SCIENCE IN THE FIELD: UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING ROLE OF EXPERTISE IN THE RURAL ECONOMY

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Agriculture Food and Rural Development

Abstract

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Publications

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Amy Proctor (Author) Rural Professions and field-based expertise in N/A

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Amy Proctor (Author) (2011) Ecologists as farm advisors : using knowledge and skills gained on the job in In practice : bulletin of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

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Amy Proctor (Author) Relu and stakeholder impact in N/A

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Clarke KA (2011) Taking up the public health challenge. in The Veterinary record

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Enticott G (2011) The changing role of veterinary expertise in the food chain. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Enticott G (2011) Neoliberal reform and the veterinary profession. in The Veterinary record

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Gardiner A (2011) Who or what is a veterinary specialist? in The Veterinary record

 
Description Changes in recent decades, including shifts in the objectives for agriculture, new priorities for rural development and environmental conservation, and new institutional and regulatory frameworks, have introduced greater complexity to the contemporary 'land system', influencing the ways in which environmental knowledge is produced and translated into professional expertise and practice. With the privatisation and restructuring of agricultural extension services there has been a proliferation of specialised knowledge providers for farming and other types of rural land management expertise. What is not understood are the knowledge practices of those experts who now mediate between institutional science, rural policy and land management practitioners. Our research sought to redress this gap by investigating 'field-level advisors' within three case study professions - rural vets, applied ecologists and land agents/surveyors.

The project explored the current and potential role of field-level advisors as knowledge brokers or intermediaries between scientific research and land management practice, with a focus on how their knowledge and expertise are constructed and disseminated. The objectives were to:
1. Review concepts of knowledge exchange and the notion of field-level advisors as knowledge brokers;
2. Understand the knowledge systems and requirements that underpin the different types of field-based expertise and how these adapt to scientific advance and to the changing rural economy;
3. Consider the approaches to knowledge exchange adopted by the different field-based specialists and their current and potential role as knowledge brokers between scientific research and land management practice;
4. Explore how land managers differentiate between different forms of field-level expertise

The findings provide a number of new insights into the nature of field-level expertise and the workings of the contemporary advisory landscape:

Field advisors as knowledge intermediaries: Advisors undoubtedly act as intermediaries bringing science to farms. However research agendas have become disconnected from technical dissemination capacities, and vice versa. So, whilst advisors look to their professional bodies to filter and synthesise the latest research findings, this is unevenly done across the professions. Moreover, the relevant rural professional associations are marginal to public research decision making. The findings highlight the need to improve knowledge exchange between the professions and research base. More generally, the research has helped to understand processes of knowledge exchange taking place between research and practice. This included the development and testing of a novel experimental tool, the

Stakeholder Impact Analysis Matrix (SIAM), which provides a method for analysing how research projects are engaging stakeholders and has widely influenced the Research Councils' thinking on mapping and assessing the impact of research projects and programmes.

The significance of field-generated expertise: There is a disjuncture between the conventional understandings of knowledge exchange and brokerage and the actual experience of encounters between research, field advisors and land managers. The findings revealed the complexity of field advisors' knowledge sources and how formal CPD provision and requirements do not fully reflect the range of ways advisors keep their expertise up to date. Advisors were found to be actively brokering a range of different types of knowledge, besides formal science, crucially including generating knowledge themselves through learning on-the-job. Both experiential and experimental knowledge are pivotal to their work. Yet they are given limited recognition and generally undervalued by both professional and training organisations.

An ecology of expertise: The findings reveal an advisory landscape now characterised by a pluralistic system of field advisors, operating a mixed economy of expertise. Advisors were found to develop their knowledge through interactions with other professionals, from within the same profession and between professions, as well as land managers. The results highlight the significance of inter-professional working. Operating as part of complex, multi-professional networks, advisors have to develop skills of negotiation and networking in order to navigate inter-professional competition and co-operation. In an arena where professionals are obliged to work together and learn from each other, advisors need to be better prepared to understand the inter and intra-professional contexts in which they will have to operate. Furthermore, through their client/professional encounters, advisors and land managers do not simply exchange knowledge but learn mutually from each others' knowledge practices. In this way, they also co-construct one another and produce new knowledge. A feature of the exchanges between farmers, scientists and professionals is the way in which the polarity between expert and inexpert may be reversed. In fact, both advisors and land managers develop expertise in knowing when and how to play the 'expert inexpert' as part of their interactions.

Field professions and the state: Broader transformations of state-extension relations have been emulated by parallel changes within the professions in terms of their relations to the regulatory state. Land agents have increasingly found themselves at the meeting point where the regulatory state meets rural landed property, while ecologists and other environmental advisors have accrued increasing status in rural land management and regulation. In the case of the veterinary profession the research highlights an erosion of the traditionally close relationship with the state with the application of neoliberal management techniques to the governance of animal health.

Close links have been established with the professions throughout the research, which included the support of an advisory group comprising active professionals. As well as 4 journal articles and over 20 conference presentations including events organised by the professions, highlights include a high profile Policy and Practice Note identifying the wider implications of the research, a Briefing Paper on processes of knowledge exchange, and a series of articles in key professional journals (including a landmark series in Veterinary Record exploring social science perspectives on the veterinary profession). The project utilised national dissemination channels of the Relu Programme, which have allowed the
findings to reach several thousand stakeholders. The research made a marked contribution to the future of the veterinary profession, through informing the work of co-investigator Philip Lowe in preparing his report for Government and the profession on 'Unlocking potential, a report on veterinary expertise in food animal production', which led to the establishment of the Veterinary Development Council in 2010. Finally, the project's analysis of concepts of knowledge exchange and experimentation with methods for accounting for its processes and impacts, have helped embed notions of 'knowledge exchange' within the Research Councils. Particular interest has been shown by major funders and programmes in the SIAM methodology pioneered by the project and the potential it offers for research impact analysis.
Exploitation Route Building on the recommendations of the ESRC-funded Science in the Field project (2008-11), landbridge was set up as an experimental knowledge exchange network with an award from the ESRC's Knowledge Exchange Follow-on Fund in 2012. The network was designed to facilitate links between researchers and advisers to farming and land based businesses. Its impacts are recorded under award ES/J01057X/1
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

URL http://www.relu.ac.uk/landbridge/
 
Description Building on the recommendations of the ESRC-funded Science in the Field project (2008-11), landbridge was set up as an experimental knowledge exchange network with an award from the ESRC's Knowledge Exchange Follow-on Fund in 2012. The network was designed to facilitate links between researchers and advisers to farming and land based businesses. Its impacts are reported against Award ES/J01057X/1
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Stakeholder impact analysis 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Seminar to Scottish Government Knowledge exchange group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description The formation and exchange of field-level expertise in rural land management 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Presentation to academic audience as part of a session exploring expertise in rural context
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description The role of field advisors as agents of knowledge exchange 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Invited seminar at Scottish Agricultural College
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity