SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE (VOL 43, NO 3)
Abstract: Innovation is rarely considered a point of contention in agriculture. It invariably seems to denote some type of intrinsically desired newness associated with effective commercialization of a new technology, idea or organizational form. However, once innovation is considered as something happening within a network or ‘system’ of interdependent actors, it becomes clear that different interpretations and appropriations of innovation are co-evolving in a competitive framework. Although the authors acknowledge the importance of collective learning processes as a basis for overcoming barriers to innovation in networks, they caution that such a view of innovation insufficiently conceptualizes the role of power. To gain insight into how more inclusive innovation processes can be built, the authors evaluate how farmers’ interests can be articulated and how innovation networks can be held accountable to ensure fair representation of the diversity of farmers’ views. They propose a framework anchored in deliberative democratic theory that attributes significant transformative power to deliberation in decision making. The framework is based on the concept of ‘discursive accountability’, in which representation is related to a procedure guaranteeing a maximum of relevant discourses to be articulated within collective decision making in governance networks. The authors substantiate its utility through a case study of pig farming in Flanders, using discourse analysis to reveal how the discursive framings of farmers reflect an ongoing tension between the linear and the participatory innovation discourses. They complement this analysis with an assessment of the collective outcomes of a series of ‘dialogue days’ in the Flemish pig sector.
Abstract: In Benin, a combination of governmental programmes effectively stimulated rice intensification by providing relevant institutional arrangements such as subsidized seed, credit and a market outlet. In this paper, the authors investigate the institutional character of these programmes by unpacking the rules embedded in them and by showing how farmers mould, reject and change these rules or combine them with local rules – their practices of institutional bricolage. The authors show that the services provided by the programmes had great advantages for rice farmers, but they also had an exclusive character. Because of local bricolage practices, the programmes both affected rice production and helped the rice farmers to deal with conflicts over inequitable land allocation and discriminatory participation in canal cleaning. These findings contribute to discussion of the role of innovation platforms in the stimulation of institutional change and the provision of enabling conditions.
Abstract: This paper explores innovation processes and institutional change within research for development (R4D). It draws on learning by Australian participants associated with the implementation of a three-year Australian-funded food security R4D programme in Africa, and in particular a sub- component designed to support and elicit this learning. The authors critically examine this attempt at institutional innovation via the creation of a ‘learning project’ (LP) in a larger programme. For systemic innovation to be achieved, it is concluded that the system of concern must envisage institutional innovation and change within the donor and external research organizations as well as with project recipients and collaborative partners. Institutional constraints and opportunities are explored, including how the overall approach to learning in this programme could have been reframed as an organizational innovation platform (IP), designing, managing and evaluating IPs at different systemic levels of governance – including within the collaborative programme with African partners, in the constituent in-country projects, in the collaborating Australian organizations and at the level of personal practice.
Abstract: Extremes of wet and dry weather experienced in the UK in recent years have raised many questions and issues about traditional water management and farming practices. Farm infrastructure and traditional machinery have been found to be limited when addressing these issues, which include increases in flooding, diffuse pollution and the inability to access land to carry out basic farming operations. This paper reviews reactions to these issues from those tasked with addressing them in the short and long term. Drawing on theories of learning systems, it considers the nature of some of the learning that has taken place and what kinds of social infrastructure can support such learning. Implications for future learning system design are discussed. Key examples are drawn from two research contexts, one concerned with a new generation of agricultural machines and the other with water management, governance and climate adaptation.
Abstract: Agricultural research designs tend to be bounded by agroecological conditions, farming systems and other dimensions assumed to be homogeneous for the population of interest (that is, a recommendation domain or population for whom a technology or practice is expected to be relevant). Scaling is then a question of ‘rolling out’ results across the domain. But what if technology adoption and institutional context explain the variance in the output of smallholders, and agricultural development is also a question of institutional innovation? What if a domain is seen as a system of interest among actors who have a stake in the system and as an arena for concerted action and institutional innovation? This paper reports on six years of action research that attempts to answer these questions. It compares experimental interventions and subsequent systemic changes within each of nine agroenterprise domains. The experience suggests that the research approach used can explain variance in smallholder output that, in present-day West Africa, is not explained by technology adoption.
Abstract: To create sustainable rural areas, farming and non-farming stakeholders must learn to work together better. In this paper, the authors contribute to the discussion of innovation platforms as drivers of institutional change by taking a closer look at the group dynamics of emerging social bodies in innovation projects, focusing on the joint creation of institutions in the process of learning to work together. Three examples of institutional learning are discussed. The authors show that ‘institutional voids’ are important in facilitating institutional learning at multi-actor interfaces. They also show how different team roles, such as those of collaborative leaders and brokers, emerge and are assigned tasks, and how they can be identified. The paper concludes with reflections on the implications of the findings for innovation processes.
Abstract: Inspired by innovation system theory, donors promote innovation platforms (IPs) to enhance collaboration for development. However, IP practice and impact are diverse: hence the question arises of whether and how IP approaches are able to create institutional change for the benefit of smallholders. The authors present the experience of an action research programme in West Africa and analyse the cases from a dialectic perspective on institutional entrepreneurship. The results show that a researcher-initiated open IP approach with clear principles and in-depth analysis of the value chain context is able to create reasonably effective IP coalitions for smallholder development. In a mature value chain, it may be possible to mobilize high-level actors, but IPs often start at a lower level and apply a two-pronged approach. They focus primarily on research and communication to improve smallholder technical and entrepreneurial practices, while diligently mobilizing high-level actors to attain critical regulatory and/or market support. Mobilization success is limited in contentious environments.
Abstract: The outcomes of agricultural innovation systems can be viewed as the emergent product of multiple interacting, multilevel, concomitant initiatives of diverse duration. The new language of environmental innovation partnerships, organizational groups and innovation brokers (IBs) engages with this perspective. In the cotton farming systems case analysed here, the participants developed what could be considered to be an innovation partnership, stimulated by an agri-environmental incentive scheme that supported on-farm implementation of environmentally sensitized irrigation practices within a catchment. The participants pooled their resources and appointed a short-term IB to facilitate the ‘purchase of knowledge’ by local irrigators and their agronomic advisers, relevant to their self-identified irrigation knowledge needs. The IB also facilitated linkages among the partners’ various irrigation, water, cotton and catchment initiatives. The partners hypothesized that new or modified organizational groupings would emerge and that system-wide practice changes would result, and that if the new organizational arrangements could be sustained post-project, a legacy of ongoing capability for systemic change could be achieved. This research shows that the short-term objectives were met, but the expected post-project legacy did not emerge. The paper discusses the implications for innovation brokerage and evaluation of such partnerships.
Abstract: In recent years, the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy have made considerable changes in policy related to the dairy sector. After two successive dairy crises in 2009 and 2012, the dairy sector in Belgium was weakened considerably. The Belgian fair-trade milk enterprise, Fairebel, was created by dairy farmers a few months after the 2009 European milk crisis, seeking to develop their alternative, supported, owned by and for traditional dairy farmers. This case study brings into question ‘fair trade’ as a concept and practice in terms of trade between enterprises in Europe, and the surprise effects of interaction when analysed at both European and regional scales. The study concludes that the best innovation processes are not necessarily radical, and that tinkering – or bricolage – is the path taken by many innovations.
Abstract: The Farmer First Research (FFR) programme was established at Massey University in 1991 and ended in 1996. It represented a fundamental shift in how agricultural research priorities were set and implemented. Farmers’ needs and circumstances were central to defining research priorities, and the active involvement of farmers was pivotal. In 2012, the New Zealand government invested significantly in the Primary Innovation (PI) project, the aims of which were similar to those of the FFR programme. This paper critically reflects on the FFR programme and highlights lessons to inform the PI project. The authors argue that poor actor engagement and limited broader legitimacy and support have constrained the programme’s influence on sustained change in the innovation system that prevailed at the time. Also highlighted is the critical importance of actors and interactions when a programme that seeks institutional and infrastructural change is being established and developed.
Abstract: A recently implemented research and development (R&D) programme in New Zealand is attempting to implement co-innovation principles throughout the country’s agricultural sector. It is based on an agricultural innovation systems (AIS) approach, using five innovation platforms (IPs) based in the leading industries, plus a national-level IP. This paper presents and analyses the emerging challenges of operationalizing transdisciplinary research connected to co-innovation in the context of the programme. The main challenges relate to managing the complexity of a multi-stakeholder network, aligning the formal procedures for research funding and IPs with a co-innovation approach that requires flexibility, and changing participants’ framing of innovation from linear to interactive models. Our conclusion is that ‘learning by doing’ is essential in operationalizing co-innovation. Its practical implications still need to be translated into institutional changes in the national R&D structures so that policies, instruments and incentives enable co-innovation. It is envisaged that the higher-level innovation platform will drive these changes.