This post is written by Charlotte Chivers and she describes her thoughts before joining the SciCulture team in Burgen 2019
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been awarded an Erasmus institutional grant enabling me to participate in the upcoming SciCulture intensive school in Bergen, Norway. I’m a final year (eek!) PhD researcher, studying at the University of Exeter within the Centre for Rural Policy Research, which promotes and encourages interdisciplinary work with a focus on farming, nature and food. For my doctoral research, I am exploring ways of improving the advice farmers receive surrounding diffuse water pollution from agriculture through using a mixed methods approach comprising of focus groups, telephone interviews and a large-scale online questionnaire survey. In 2018, just 16% of UK watercourses were classed as achieving a ‘healthy’ status according to the EU’s Water Framework Directive, illustrating that diffuse water pollution is an important issue in terms of the environment, human health and societal wellbeing. Diffuse water pollution is, however, a ‘wicked’ problem due to its cumulative nature, making it difficult to place sole responsibility on individual farmers and other stakeholders; it is, therefore, crucial that farmers are provided with advice to enable them to minimise their contributions whilst providing evidence as to whether their existing practices are contributing to the problem.
I am particularly interested in how farmers perceive scientific evidence as well as a passion for exploring innovative and creative ways of presenting this data in an accessible and transparent manner to promote farmer uptake of this information. Without careful exploration, it can be difficult to get the correct balance between disseminating advice clearly and overcomplicating advice; moreover, ensuring delivery isn’t condescending to its audience adds further difficulty. As with many other issues we face in society, flexibility is key to successful advice delivery as individual stakeholders are likely to have differing needs and expectations particularly during this period of political uncertainty in the UK. I am also exploring how environmental farming advice could be improved to better meet farmers’ needs, for example through increased usage of engaging video content, internet-based tools and decision support tools as farmers demands are expected to change over time as a result of increased reliance upon technology. Whilst many farmers in England continue to operate as relatively small traditional family farms, some large-scale arable farms are adopting technocratic solutions to maximise production efficiency; these farmers are expected to have greatly differing needs in terms of advice and I hope to investigate this during my PhD.
I am also investigating whether farmers see environmental farming advice as credible, relevant and legitimate enough to pay for its delivery, and if not, what the barriers to paying are. I have also carried out a study into analysing how aware farmers are of the establishment of the ‘New farming rules for water’, new regulations which all UK farmers must comply with but may not currently be aware of. My findings will be disseminated to farmers, policymakers, other academics, and farm advisors, so it is vital that I am able to communicate and network with people from various backgrounds alongside thinking of novel ways of advice delivery.
Subsequently to attending SciCulture in Bergen, I reflected on my experiences and quickly realised that I gained far more than I had bargained for during the course.Sciculture taught us how to solve problems using a novel approach, double diamond design thinking, which I was entirely oblivious to before SciCulture. The course was intensive, inspiring, varied, and at times, uncomfortable. We were encouraged to participate in activities outside of our comfort zones and embrace divergent ideas within our groups. For example, whereas I previously avoided conflict when working in groups, I now feel more able to embrace it due to experiencing how great ideas can emerge as a result of heated (but productive) debate. Most importantly, I made some great friends during the trip, had great fun learning how to airbrush, and thoroughly enjoyed practicing alternative ways of communicating with non-scientists about the complex problems we face today such as climate change.