Wednesday, 28 May 2014

We must inspire and focus on skills

Jonathan Brunyee, National Trust tenant farmer, agri-environment consultant and farm business management lecturer at the Royal Agricultural University reflects on the Landbridge workshop held on 1st May.

What an exciting and worthwhile event.  But how do we turn all the activity and knowledge that gathered in the room into something meaningful for advisers and farmers on the ground?
Although I am now part of it, the world of academic research remains a dark and mysterious place. While I find it intriguing and inspiring, I also find it a somewhat daunting and competitive world.  It’s one that I feel is sometimes too disconnected and distant from day to day land management.
Our first challenge. Somehow we must, first of all, make research (the process and outputs) more accessible and useful to those of us, maybe the less traditionally academic and more practical people like me who are actually within our universities and colleges.
We, as lecturers, must disseminate and translate, and most importantly, inspire. This is an uphill battle If we don’t feel part of the research body or see its relevance.
Traditional academic research isn’t the only area of research we discussed. I have been involved with quite a few consultancy research projects on the ground over the years.  Projects that have looked at conservation grazing, biodiversity decline, rural enterprise, CAP reform etc.  These are often short and sharp pieces of action research work, with defined outputs and recommendations.   But how often do these pieces of work sit on shelves, and do not get used or shared? How often was the research a duplication of something that has been done before?  How often was the brief so poor that the client didn’t get what they needed?
And maybe this leads me to our second key challenge.  Working land professionals and clients must get better at identifying their research needs - the things that will really make a difference – the ‘so what’ question. We must recruit and manage the right research or consultancy team, and utilise and share the outcomes.
We must break down the barriers between researchers and clients. The co-creation and delivery of research can only result in better outputs and translation on the ground.
Our third challenge is probably the most important. For research to mean better practice, it must inform and lead to improved skills and training at the coal face.  And this depends on having training strategies, good/inspiring trainers on the ground, varied programmes (CPD, short courses, distance learning, group, one to one etc.) and a delivery budget. 
Most of us learn by doing and reflecting, not by reading journals or attending lectures.

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