Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Plugging the gaps in the knowledge exchange system

Dr Paul Neve, Senior Research Scientist at Rothamsted Research reflects on the growing significance of knowledge exchange in his research
As a researcher working in the area of herbicide resistance and weed management, I worked for a number of years in Australia and I have collaborated with researchers at US Land Grant Universities. When I was part of a University research group (the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative) in Perth, Western Australia, knowledge exchange (extension, communication, outreach ….. call it what you will) was an integral part of the group’s work. Amongst a group of about 12 researchers, two full-time staff members worked full time on knowledge exchange. These important members of the team coordinated a KE strategy for the research group, organising farmer events, press releases, research bulletins etc. Importantly, they worked closely with researchers on a day-to-day basis, digesting latest results and distilling these into practical management advice for farmers. Groups of farmers and agronomists regularly visited the university to learn about latest research and provide feedback to researchers – were we asking the right questions? During visits to the US, it has become clear to me that many agricultural researchers have a ‘direct line’ to farmers and ‘extension’ is a key, and clearly recognised aspect of their role as an academic.


But it has been obvious for some time that the agricultural research community in the UK has become fragmented. Much excellent research is conducted in universities and institutes, but lines of communication have become a little fuzzy, often resulting in poor translation of ‘pure’ research into applied outcomes.  So I was very pleased to attend the recent Landbridge organised event ‘Building on a solid foundation: improving knowledge exchange in arable farming’ at the Marriott Hotel, Peterborough.  It is encouraging to see that groups such as Landbridge, AHDB and AICC are addressing this important issue and identifying ways to improve knowledge exchange in the arable sector.  This workshop clearly established that independent agronomists and distributors form a key link in the chain between research, interpretation and implementation. I hope that the workshop organisers can synthesise suggestions and ideas that delegates were putting forward into some actions and recommendations that will help to remedy the situation. The signs are promising. Increasingly researchers at Universities and research institutes such as Rothamsted are being encouraged to demonstrate the impact of their research. Fundamental knowledge published in high impact scientific journals is important (very important!) and a clear indication of the scientific strength of individuals, institutes and countries. However, it is clear that the job is only half-done if these scientific breakthroughs do not result in the ‘on the ground’ impacts.


Finally, by way of a shameless plug, the BBSRC-HGCA funded black-grass resistance initiative (www.bgri.info) , kicked into life this year. More details can be found at the web site. As part of this project we have established a stakeholder group, consisting of groups such as Landbridge, the HGCA and distributors. We will also set up farmer focus groups for two way exchange of information about herbicide resistant black-grass. Through these channels we hope to ensure effective knowledge exchange and a two way flow of information. We look forward to working with Landbridge and other members of our stakeholder group in the future and learning important lessons about effective KE along the way!

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