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Animal husbandry and welfare
Translation courtesy of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic. European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.
Operational Groups can include partners from very different backgrounds such as farmers, foresters, advisers, researchers, industry representatives and more. 'Innovation support services', and in particular 'innovation brokering', can play a crucial role in getting worthwhile projects off the ground by bringing people together.
Many individuals and organisations across Europe are offering support to Operational Groups. This can be in the form of brokerage in the early stages of a project: identifying partners, clarifying objectives, and even helping to write the funding application. Innovation support services may organise brokerage events or set up online platforms where people can meet and begin to make plans for their innovation project. Innovation support can then also be in the form of facilitation during the lifetime of the project.
Jean-Marc Gautier supported Operational Group (OG) Robustagno as innovation broker and now as facilitator. His specific role is to ensure that partners can work together in a way which will enable them to reach their goals. We spoke to him about his activities:
An innovotion broker tries to link different partners from the field, from science, commercial partners etc. and make sure that the right expertise and knowledge is involved in the project. They have to ask themselves, who should we get together in the same room to discuss this particular subject?
For example, in Robustagno, which is an OG working on making lambs more robust at birth, we were looking for farmers with practical knowledge and experience with on-farm innovation on this issue, as well as people from a scientific background. It is very important to involve people with different skills.
Outlining the topic is also essential. The subject of the Operational Group has to be the most important issue for the farmers involved, keeping them and the other partners interested throughout. The issue should also, of course, be relevant for the sector across Europe.
Along with Coop de France Midi-Pyrénées, the lead partner of Robustago, I was very much involved from the very beginning of the process. We spent time developing and clarifying the topic. We contacted potential partners – sheep breeders and advisers, veterinarians, agricultural organisations and schools – and coordinated the start of the partnership. Then I co-wrote the application for funding.
My current role in the OG is facilitator. It is important that I have some knowledge on the sector and issues that the OG is treating so that I can guide the discussions logically, and ensure all areas are covered. However, I am not a participant, so I don’t bring in any new knowledge.
My main role is to organise and run the OG’s meetings, continuing to provide innovation support. Innovation support means making sure people come to the meetings and that the meetings are run in such a way that solutions can be collectively constructed.
Getting the farmers to sign up was a challenge… It is unusual for them to be involved in this type of ‘multi-actor’ project, developing innovation with people from other professional backgrounds. We also had to be careful that we had ways to keep them interested and make sure they could see the benefits.
So what we did to overcome this was to make it clear to the farmers, during the project preparation, that the project would not get in the way of their daily work, that their input was essential to the success of the project and that the outcomes of the project would also benefit them. The topic is therefore tailored to the needs of the 6 farmers involved.
Project meetings are held 4 times a year and last a full day, this is also a challenge for the farmers. So we hold meetings in locations (including on the farm) and at times which are practical for the farmers. According to the rules of our Rural Development Programme, it was also possible to cover the costs borne by the farmers when the project requires them to be away from the farm (eg. cost of a contract worker to fill in while they’re away from the farm).
We recently held our first meeting using many interesting facilitation techniques, and all of the participants, including the farmers, were really happy to be in the project and they were surprised by the way the meeting was run! We had no tables, and the chairs were set out in a circle. We didn’t use PowerPoints but we did creative writing on paperboards working in small groups. I feel this will be one of the main points for the success of the project. People need a chance to think outside the box. It was really effective and people came out of the meeting feeling they had contributed and were even more interested in the project than before.
Finding the right partners and selecting the best topic are essential. Then using creative facilitation in meetings is key. It’s important not to go too quickly however, especially at the start of the project – building the links within the partnership from the beginning is very important.
We have also found that the partners in Robustagno have been motivated by the study trip we are organising. We will go to Scotland to meet a scientific team and another OG (Live lamb). We will have to find solutions to the language barrier, and to the timing of the trip (during lambing season), but the farmers especially do not often get a chance to see how things work in other countries, so this is a great motivator and a real opportunity for the project.
Jean-Marc Gautier works for the French Institut de l’Elévage. He is working on Robustagno, an Operational Group led by Coop de France, and leads the H2020 thematic network “SheepNet”. More information on the Operational Group in French, in English in the EIP-AGRI brochure on Operational Groups.
Photos: Jean-Marc Gautier.