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APEN 2001 International Conference

Toowoomba, 4th-5th October 2001

Report No:


Title of Topic:

True Collaboration in RD&E: What is Extension’s Role in Helping Researchers and Farmers Develop and Implement Research Projects?

Name of Facilitator: Larissa Bilston

Names of Participants:

Bill Dalton, David Ellement, Nathalie Jarosz, David Lawrance, Nick Christober, Samantha Heritage, Liz Mann, Alison Anderson, Linda Harley, Phil McCullough, Eric Anderson, Kim Jones, Paul O’Hare, Scott Ledger, Jeremy Simon, Roger Peckham, Fiona Johnson, Abigail Jenkins, Graham White, J. Okells-Okarye

Main points of discussion

Some key elements to successful collaboration between growers, researchers and industry stakeholders in research projects from our experiences:

  • Grower initiated, researchers drawn together to meet needs, holding ongoing focus groups with stakeholders during the project.
  • Stakeholder involvement throughout the project’s life – management and trials
  • Project able to adapt to changing industry needs
  • Steering groups to give stakeholders into how the project was conducted. At its conclusion the group wrote a new project proposal and implemented the same management approach again.
  • Some growers with a strong interest in a topic approached an industry development officer (as a conduit to the funding body) who facilitated their communication with researchers to help them develop a project proposal, which was subsequently funded.
  • Growers being involved to help interpret research information and derive what was meaningful in conjunction with researchers rather than just being presented with research results.
  • Grower/industry groups setting a clear direction about what they need and what outcomes they expect in a workshop setting, then working out how to get there in discussions with relevant providers.
  • Even in a government-driven initiative the use of on-farm trials and work, which is measured in terms of things, that are meaningful to growers (e.g. cost-benefit comparisons) can still be useful.
  • Better trust and respect is built between researchers, growers and funding bodies when project proposals list realistic project outcomes.
  • Growers participating as equals in project planning committees.
  • Conducting ‘study tours’ of the whole chain builds understanding and respect. This works both ways – taking growers and researchers down the chain to processors and markets as well as taking growers to research facilities to create a better understanding of scientific process, expense and limitations.
  • Creating ownership of ideas so that their implementation happens like ‘osmosis.’
  • Log frames can provide a useful tool for collaborative management.
  • Bennett’s hierarchy can be used to guide a mixed stakeholder group through a detailed project planning process, to set up the basis for a meaningful continuous evaluation process, which is used for project management, communication and funds justification.

We also made the observation that R&D Committees are doing more commissioning and developing teams to solve their problems. They are being more pro-active about publishing their needs and priorities to allow providers to respond. However, they will continue to leave processes in place to allow ‘new ideas’ to come in through project proposals. This will impact on the environment in which research proposals are developed.

Major outcomes (what have you achieved from this discussion; how can this make a difference; what else do you need to do?)

Many of the ideas listed above could be used to make a difference, but some of the ideas and principles we felt that would be really useful are:

  • Ensure communication and extension plans are an integral part of the project from the planning phase to completion – not something merely tacked on to the end of a research project.
  • Project leaders should have strong project, people and team management skills – they should be extension officers, marketing or communication experts rather than research experts (although these skills aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive). The project leader role is to:
  • Provide an industry interface – make sure that the work done in the project is what the industry wants/needs and can adapt to meet changing requirements
  • Facilitates the team – values the skills of all people and helps them do what they do best.
  • Extension officers need to be an integral and equal partner in a research project throughout its life.
  • Funding bodies are moving towards favouring projects with sound extension aspects, not those paying lip service to extension. An issue with this is do R&D committees really know how to judge what a ‘good extension component’ looks like on paper (i.e. a project proposal).
  • Growers and industry groups need to be in projects management on an equal footing – we have a responsibility to help them build the capacity, confidence and skills to participate.
  • Perhaps we need to move away from the terminology of ‘research projects’ when the emphasis is on developing and implementing solutions to problems. They are really ‘rural development projects.’

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