Behaviour change in farming and growing

By Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading.

I was pleased to be invited to give a talk to the TIAH Consultation Group on farmer behaviour change and the delivery of education.

Learning by doing

To change behaviour, educational ‘interventions’ – or focused learning opportunities – are important. We know that farmers tend to prefer ‘learning by doing’, so demonstration-type events, face-to-face, in the form of farm walks or similar activities are most effective.

Digital learning

Where face-to-face education delivery is not practical from a resource perspective, online learning via videos or podcasts can be useful if farmers consider them to contain credible and relevant information for them. They also need to be legitimate in terms of trusted farmers or advisors contributing to them, and accessible, with appropriate language and ease of use. 

Educational interventions should be delivered, where possible, by trusted individuals – for example, farm vets, peers, or other advisors with whom the farmer has developed a long relationship. 

Cultural shifts

Education provision alone, however, is rarely enough to stimulate a change in behaviour. The RESET model of behaviour change (Rules, Education, Social norms, Economics, Tools) illustrates that different forms of intervention must work in combination to effect change.

Therefore, education needs to be accompanied by a wider cultural shift in social norms such that the new behaviour is normalised in the community. A benefit of performing the new behaviour needs to be showed and supporting tools provided to help farmers do it. Where possible, clear rules can help farmers know what is expected of them. All of these things must work together.

Messages for industry

My take-home messages for the TIAH and its partners are:

  • Consider how training provision can work alongside other interventions – for example, rewards or career progression; changing the social norms within farming and the image or farming as a career etc.
  • Understand how to curate behaviour change by working with trusted intermediaries to deliver training.
  • Consider the credibility, relevance, legitimacy, and accessibility of all training provision – and consider how online videos, podcasts and other forms of learning can be incorporated into an overall strategy.