AGRILINK – First Living Lab Team Training

AgriLink aims to improve the transition to more sustainable European agriculture through better understanding of the roles played by farm advice in farmers’ decision-making. It builds on the premise that the full range of advisors need to be included when assessing service provision and innovation adoption. To this end, AgriLink will analyse and improve the role of farmer advice in 8 innovation areas identified in the “Strategic Approach to EU Agricultural Research & Innovation”, by combining theoretical insights with cutting edge research methods, using a variety of disciplines and involving a spectrum of organisations. It draws on ‘micro-AKIS’ (individuals and organisations from whom farmers seek services and the exchange of knowledge) analysis in 26 focus regions, sociotechnical scenario development and ‘living laboratories’ where farmers, advisors and researchers work together.

The aim of the AgriLink Living Labs is to develop and test improved innovation support services with potential to stimulate the transition to more sustainable forms of agriculture. We assume that doing this in a Living Lab (real life) setting, which involves stakeholders and end users in a co-creation process, leads to better results. We also assume that several tools and methods can enhance the process and support Living Labs.  

On 26th and 27th February, in Leuven, we had the first meeting of all six Living Labs – which are being organised in Italy, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Spain, with a joint Lab in Netherlands and Belgium. It was a very useful meeting, where we finally understood our colleagues’ intentions. For my colleague Irina Toma (who’d just joined the team) and I, it was the first chance we’d had to work together on our Living Lab.

So, how is a Living Lab organized within AgriLink?

Each Living Lab is run by a facilitator and a monitor. I took the facilitator role, responsible for moving things from concept to implementation. More specifically, I am involved in researching the context, targeting and engaging the farmers in the process, proposing the direction of the lab, and managing the operation, with a strong emphasis on communication, inside, outside and across the Living Lab. My colleague Irina took the role of the monitor, responsible for strengthening the reflection, reflexivity and learning in the Living Lab and contribute to learning within and between the six Living Labs. Together, we will design new interventions in the lab based on monitoring results. The work of both facilitators and monitor are complementary.

During the two intensive days in Leuven, we clarified our theme –communication and facilitation – and agreed that our priority is to make sectorial information available, transparent, reliable and understandable. Specifically, our solution to improve communication among stakeholders and facilitate the process of their development was to build a national online platform to become the number one source of information for farmers and others active in the field, with the emphasis on peer2peer interaction. 

We were delighted to discover that our colleagues from Latvia are planning a similar information hub – although they are focusing on the fruits and vegetables sector while we want to cover the full agricultural spectrum. It will be intriguing to see how our two teams tackle the challenge of streamlining sectorial information.

In our case, the platform is just a part of the project. Our mission is to build a system that improves communication among stakeholders by:

  1. a) developing a platform for interaction, knowledge and information transfer to develop a new governance model for advisory services in Romania 

  1. b) developing an innovative business model to fund the long-term engagement of advisors. This will work to break down:
  2. i) systemic communication bottlenecks by more thorough discussion to trigger a change in behaviour of those working in AKIS (Agricultural Knowledge and Information System) 
  3. ii) lack of incentives for advisors to collaborate and contribute regularly, by increasing motivation (how, we need to work out and manage).

Our work was based on the findings of my research on agricultural advisory services last year. We made a presentation around the questions “How do we want the farmer to be affected by the change this project will bring? or “What would the farmer look like after the Living Lab intervention?” Irina drew a picture of a farmer confused and lost among too much stuff he needs to do, and how he’ll look after getting involved in the Living Lab and becoming more optimistic, as he is now well-informed and in control. It was really just for our inspiration and to keep us motivated in this intricate process of making life a little easier for Romanian farmers.

Cosmina Dinu, Highclere Consulting