Too often, Government tries to change farmer behaviour instead of its own badly-designed policies. The development of post-Brexit policy must not follow this pattern, says Dr David Christian Rose, lecturer in Geography at the University of East Anglia.
We recently completed a report for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) on how best to influence farmers’ decision-making behaviour.
The report suggested that incentives, education, positive messaging, ‘nudging’, and peer-to-peer learning could all play a role in changing the behaviour of individual farmers.
But, with a bit more detailed reading, we found behaviour change on the part of both policy-makers and researchers might be a much better way of influencing farming practice.
Consider the example of technology adoption we raised in the report.
Too often, innovators have designed fancy technology systems, sometimes supported by Government funding, which farmers have no interest in using in practice.
This is because the piece of technology is too difficult to use, or does not answer useful questions, or it just does not fit farming workflows.
Instead of reflecting on their own design behaviour, innovators and policy-makers often resort to trying to change the attitudes of individual farmers – for example, trying to educate them about the benefits of adoption.
Wouldn’t it be far easier if the innovators and policy-makers tried to incorporate the views of farmers in the project from an early stage?
Then perhaps it wouldn’t be useless or difficult to use.
This is why it is so important for policy-makers in the post-Brexit era to ‘co-design’ policies with the farming community, something which I am planning to help Defra with in the coming months, and something which is already being pursued by policy-makers there.
It would not be productive to design policies without sufficient input from practitioners who will put them into practice. It would be the technology example all over again.
Policies may be badly designed for implementation on-farm or may not provide the right framework to encourage farmers to do the things that we want them to do.
If this happens, policy-makers are going to need to spend time and resources re-designing the policy or, as often happens, trying to change the workflows of farmers to fit the new regime.
It would be far better if new policy frameworks fit into existing farm workflows and if they were designed in such a way as to make implementation as easy, efficient, and productive for farmers as possible.
So the big take-home message for policy-makers and researchers from the report is – before you decide you need to change farmers’ behaviour to fit your great new innovation or policy idea, consider whether it is your own behaviour that needs changing.
Because a properly ‘co-designed’ policy or innovation is far more likely to succeed without the need for farmer behaviour change!
Dr Rose can be found tweeting at @d_christianrose
To read the full AHDB report, click HERE.