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Building an interactive AgriDemo-Hub community: enhancing farmer to farmer learning

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AgriDemo-F2F (Building an interactive AgriDemo-Hub community: enhancing farmer to farmer learning)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-06-30

Agriculture has to meet a wide range of expectations emerging from society, and should contribute to tackle the challenges of food security, food safety, quality, sustainability and climate change in Europe. This changing context with respect to extension, markets and challenges has initiated a more complex system of knowledge exchange. Although demonstration farms are only one element of this knowledge landscape in which farmers operate, they offer the unique opportunity for learning, for farmers to observe, interact and discuss with other farmers. These peer-to-peer interactions have been shown to play an important role in farmers' decision making. As a result, on-farm demonstration activities can be considered as potentially effective interventions towards a more sustainable farming system. AgriDemo-F2F aims to enhance this peer-to-peer learning within the commercial farming community, by following a structured multi-actor approach, utilizing the experience of different actors. More specifically, we aim to improve the understanding of effective on-farm demonstration activities and to prepare for European connectivity.
"AgriDemo-F2F, together with its sister project PLAID, built a geo-referenced inventory of open commercial farms that engage in demonstration activities in Europe, detailing the sectors, themes and topics on which they provide expertise. The inventory is hosted on the FarmDemo-Hub. A strong collaboration was set up between the three on-farm demonstration projects (AgriDemo-F2F, PLAID and NEFERTITI) to further enrich the inventory.

Second, a cross case comparative approach of 35 cases allowed us to identify a set of best practical approaches. We focused the analysis on the interplay between key characteristics for effective on-farm demonstrations, looking at different levels (event, farm and organisation or programme level). Findings are structured around 4 main questions: (i) What are the most important key characteristics at event level, and are there some standard recipes to choose from? (ii) What does it entail to be a good demonstration farm or farmer? (iii) How does a combined set of practices influence the effectiveness of a demo event? and (iv) What about the dynamics in the context of a demo event; what role does the organisation, network or AKIS structure play?

From these analyses, we determined seven key intervention points. First, goal setting is important at all levels. Second, AKIS arrangements can enable more effective demo programmes through well-funded structures and facilities to ensure a stable and committed network of demo farmers. Third, demo organisations should embed demo activities into existing structures or leverage and optimise existing links. Fourth, collaborative and co – governance models should integrate demos into farmer learning pathways. Fifth, during an event, a balanced program with a variety of suitable learning methods is essential. There are 3 basic principles: relate learning content to the farming practice (real life conditions), engage participants in active knowledge exchange and use a variety of learning methods (ex. field walks, observing practical demonstrations, hands-on activities). Sixth, group dynamics and creating a motivational space are crucial to enhance peer learning during on farm demonstrations. At last, follow up during and after the demo event through monitoring and evaluation are essential to gauge effectiveness.

Furthermore, a FarmDemo Design Guide was developed and made available in 11 languages, offering 6 simple steps that should be considered when it comes to preparing, carrying out and evaluating on-farm demonstrations. In addition, a set of recommendations were formulated for policy and AKIS actors and resulted in 4 policy briefs: (i) Demonstration as part of the dissemination activities in the innovation support projects in EU; (ii) Education and training to enhance demonstration for farmers, facilitators and demo organisers; (iii) Supporting Demonstration through Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) Funding Schemes; and (iv) Setting long term (EU) demonstration networks and exchange programmes. Recommendations are mostly directed at the EU level, but can also provide inspiration for national and regional policies.

At last, based on an improved understanding of effective on-farm demonstration and through a strong collaboration between the three FarmDemo projects, we built and boosted a lively FarmDemo Community to raise European connectivity between demonstration farmers (peer-to-peer) and other innovation actors. The FarmDemo projects liaised strongly and branded all communication and dissemination towards the commercial farming community as ""FarmDemo"". All results emerging from the 3 FarmDemo projects can be accessed on collating the FarmDemo Hub, the FarmDemo Networks, and the FarmDemo Training Kit. The FarmDemo Hub hosts the EU-wide inventory of demonstration farms, and offers user-friendly search functions to explore the inventory. Furthermore, registered farmers can showcase their farms and demonstration activities. The FarmDemo Networks page provides more information about the ten NEFERTITI Networks. Finally, the FarmDemo Training Kit centralises online tools, video tutorials, and tips & tricks to improve on-farm demonstrations. Furthermore, we implemented a big FarmDemo social media campaign and organised a set of joint meetings (ex. recommendation workshops in Italy (March 2019) & Den Bosch (April 2019)). The Farmdemo Conference (May 2019) was a big succes (200 participants from all over Europe), clearly a result of raising the interest and creating a lively community."
Through this FarmDemo community, AgriDemo-F2F aimed to achieve a high impact, and to empower various stakeholders, incuding the commercial farming and policy community, but also advisory and extension services.

The seven key intervention points contribute to a new way of understanding how demonstration events should operate. Most current demonstration are organised in a way that the particitpants mainly listen to a demonstrator or expert, social interaction is thus one-directional from the demonstrator to the participants (ex. oral presentations), or a two way social interaction between the demonstrator and the participants (ex. Q&A session). An approach that stimulates peer learning needs to go a step further and should attempt to pursue a multidirectional social interaction between the demonstrator and the participants, or within the group of participants. The demonstrator acts mostly as a facilitator of a discussion in the whole group. The degree of social interaction between the demonstrator and participants and the active engagement required by the farmers is thus crucial for effective peer learning approaches. This should become the new understanding of what a demonstration event entails, to be called a peer demonstration or a demonstration 2.0.

Through the FarmDemo collaboration, we could realise a strong and large FarmDemo Community. All materials are being taken up, not only by the NEFERTITI community, but during the FarmDemo conference many other innovation actors and project coordinators clearly expressed their interest to use these materials in the future. These materials aid in creating impact and thus in attracting new demo farmers to the FarmDemo-hub.