Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Taking stock of the links between research and the land professions

Fiona Mannix, Associate Director Land Group at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors gives her reflections on the latest landbridge workshop which aimed to identify how knowledge exchange might be improved between research providers and the land professions

On 1 May I had the pleasure of attending a Landbridge workshop at the British Academy. Landbridge, who we are keenly involved with, is a knowledge exchange network for researchers and rural professionals who advise farming and land businesses. The workshop was titled Taking Stock of the Links between Research and the Land Professions.
Landbridge believes that improving land management is imperative to such objectives as food security, sustainable development and the management of environmental change, and land professionals are vital to this process. In recent years the land professions themselves have recognised both the need to update their own knowledge and skills through programmes of continuing professional development, and the demand from land managers for more specialised advice. At the same time, research funders have begun investing in major research programmes into land use challenges. But a gap still exists between research and practice and we lack effective models for knowledge transfer and exchange.

The government’s Agricultural Technologies Strategy  notes that the UK has strengths in research vital to agriculture and related technologies and innovative and dynamic farmers. What are less clear are the priorities for the advice and service networks that support agriculture and what role the land professions could play in linking ‘the laboratory and the farm’.  Shortcomings can range from how land professionals are able to engage with research (be it public or private; basic, applied or strategic) or find out about research findings, to how the professions are placed in relation to research decision making and agenda setting. Knowledge exchange between the professions and researchers needs to be improved so that land professionals are better sensitised to the latest research, while research has to be more responsive to the contemporary challenges of land management and professional practice.

The workshop was chaired by Sue Steer, Chair of the RICS Countryside Polices Panel and a member of the Landbridge advisory panel. The day opened with a number of presentations on a range of topics and some personal views of the issues involved in linking research into practice from a range of people including agronomists, vets, farmers, environmental and agricultural consultants were expressed. Lunch was followed by more presentations which explored different models, strategies and contexts of linking research and professional practice. These were followed by a practical exercise which involved six tables with facilitators, of which I was one.

The overall aim of the workshop was to identify how knowledge exchange might be improved between research providers and the land professions and the key questions addressed by the tables included:

How are research agendas responding to the needs of the land professions?
What knowledge exchange approaches and mechanisms have been adopted and how could they be improved?
How can agriculture and land advisory professions expertise better inform public and private research priorities and programmes?
Participants at the six tables were tasked with discussing a number of specifics. At my table we were tasked with ultimately highlighting the top five constraints currently preventing professions’ expertise from informing public and private research priorities and programmes and the top five priorities for action which will allow better links and communication so that expertise from professions and industry can inform research priorities and programmes. Personally this was a very worthwhile exercise with some very solid suggestions coming through for future actions.
All who attended felt it was a valuable and much needed event with some key issues raised and, most importantly of all, some strong solutions mooted and action points developed by all tables that can be followed up on going forward in order to ensure that research and professional practice are as closely linked as possible. All feedback is currently being collated by Landbridge and will be disseminated via RICS Rural Practice Update in due course.
RICS Rural Professional Group and Countryside Policies Panel look forward to continued engagement and involvement with Landbridge. Landbridge is administered by the Centre for Rural Economy at Newcastle University. RICS Land Journal regulatory features research findings from the Rural Economy and Land Use programme based at the centre.

This blog is reprinted from a comment piece posted on the RICS website on 7th May 2014:

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