The objective of this project was to take the generalised concept of participatory research and develop the practical details needed to implement the process within the Feedbase Investment Plan. The approach to achieving the objective of developing an implementation plan for participatory R&D included (i) interviewing the leaders of previous and existing projects that had a component of R&D engagement with producers; (ii) interviewing producers and advisors who had involvement with these R&D projects; (iii) reviewing relevant documents and published literature; (iv) interviewing leaders of contracted feedbase projects; (v) conducting an industry workshop to discuss attributes and operations of participatory activity; and (vi) testing of the implementation plan with producer groups involved with the feedbase project “B.PSP.0001 – Increase feedbase production and quality of sub-tropical grass based pastures”.
The goal for participatory R&D is to add value to the research through producer input throughout the research and development phase. The participatory R&D goal is achieved through engagement, facilitated by advisors, between researchers and leading producers (or existing producer groups) providing benefit for the research activity and for farm businesses. Participatory activity will likely vary among projects and over time within a project and may include producer industry committees or participatory sites. These sites will extend the research knowledge by addressing questions of if and how the technology (research) works and fits within variable farming systems. They are aimed to allow participating producers to (potentially) scale the research to an area that meets their risk profile, implement the new research to suit their particular circumstances and provide feedback to the researcher (and MLA) in a two-way dialogue to improve the outcomes of the R&D process. Participatory R&D is not extension activity in that it will harness and coordinate the activities of researchers and leading producers investigating issues of common interest. In this manner, the participatory sites have an element of risk because activities will be generating new information rather than confirming what is already known. Leading producers interviewed for this project are attracted to this level of engagement and exploration.
Implementation of participatory R&D is proposed to occur in 4 steps. Firstly, identifying leading producers, producer groups and advisors to take part in the activity. Establishment of a register of approved advisors, in response to a public call for expressions of interest, will make this an easier process. Secondly, defining the scope and details of participatory activity at an initial meeting attended by researcher and producers and facilitated by an advisor. Thirdly, preparation of a detailed project plan by advisors as part of the proposal process to MLA. Lastly, monitoring and evaluating success through reporting the benefits and costs of the project and the process for researchers and producers.
Eventually the advisors and producer groups involved with participatory activity will form a network around the country. It is proposed that the network be managed by MLA and this will likely require appointment of one or several coordinators (fractional appointments with geographic coverage and increasing as need demands) to service the network and participatory sites. This network can be the conduit to bring different producer groups together, provide opportunity for producers to visit other participatory sites, deliver webinars or other events and accelerate the rate of industry adoption of emerging technologies.
Meetings with producers groups in Albany and Esperance in WA and at Parkes and Manilla in NSW were used to test the effectiveness of the implementation plan. No major changes are recommended to that proposed in this report. There was enthusiastic support from producers for the purpose of participatory R&D and they welcomed the opportunity of involvement with research activity. There was a sense with the NSW groups that participatory R&D will play an important role in helping to maintain their local groups. For some groups, the importance of Landcare has diminished as producer interests have broadened beyond the Landcare remit and participatory activity will serve as a new purpose. This is a good opportunity for MLA to capture group interest and leverage benefit through the networking of groups and advisors.