normally made collectively by the farm partners or the family; and management is often carried out by others (such as labourers and contractors)
- Behavioural change is long term and may be prevented, or delayed, by constraints and/or shifting evaluations of the costs versus benefits of change
- Advice is interpreted as part of a wider set of influences on behaviour, including economic incentives and/or regulatory sanctions
- The interpretation of advice is influenced by perceptions of the changing role of farming in society and by social changes affecting the 'family farm'
- The relationship between advice and behaviour changes through time
- Change occurs at several levels, from practices in an individual field to changes in society; and is affected both by 'top down' messages from Europe and 'bottom up' activities by local farmers.
The Guide also includes a useful checklist for the provision of effective advice:
Relevance: Is the advice relevant to the receiver?
Credible: Does the receiver believe the advice to be true? Do they trust the source of the advice?
Importance: Does the receiver recognise that something has to be done?
Responsibility: Does the receiver believe that they ought to do something?
Capacity: Does the receiver believe that they can do something about it?
Effectiveness: Does the receiver perceive a difference when they change behaviour?
Visibility: Is it obvious that something is being done?
All the mechanisms included in the contexts framework (Southerton et al, 2011) have been discussed in other parts of this report. The types of initiative included in the individual context are already part of agricultural policy in Scotland; the types of levers may be categorised using the Defra '4 Es' approach; and the Defra segmentation approach is helpful in relation to targeting. The evidence on farmer behaviours has emphasised the importance of focusing on the social context, working with social networks, using moments of transition in the lives of farm businesses and looking to early adopters to set trends. The material context is also key to influencing farmer behaviours, particularly by supporting uptake of technological innovation. However, it may be useful to consider whether and how all three contexts are relevant when developing and implementing initiatives to influence farmer behaviours.
The literature is clear that farmers are more receptive to messages which focus on efficiency and profitability of the farm business than on environmental sustainability (whether or not climate change is mentioned). However, as noted in Chapter 7, the 'values' literature emphasises the importance of targeting intrinsic values to achieve sustained behaviour change. Values can be both activated (for example, by encouraging people to think about the importance of particular things) and can be further strengthened, so that they become easier to activate. One way in which values become strengthened is through their repeated activation, for example through exposure to these values through influential peers and the media (Crompton, 2010). It may be that, in the longer term, emphasising and reinforcing farmers' roles as custodians of the environment will be the most effective tool to encourage farming in more sustainable ways.
Key points from the literature - communication mechanisms
- Mass media - this is the main vehicle for making farmers aware of new technology and schemes. The farming press is a particularly important source of information for farmers. However, other mechanisms are more effective in encouraging farmers to respond to the information they are given
- One-to-one advice - farm visits from agricultural advisers are highly valued by farmers, as advice can be tailored to specific farm situations, and farmers encouraged to take up actions appropriate to their farms. To be most effective, the one-to-one advice must be impartial and from a trusted and credible source
- Demonstration farms are particularly useful for showing how technologies and ideas can be applied in the circumstances of particular farms, and provide opportunities for farmers to meet and exchange ideas. To be effective, they must be widely promoted and marketed
- Group learning - discussion groups can encourage exchange of ideas and experiences. Events should be no longer than two hours; subject matter should be relevant and focused and include a practical or applied element
- Information technology - with much greater use of the internet/social media etc, farmers may be becoming more receptive to these methods of communication.
- Formal or structured education or learning - farmers who attend training courses are already predisposed to farm conservation activities. However, workshops run by initiatives that provide economic incentives as well as environmental benefits have been particularly successful.
Opinion formers also wished to stress that:
- Farmers like to see the approaches that their neighbours are taking. If they witness the 'win/wins' for themselves, they are able to assess the benefits
- It can be difficult to persuade farmers to attend events but, during winter months, farmers have more time to consider changes to their management practices
- Only farmers who actually attend events will benefit from them
- It is important that typical farms are used, so that farmers feel they can realistically follow the example of those demonstrating their learning.
- Major national events, such as the Royal Highland Show, can engage farmers away from the hectic environment of their own farms, when they may be more open to ideas and suggestions.
Key points from the literature - the message
- Written materials should be topical, snappy, colourful and personally relevant. Information should be clear and practical
- Messages should aim to convince the receiver that the problem is serious, it affects them, the recommended actions will solve the problem, and that they are capable of performing the actions
- Advice is most likely to be well received and acted upon if it offers a clear financial dividend and/or is compatible with running a successful business
- Farmers appreciate advice which helps them to address current concerns
- Better coordination of advice to farmers would prevent duplication, and prevent messages from being undermined by conflicting statements.
Opinion formers also wished to stress that:
- Messages are more effective when 'climate change' is not mentioned
- Materials should be written in plain English, by people who understand farming
- There is a lack of awareness at the farm level of issues such as soil quality and the amount of fuel used for specific tasks. Better information would allow farmers to save money through making more cost-effective choices.
Key points from the literature - the messenger
- Those who communicate with farmers should combine experience, practical knowledge, good listening skills, good networking with other experts, fluency, energy and enthusiasm, common sense and the ability to relate technical information to the farm setting
- Farmers are more willing to engage with advice when they see the process to be one of mutual respect. The reputation of the organisation employing advisers is also important
- Farmers need to be sure that the organisation supplying the advice does not have its own agenda or, if it does, that the agenda FiTs with the farmer's own agenda.
Opinion formers also wished to stress that:
- It can take a long time to earn farmers' trust and, once it has been lost, it is not easily regained.
Key points from the literature - working with farmers and their social networks
- Farmers place a premium on information from locally known and credible sources. It is important that scientists whose research underpins advice have (or gain) direct local experience
- Within any community there is a multitude of different 'agri-cultures,' each with their own concept of 'good farming.' Influencing behaviours involves targeting more than individual farmers - it involves targeting whole cultures of farming
- There is a need to involve farming culture in the process of problem framing and resolution. Developing solutions with farmers should involve an iterative process of informing farmers about the issue and contextualising it within local farming circumstances
- Messages passed through a group are likely to have higher 'in-group' status and create a positive social norm.
Opinion formers also wished to stress that:
- Farmers receive messages about climate change from a range of sources over which the Scottish Government and its agencies have no (or little) control. Tabloid newspapers, in particular, are often hostile to climate science
- Messages about mitigation measures can be more effective coming from within the farming community.
Key points from the literature - knowledge exchange
- Understanding, and practical implementation of, the provision of advice have both seen a shift in response to a changing agricultural context
- Modern agriculture requires both top-down knowledge transfer and bottom-up knowledge exchange (using local farmer knowledge, for example).
Opinion formers also wished to stress that:
- Farmers need a better understanding of both the likely benefits and negative impacts of climate change
- There is a degree of scepticism amongst farmers about what difference they, or even Scotland, can make, as the climate changes
- Although it is inevitable that science evolves, and policy initiatives and guidance change to accommodate developments in research, farmers may be confused by what they perceive as a lack of consistency in the actions they are being encouraged to take.
Key points from the literature - targeting messages
- A range of receiver characteristics may influence the uptake of a message, so any promotional strategy should use a variety of message approaches
- Defra's segmentation model has been analysed in terms of the communication strategies required for different farmer categories. Farmers in the Custodians and Lifestyle Choice segments favour engagement in terms of respect, partnership working towards mutual benefits, and protecting the future. Modern Family Businesses and Challenged Enterprises are focused primarily on business, productivity and input costs. They value hard facts and concrete reasons
- Non-adopters may be currently unaware of schemes, or aware of schemes and resistant to them. Different messages are required for each of these groups
- Farmers who are averse to information seeking and disengaged from agricultural policy in general are likely to prove the most difficult to influence.
Opinion formers also wished to stress that:
- Farmers who are most resistant are unlikely to be accessed via the usual communication channels. Suggestions for reaching this group include using the farming press and providing attention-grabbing, practical information at livestock markets, the Royal Highland Show and local events.
Using a range of mechanisms to influence behaviours
The literature on influencing behaviour in the general population is more explicit about the need for effective written materials to be supported with one-to-one (or group) interaction, and with some kind of social prompt. A framework of contexts has been developed as one way to isolate behaviour change mechanisms and better understand the rationale that underpins them:
- The individual context - referring to initiatives that seek to change the attitudes and choices of consumers in ways that encourage more sustainable behaviours
- The social context - attempting to shift the cultural conventions and social norms that underpin different activities
- The material context - the objects, technologies and infrastructures that enable and constrain ways of behaving.
Messages for policy development and delivery
- In addition to the key messages summarised above, a Good Practice Guide, Influencing environmental behaviour using advice, includes 16 good practice principles for 'policy makers who design such initiatives and their colleagues who manage such initiatives.' The Guide also provides a useful checklist for the provision of effective advice
- Although farmers are more receptive to messages about increasing the efficiency and profitability of their farm businesses, the 'values' literature emphasises the importance of targeting intrinsic values (such as environmental stewardship) to achieve sustained behaviour change.
Email: Angela Morgan
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