Bottom-Up AKIS – An Inclusive Stakeholder Engagement Strategy

Knowledge exchange activities of a multi-actor Irish EIP-AGRI Project. Photo: Dr Shane Conway

Soil-specific human capital is not easily transferable, communicated or learnable. Future multi-actor EIP-AGRI projects will be unsuccessful if they do not learn from the farming community’s invaluable store of locally specific tacit and lay knowledge developed shaped and internalised by the daily and seasonal labour-intensive demands working the land. 

Dr Shane Conway reports on the PREMIERE Horizon Europe Project, and on a bottom up approach to AKIS – Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems.

Innovation is increasingly seen as a social process, more bottom-up and interactive, than top-down science to implementation.

Now placing a greater emphasis on the value of the multi-actor approach (MAA), projects being funded at an EU level by the European Commission funded under Cluster 6 of the Horizon Europe Work Programme (Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment related projects), and EIP-AGRI Operational Groups (OGs) projects at a national and regional level by Managing Authorities in each of the 27 EU Member States, are embracing this concept.

The MAA makes the best use of different types of knowledge and complimentary expertise (practical, scientific, technical, organisational, etc.) by bringing together key actors (e.g. researchers, advisors, agri-businesses, farmers) in an interactive way to identify and implement innovative solutions in the agri-food sector and rural economy.

Knowledge exchange activities of a multi-actor Irish EIP-AGRI Project. Photo: Dr Shane Conway

Closing the innovation gap between policy, research and practice by taking into account the social dimensions involved in farming, forestry and rural society through the MAA will enhance the adoption of multi-actor project results amongst (end-) users at local/regional/local level (e.g the farming community).

Enabling farmers, for example, to be producers and not just simply recipients of agricultural innovations is an important shift in focus because a farm is not just a piece of land or a workplace, but rather represents the physical manifestation of generations of knowledge; knowledge developed and used over time by both the farmer and by those who have lived and worked there before.

As such soil-specific human capital is not easily transferable, communicated or learnable, future multi-actor EIP-AGRI projects, for example, will be unsuccessful if they do not learn from the farming community’s invaluable store of locally specific tacit and lay knowledge developed shaped and internalised by the daily and seasonal labour-intensive demands working the land.

PREMIERE partners co-creating the project’s Stakeholder Engagement Strategy. Photo: PREMIERE Project

Strengthening the multi-actor approach

PREMIERE is a new Coordination and Support Action (CSA) Horizon Europe project, tasked with strengthening the MAA by supporting the development of coherent and well-prepared multi-actor Horizon Europe project proposals, and related policy instruments such as EIP-AGRI OGs.

The project’s Stakeholder Engagement Strategy, inspired by strategic management literature, has been developed by the project’s University of Galway team to help mobilise this process.

This strategy ensures compliance with the MAA, through the development of 5-step engagement process (see figure 1) aimed at mapping, analysing, categorising and connecting with an extensive and diverse network of stakeholders in the agri-food sector and rural economy from across policy, research and practice groups at EU, National and regional level, to enhance the preparation of such multi-actor project proposals in an inclusive and co-creative way, as outlined by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe Work Programme 2023-2024.

Figure 1: 5-Step PREMIERE Stakeholder Engagement Strategy

Creating an ‘enabling environment’ to foster and ‘speed up’ innovation through genuine dialogue, holistic insights and feedback loops amongst relevant stakeholders, ranging from policy makers to harder to reach groups ‘on-the ground’ throughout this 5-step stakeholder engagement process, helps to build trusting, meaningful and lasting relationships of mutual respect, in place of mere, one-off consultations, subsequently strengthening knowledge transfer, exchange and sharing in agriculture, forestry and related sectors, for the betterment of the European Green Deal, the EU Climate Policy, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Farm to Fork Strategy objectives and targets.

Such an inclusive approach towards boosting innovation in agriculture, forestry and rural areas, also changes the narrative from ‘designing for’ to ‘designing with’, resulting in a better understanding of relevant actor’s interests and priorities, subsequently leading to reduced conflict and better outcomes, for all involved.

PREMIERE consortium discussing the bottom-up AKIS approach of the project. Photo: PREMIERE Project

PREMIERE’s particular focus on providing underrepresented and/or ‘harder to reach’ groups across Europe, which often tend to be disconnected from mainstream networks, with an opportunity to be involved in the project from the outset, is important, as it helps ensure that those actors whose stories are often marginalised by the larger assemblages, such as the farming community, are not only represented, but also provided with a ‘voice’, in order to achieve fair representation of all relevant groups, not just the easy to access groups.

Such an approach will, in turn, enable PREMIERE project outputs to significantly contribute to CAP’s cross-cutting objective of modernising the sector by fostering and sharing knowledge, innovation and digitalisation in agriculture, forestry and rural areas, and encouraging their uptake amongst (end-) users.

 

PREMIERE is funded from the European Union’s Horizon Europe Programme.

More about Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) here

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About Shane Conway 1 Article

Dr Shane Conway is Project Manager and Adjunct Lecturer in the Discipline of Geography’s Rural Studies Centre at the University of Galway, Ireland. Shane’s research interests are in agricultural and rural social sciences, with a particular focus on older farmers, AKIS, the Multi-actor Approach, stakeholder engagement; intergenerational farm transfer and the human side of farming. Dr Conway has published widely on these topics in high impact peer reviewed academic journals, such as the Journal of Rural Studies and Sociologia Ruralis, and is Co-Director of the International FARMTRANSFERS Project. He has also acted as Vice Chairperson of the International Farm Transition Network (IFTN) Board of Directors based in the U.S.A. since June 2021. Shane was previously Lead Researcher on the Irish National Rural Network (NRN) project at the University of Galway, where he was responsible for managing and coordinating the network’s work on EIP-AGRI, LEADER and Generational in Agriculture on behalf of Ireland’s Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) and Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD). Most recently, he received funding from the University of Galway Illuminate Programme to develop and manage a new social organisation for the older generation of the farming community based on his previous research entitled ‘Farmer’s Yards’. Established to fit the older farmer’s interests, requirements, and values, this initiative is working to promote social inclusion, and in turn wellbeing, in the farming community by providing older farmers with a platform to come together as a local peer group in a familiar and friendly Livestock Mart (Auction) setting. Shane is also a farmer, with a particular interest in breeding pedigree Charollais Sheep on his family farm in the west of Ireland.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrShaneConway