SLU news

Reality and research must meet more often

Published: 07 May 2014

During the R & D days 9 to 10 April, arranged by the Board of Agriculture and EPOK there was a workshop on the interaction between research and practice. Farmers, advisors and researchers worked intensively in groups and the results were very clear: if the research will become more relevant and be useful in practice, we need to work closer together. The will is there, but we must find the forms!

The need arises also from the new requirement for active collaboration throughout the chain up to implementation that is imposed in applications to EU's new research framework programme "Horizon 2020", as well as to national research foundations. Also funding within the Rural Development Programme for collaboration and innovation are likely to be allocated to collaborating groups of different actors working in a problem-oriented way.

Needs for platforms, networks and channels for ideas
A clear picture that emerged during the group work was that the networks of researchers, advisers and farmers need to be strengthened. Some business owners get many questions from customers that cannot be answered by themselves. Then they need a network of experts who can help. There are groups for experience exchange that are able to initiate research, but they do not always have the needed contacts within research accomplish an application for project grants.

Some conclusions from the workshop
  • The thirst for knowledge is large.
  • The researchers want to get ideas and increased relevance of the projects.
  • The networks are weak and more platforms for contacts are needed.
  • Practitioners can and want to participate in research!

Practitioners need to have the chance to continuously communicate their ideas and need for knowledge to research and not as someone puts it, "just get a phone call from a researcher the week their the application should be in". There is no good platform for this. A concrete suggestion is to establish an interactive website for this purpose, and that it might be something for EPOK to initiate and host.

It is pointed out by many that it is important to involve all parts of the country, not just around the SLU campuses Ultuna, Alnarp and Skara. Some groups proposed a systematic inventory of research needs at county or regional levels.

Results must be distributed to users
Another side of the same coin is that lack in contacts, meeting places and networks means that the research results that are ready for application does not reach out to the users. Advisors should be involved in the projects already in the application, and then assist with their popular science learning experience, one of the groups suggests. It was also stated that there should be more discussion in the beginning of the projects about how the dissemination of results should be done. An organization that can support the research process in terms of participation and implementation is called for by several of the groups. One group thinks it should be a specific department at SLU who takes that role.

There is a wish for more involvement from the Federation of Swedish Farmers and other industry organizations when it comes to interaction with and influence on research It is also pointed out that advisors can become more active in inviting researchers to various activities. Joint study trips for researchers, advisors and farmers would be something to try, one of the groups suggests.

Recipe for successful collaboration
Many point out that the very best guarantee for research to relevant and the results to be used is that advisors, farmers and scientists are working together through the entire research process. But to do that, clear forms of collaboration, such as so-called participatory research are needed.

Issues that are of economic importance are often perceived as more interesting to commit to for practitioners. One group emphasizes that it is important that the question is not too broad: "There will be many choices to consider anyway." In order to sustain the commitment frequent feedback is needed, for example through e-mail and physical meetings. Video meetings are held up as a good option if the distance is large between the participants. One group points out the importance of projects being short-timed so the participants won’t get bored. Or otherwise a clarity from the beginning on what the schedule looks like. At the same time it was pointed out that it takes a long time to create a group that pulls in the same direction.

More freedom in research design
The fact that the research issues must be completely formulated already in the application is a problem. In participatory research, and often in experience exchange groups the questions are not given in advance, but developed in a process. Also in more traditional research approaches there are needs for opportunities to "bold", without losing the sight of the main goals.

Continued focus on collaboration
EPOK will now be in dialogue with the Board of Agriculture go through the results of the workshop to see what lessons we can take to heart for future activities in research initiation and communication and for which concrete ideas we can contribute to their realization.