In a recent episode we explored the factors that affect the adoption of innovations but perhaps there are more! It is important for us as enablers of change to be continually thinking about these, as they’re so important to our work. In this episode we’re going to consider the social factors that affect adoption.
To think about factors affecting adoption, we started with Rogers’ five attributes (relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability) but added to this using some recent Australian research from Kuehne et al. (2017). They used 22 factors to model how farmers adopt new agricultural practices. While we think these are extremely useful, we think there is another set of factors affecting adoption that are useful to highlight—those related to the social nature of change in farming.
Back in 2004, Frank Vanclay published an insightful paper: ‘Social principles for agricultural extension to assist in the promotion of natural resource management’. Frank has been a researcher in this field for many years. He is from Queensland originally and did his Masters at the University of Queensland on social research methods and statistics for the social sciences. He then went on and completed a PhD at Wageningen University in the Netherlands in rural and environmental sociology. If you have been involved in APEN you might recall the 2003 national forum in Hobart—Frank was the convenor for that event! He is now a professor of cultural geography at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. So he has been interested in understanding change for a long time.
When we think about factors affecting adoption, we do tend to have a bias towards the technical and economic factors. So it is important that we explore the social nature of change and farming. In Frank’s paper he outlined 27 social principles that affect adoption, particularly when considering natural resource management. Now we are not going to take you through all 27 principles but we are going to highlight key ones and encourage you to have a read of the paper, as we think it is an essential one to have in our enablers of change toolbox.
The social principle affecting adoption is that farming is a socio-cultural practice. This means that habits, traditions and beliefs affect farming just as much as technical ones (like the soil type, climate, farm size, etc). Social processes impact adoption and we need to be aware of this.
The second is that all farmers are not the same! Now this seems pretty obvious but we have been involved in a number of projects and discussions about what affects adoption and we know it’s all too easy to slip into thinking about ‘farmers’ as a homogenous group. We know that some are old, some are young, there are ones with more money and ones with less, ones with lots of farming experience and ones that are just starting out, there are farmers who happily use a range of chemicals and there are those who are actively trying to avoid any chemical use! We need to recognise that there are different priorities, understandings, values and ways of working—and all these have an impact on the adoption of innovations.
The third principle is that adoption is a social process. A farmer is not in a vacuum—they discuss ideas with their family, friends, neighbours, advisors—and often come up with better ideas than the researchers or extension people have!
The fourth principle is that profit is not the main driver for farmers, meaning economic incentives by themselves aren’t usually sufficient to bring about change. This does not mean that farmers do not want to make money or don’t need to make money—they do! But like all of us, sometimes extra time, lower risk or lifestyle might be more important than money.
These are important factors that affect adoption. And we thought it was worth highlighting a few others we think often get overlooked. So, principle 14 says that farmers’ attitudes are not the problem. Frank points out that farmers are not antagonistic to the environment—but just the opposite in fact! However they do have quite different views on what environmental management means, how to implement it, and concerns about whether what is being promoted is sustainable or profitable. The problem is often a difference in perception of what is considered good farm management.
Another principle we think is important is number 17. Farmers have legitimate reasons for non-adoption. Frank lists 12 reasons for non-adoption, including complexity, inability to divide it into manageable parts and conflicting information. You will recognise several of these from the previous episode where we discussed Rogers’ five attributes which affect the rate of adoption. These are all good reasons not to adopt something!
Another principle we thought was important is number 24 which states that the best method of extension is multiple methods. We sometimes like to think there will be a silver bullet to save the day, such as—we will just run a field day and this will fix the problem. If only life was so simple! In reality we need to use multiple methods of extension to deliver the message to our diverse group of farmers. We also need to reinforce the message in different ways.
The final principle is number 27, that farmers need to feel valued. They are no different from us—we all like to feel valued! Most farmers have been battling the elements for years and working long hours to put food on our tables. Let’s not just take them for granted and ask them to make yet another ‘small change’ to the way they run their farming businesses.
We hope this post has helped you think a bit more about the social aspects of our work as enablers of change. We think it adds to our previous discussions about what factors affect adoption. But, you have read our thoughts, now we would like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us about your experiences with these social aspects, including any tips and further ideas. We do not want this to be just a one-way conversation—join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
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Vanclay, F. (2004). Social principles for agricultural extension to assist in the promotion of natural resource management. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 44, 213-222. Available online.