Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Could online knowledge resources be made to work more effectively for land-based professionals?

 Asks Charles Leventon who manages the Harper Adams Openfields initiative

At the recent AgriFood Charities Partnership Fourth Annual Forum held at the Farmers Club, Lord Curry of Kirkharle , who is a Patron of the Partnership, spoke of the various challenges facing the industry and urged the sector to share knowledge and work together to address these.  While acknowledging initiatives such as the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming and OpenFields, as well as Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Lord Curry made the point that the large number of projects concerned with the delivery of knowledge to land-based practitioners presents a confusing picture.
I would agree that the multiplicity of knowledge sources across the many disciplines of the land-based sector present a complicated, fractured and, what is probably, an incomplete picture for the end users – farmers, land managers, advisors and their networks.  The large number of organisations involved (both as knowledge developers and knowledge disseminators) across so many disciplines means there is a vast amount that is of potential use – but it is difficult to gain an adequate picture of where the useful knowledge resides, despite the power of Google and other internet search engines.
Of course, access to online resources is not the ‘silver bullet’ solution for knowledge exchange across the sector – but well organised and readily accessible information online can enable more effective learning through both formal and informal best practice networks.  Whilst working on the development of OpenFields as an open-access library for the industry, the team at Harper Adams University has encountered the wide variety of approaches to providing online access to knowledge resources:
·         Many single organisation sources and some aggregated collections
·         Use of links vs offering direct downloads
·         Free to access or ‘members only’ or ‘pay to view’
·         Different levels of detail in describing or organising (cataloguing) items for search or browse
·         Much variation in approach to copyright and re-use licensing
A few examples to illustrate the variations are provided among the links at the foot of this blog.
This leads me to pose the question how can we best or better organise knowledge materials online: a) to help users access them more readily and b) provide a reasonably comprehensive picture of where the most useful knowledge is being developed?
Two suggestions for more effective knowledge sharing
1.    Make sure there is a copy of everything deposited in one place Let’s all start to put a copy of each newly produced knowledge transfer/exchange items (in digital format – text, audio or video) in a single cooperative ‘space’ where it can be readily accessed, would probably be more findable by search engines and could be consulted in the context of other materials.  Authors may be reluctant to do this if they think it detracts from their organisation specific web site.  However, I would argue that it is better to be seen as being part of the bigger picture – the result may be that users become more aware of your organisation’s capabilities.  Furthermore, I would suggest that the existence of a high profile main aggregator will encourage the knowledge developers to translate and more rapidly disseminate the products of research into practitioner friendly materials.
2.    Enable re-use and onward publication While we might debate whether and how the sector would implement such a cooperative effort, we could take immediate steps to make our knowledge materials more transferable – i.e. by making clear how they may be used, repurposed or republished.  Too often the authors and publishers of helpful, best practice guidance remain silent regarding copyright and licensing or a conservative option is adopted, simply stating copyright ownership.  Unless the intellectual property has a commercial value by virtue of its innovation, I am presuming that those of us in the business of knowledge transfer for the benefit of the economy would want their materials to be as used as widely possible.  We need, therefore, to be explicit about any controls we see as being appropriate.
It can be straightforward to create a simple licence statement to attach to a given item.  Here are a couple of examples:
1.    RuSource Briefings: “© Alan Spedding 2013. This briefing may be reproduced or transmitted in its entirety free of charge. Where extracts are used, their source must be acknowledged. RuSource briefings may not be reproduced in any publication or offered for sale without the prior permission of the copyright holder.”
2.    Harper Adams Technical Notes:  “You may copy this work provided that this copyright notice is displayed, you do not alter, transform or build on the work, you do not charge others to access or copy the work and you make clear to others that this notice applies to them if they use or share this work.”
Creative Commons offers copyright licence numerous models that are free to adopt.  Alternatively these models can be useful to illustrate what you intend when working with your organisation’s legal adviser.
Whether we consider our knowledge transfer network to be local or transnational we can all benefit if we give more thought to how we use the internet - making it easier to share knowledge.
The views and opinions expressed in this item are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Harper Adams University or OpenFields or those of organisations with materials held in OpenFields.

A few examples of different approaches:
AdLib http://www.adlib.ac.uk/adlib/ a resource that includes Government codes of practice, industry guidelines, legislation summaries – free to browse with subscription to access various collections
Animal - The International Journal of Animal Biosciences  http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=ANM  a typical academic journal web site offering abstracts and subscription for full papers
Animal Bytes http://www.bsas.org.uk/animal_bytes/  articles and presentations from BSAS presented in a simpler, more readable version aimed at farmers, technical advisors, policy-makers and members of the public.  Free, open access but republication restricted.
an example of a collaborative project - aimed at enterprises in Wales but worthy of wider exposure
CEUKF http://www.ceukf.org/knowledge-hub/  Centre of Excellence for UK Farming – Knowledge Hub
Defra Science and Research Projects Database http://randd.defra.gov.uk/  access to Defra’s considerable number of commissioned science and research reports
EBLEX http://www.eblex.org.uk/publications/research.aspx beef and lamb research publications - see also other AHDB Sector Divisions’ respective web sites for similar repositories of research information and technical guidance
Farm Efficiency Hub ubHubhttp://www.adlib.ac.uk/ghg/home.eb  a prototype service with resources collected by industry for industry to facilitate access, management and improved consistency in farm advice to support the Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP)
Land Life Leisure   http://edina.ac.uk/landlifeleisure/ Weekly digest of press releases, reports and articles – on subscription
Livestock NorthWest http://livestocknw.co.uk/  a four year project offering a “gateway to information, advice and support for livestock farmers looking to improve performance in England's North West”
OpenFields  http://www.openfields.org.uk/  a free to access library for the land-based sector containing collections from many organisations and incorporating Harper Adams University repository
Reading University http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/view/divisions/4=5Fq2010a2d.html   example of a university repository of academic and research papers (School of Agriculture, Policy & Development / Economic and Social Sciences Division / Farm Management Unit)
Relu Policy & Practice Notes http://www.relu.ac.uk/news/policyandpracticenotes.htm  also accessible via OpenFields
RuSource Briefings http://www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk/publications-and-resources/rusource  “a free rural information service for anyone working in the countryside or with rural people, and those supporting rural life” with full searchable catalogue also available on OpenFields
SRUC            http://www.sruc.ac.uk/downloads  a variety of documents including research notes and case studies but no information on licensing for republication

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

How is CAP reform shaping up?
Oliver Lee from Andersons’ Farm Business Consultants provides some insights on the current situation.
 Keeping up with the developments in the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 and the associated Common Agricultural Policy reform sometimes seems like a full time job for those of us advising land managers.  Everyone wants to know just how it’s going to affect us here in the UK, who is going to be better or worse off, will Environmental Stewardship carry on in a similar form, or will it be all change?  And will the results be good or bad news for farmers, consumers and the environment?  None of this has been at all clear.  But recent events have provided a bit more clarity on what will happen over the next 7 years, even if we don’t yet have the full picture of how this will affect us at farm level. 
A compromise was eventually reached during negotiations that was acceptable to both contributor countries such as the UK and Germany, and countries like France, Italy and many of the new Member States who were arguing for a ‘strong Europe’ (code for high spending). In headline terms future spending will be around 3% lower than in the current 2007-2013 seven year period at €960bn.

In terms of CAP, total spending has dropped by around 9% in real terms to €373bn over 7 years – i.e. around 39% of the total MFF. Due to changes in modulation rules there is likely to be a significant drop in Rural Development funds. The ‘new modulation’ at 15% (a drop from 19%) does not have to be match-funded by national Treasuries, and it is unlikely to be by the UK Treasury even at this lower rate.

All issues to do with money have been dragged into the discussion on the MFF. Therefore capping of direct aid has been included in the deal. The text states simply that ‘capping of direct payments for large beneficiaries will be introduced by Member States on a voluntary basis’. It seems pretty clear that it will be left up to individual countries to decide whether they want to cap or not, it is unlikely that Defra in England will introduce it.

Again, because it is a monetary issue (and perhaps because EU leaders like to call the shots), ‘greening’ has been dragged into the Budget discussions. The proportion of direct aid going towards greening is to be fixed at the original figure of 30%.  Interestingly, the text states that there will be a ‘clearly defined flexibility for Member States relating to the choice of equivalent greening measures’. This seems to suggest that Defra’s preferred option of greening via the ELS will be allowed.

The new MFF still has to be ratified by the EU Parliament. The Parliament has always been a strong supporter of ‘more Europe’ – i.e. greater spending. It is unlikely to be happy at the cuts that Heads of State have agreed. Whether the Parliament will actually block the deal is unclear. It may simply flex its muscles a bit and then acquiesce.

With so much tied-up already it doesn’t seem to leave much for Farm Ministers and the EU Parliament to decide within the CAP reform negotiations. At least the fixing of the Budget now allows these negotiations to progress. We, at Andersons, would hope that the full Parliament can sign off the European Parliament’s position within the next month, and Farm Ministers can also agree their version. That would still give an opportunity for a political agreement on CAP reform by the end of the Irish Presidency in June. As ever, the devil is likely to be in the detail. The comprehensive ‘Implementing Regulations’ setting out this detail are unlikely to be available before the autumn. So, although the Budget deal has taken a step forward, there is still some way to go before the final shape of the CAP post-2014 is known.