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What motivates adoption?

As enablers of change, it’s important that we keep up-to-date with the latest extension research. But sometimes it’s hard to get the journal article, let alone make the time to read and digest it! We would like to help you with that, so in this blog post we are exploring what we have learnt about the motivators for adoption. 

In 2019, a team of researchers in the US published a paper called ‘Synthesizing conservation motivations and barriers: What have we learned from qualitative studies of farmers’ behaviors in the United States?’. We are big fans of review articles as (in this case) it is a chance to get an update and analysis on 49 articles, rather than having to read every study. The researchers reviewed qualitative peer-reviewed articles, PhD dissertations, Masters theses, and technical reports focused on adoption of conservation practices. They specifically focused on studies in the United States between 1996 and 2017.

When they analysed all the research they came up with the following 11 factors that were either motivators or barriers (or both) for adoption of conservation practices. 

  1. Economic factors. These could be either a barrier or a motivator. Understandably, high costs were often barriers. However saving money on costs such as fuel, labour or fertiliser was a motivator. 
  2. Farm management. The types of issues that were raised in this category were compatibility, effort, timing and status quo bias (meaning there was no perceived reason to change). Often these were barriers.
  3. Social norms. Interestingly, these were more often identified as a motivator rather than a barrier. This was especially true where peer-to-peer learning had been used to influence change.
  4. Farmer characteristics. These generally focused on identity and tended to be a motivator (for example, farmers thinking of themselves as stewards of the land).
  5. Government programs. While you might think they should be motivators, they were more often identified as barriers because of the application processes, eligibility criteria and inflexibility.
  6. Farm characteristics. Whether this was a motivator or barrier depended on whether farmers perceived the physical characteristics of their farm as being conducive to using conservation practices or not.
  7. Perceptions of conservation practices. Prior experience often helped motivation whereas the time required for a practice was a barrier.
  8. Environmental awareness. This tended to be a motivating factor.
  9. Distrust or trust in information sources. There are no prizes for guessing which meant it was motivating and which meant it was a barrier!
  10. Risk. This was the uncertainty associated with conservation practice adoption and this tended to be a barrier as you would expect.
  11. Land tenure, as in whether a farmer owned or leased land. Barriers tended to emerge if a farmer was leasing land and the owner wasn’t supportive of conservation practices.


The researchers have done a great job of identifying a list of factors that affect adoption, something we have been talking about in recent posts, such as What are the factors that affect adoption? and What other factors affect adoption?. They point out, somewhat obviously, that this data shows the complexity of decision making! However, they also offer the perspective that this means that the range of frameworks available for understanding farmer decision making are essential and that these need to also include institutional and governance contexts in which the decisions are embedded. They recommended that researchers should include testing the impact of positive behavioural reinforcementthe notion that once you have adopted one practice, you are on a pathway that starts pushing you towards further adoption of related practices. 

The so-what of this analysis is summed up in the suggestions the authors have for extension practitioners. Specifically they say we should be:

  • Collaborating with farmer leaders to develop conservation social norms to leverage peer-to-peer learning
  • Using co-learning to generate conservation practice recommendations
  • Reinforcing positive experiences with conservation practices
  • Highlighting the risk reduction benefits of conservation practices, and finally
  • Connecting with farm owners and ensuring they are part of discussions where leased farmland is the norm.


We thought this paper was a useful addition to the other recent posts  we did on factors affecting adoption (see links above). If you would like to read more, the paper is available online and we have put the link into the show notes. 

Well, you have read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us whether you think this is a good summary of the qualitative factors affecting adoption. Have you read any other useful papers in this space? We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversationjoin in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 

Thanks folks for reading this Enablers of change post. Remember to subscribe to our newsletter if you’d like to know when new episodes are available. And if you liked what you heard, please tell your friends so they too can join the conversation!


Ranjan, P., Church, S. P., Floress, K., & Prokopy, L. S. (2019). Synthesizing conservation motivations and barriers: what have we learned from qualitative studies of farmers’ behaviors in the United States?. Society & Natural Resources, 32(11), 1171-1199. Available online

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Roy Murray-Prior
Roy Murray-Prior
1 year ago

Excellent summary Denise.

Graham Harris
Graham Harris
1 year ago

Thanks Denise and John – a good summation I believe. Particularly worth noting the impact of Government programs as barriers to adoption (due to application processes, eligibility criteria and inflexibility) – factors that need to be considered when looking to implement Government programs. I really like the recommendations in particular – things we need to do as extension practitioners.

Ellen Grace Soberano
Ellen Grace Soberano
1 year ago

It’s so worthwhile pondering on these different factors you cited as motivators or barriers to farmers’ adoption. Thank you, Denise and John. With all these, extension professionals should consider these to further enrich extension as a science and practice through innovative and dynamic research interventions of practitioners and different stakeholders in extension.

Jeff Coutts
1 year ago

This is a good summary which covers much of what is in the CSIRO ADOPT model, but condenses and adds some insights as well. The ‘so what’ points are really good to consider and reinforces the move towards co-innovation/co-design for extension activities and resources as well as for R&D as such.

We would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment!x