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Peer-to-Peer Learning: Accessing Innovation through Demonstration

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PLAID (Peer-to-Peer Learning: Accessing Innovation through Demonstration)

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

Recent research has demonstrated consistently that “other farmers” are farmers’ most frequently reported source of information. PLAID has been designed to increase the innovativeness and sustainability of European agriculture by enabling a wider range of farmers and farm employees to access high quality peer-to-peer learning opportunities on commercial farms. Demonstration activities have been key knowledge exchange mechanisms in agriculture for over 100 years, and are thus important for insuring the innovativeness and adaptability of European agriculture. Demonstration activities are intended to increase this peer-to-peer learning but very little is known about their current numbers, approaches, effectiveness, or inclusivity. Demonstration activities may also have desirable secondary functions, contributing to network building and innovation inception, thus leading to longer term sustainability and economic development in rural areas.

The eight specific objectives of PLAID are:
1. Practice-based conceptual development
2. Produce a geo-referenced inventory and clickable map
3. Identify best practices in on-farm demonstration
4. Assess governance and funding
5. Develop and promote innovations in demonstration
6. Enable access to demonstration
7. Add Value to EIP Agri
8. Initiate a community of practice
Over 1400 entries have been made to the farm demo inventory (see Figure 2), about 70% of which are farmers. The inventory is accessible through the FarmDemo hub, and includes a search tool, which includes: country, language, farm type, farm management and demo topics.

A set of guidelines and a training guide have been produced to help with future filming on-farm. Areas covered include: knowing your target audience; state of the art technology; ethical considerations; how to disseminate videos produced; potential barriers to effective virtual demonstration; recommendations. In guidelines and training materials are given concrete recommendations about virtual demonstrations.

24 cases of on-farm demonstration were studied in depth. Resultant good practice guidelines include: Participant Profiles: on how to reach a balanced variety of visitors; Activity Access: on how to enable good access to all demo activities; Mediation: on how to enhance knowledge exchange; Demonstration: on how to optimally adapt the demonstration to visitor needs; Connecting People: on how to foster diverse forms of exchange at demonstrations; Monitoring & Evaluation: on how to tune demonstrations to the needs of visiting farmers.

Policy and governance recommendations:
a) Demonstration should be part of the dissemination activities in the innovation projects in EU
b) Training about demonstration for farmers, facilitators and organisers should be supported
c) Effective demonstration fosters knowledge exchange among farmers and between AKIS actors. Funding systems or regulation should create favourable conditions for demonstration activities, without administrative burden.
d) Agricultural educators could be encouraged to let their students visit demo activities and take part in their organisation.
e) Specific funding could be devoted to support farmers for the time and the investments they involve in organising or hosting demo events. Administrative barriers like obligatory co-funding should be avoided.
f) Specific funding could be devoted to help farmers to avoid risks linked to demonstration activities. These include hygiene and biosecurity equipment.
g) Exchanges are a good way to improve practices on demo activities both at local, national and EU level; demonstrations are a good target for international exchange programmes.
h) Structured and monitored exchanges and cross visits of trainers at EU level should lead to a progressive improvement of the effectiveness of demonstration activities across Europe.

PLAID has produced: 7 blog posts, a primary twitter account with 730 followers, a PLAID project manager twitter account with 372 followers, 47 short videos, and 59 practice abstracts. The FarmDemo YouTube channel has 227 subscribers. The videos (in 9 languages) have been seen nearly 60 000 times (28th June 2019). PLAID with AgriDemoF2F co-hosted three supra-regional workshops, two recommendations meeting and a final FarmDemo conference, which was attended by approximately 200 people.
The PLAID conceptual framework undertakes the first analysis of the factors under-lying successful demonstration, and integrating these with academic theories of behaviour change. PLAID undertook the first historical analysis of demonstration farming, showing the evolution over several hundred years.

The FarmDemo inventory (conducted jointly with AgriDemoF2F), is the first of its kind. It provides an important networking resource for on-farm demonstration across Europe, to be utilised in the H2020 NEFERTITI project. Findings from inventory data analysis identify the sectors, themes and topics on which demonstration is (and is not) available in different European regions. The main topics of demonstrations in all of the countries are related to improving production. There is more focus on technical innovation relating to individual aspects of farming than on whole-farm approaches. One reason for this is that technical aspects are easier to demonstrate in a physical setting (e.g. outdoors or agricultural sheds).

Within regions, the most common topics demonstrated typically reflected the dominant farming types in in those areas. Topics with an environmental focus occur through Europe but appear to be more common in Northern Europe, typically identifying the economic utility of environmental actions, in order to convince farmers of the feasibility of these actions. Demonstrations are more likely to occur on organic than conventional farms. Topics like farm succession and farm business management are not usually the subject of demonstration.

PLAID produced a video making guide specifically designed for farmers. Three video tutorials were produced for training on video production. PLAID also pioneered the development of a Virtual Demonstration Farm: a simulated (gaming style) environment with embedded 360 degree videos, enabling virtual ‘walk through’s the web or an android phone with a virtual reality (cardboard) headset.

Based on 24 case studies from across Europe, PLAID identified good practice guidelines. These summaries find that: Information that a farmer receives needs to be ‘tuned to the needs of the farmer’ by placing it in the context of the farmer’s own practice. Demonstrations also need to make that information ‘tangible’ for the visiting farmers. This can be done by: a) using communication techniques that engage multiple senses: seeing, tasting, smelling, touching; b) interacting with visiting farmers to make a closer connection between the supply side (the information provided and demonstrated) and the demand side (what farmers need for their own practice).

PLAID and AgriDemo developed the first on-farm demonstration toolkit, which has been very popular with stakeholder groups. The tool kit will help farmers across Europe host more effective demonstrations: setting objectives and target groups, selecting the demonstration farm, practicalities of setting up demonstrations, how to promote the demonstration, the facilitation methods that enable learning and how to evaluate and follow up demonstrations to maximise impact.