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Continual Improvement in Demonstration

There’s no substitute for seeing things in action. You can be told how something works, explained about the merits of a particular farming practice, extolled the virtues of a smart bit of new technology, but it is not until you actually see it in practice, in a real-life situation, that knowledge sticks. Based on the idea that farmers learn best from other farmers and want new ideas, practices and innovations demonstrated to them where it matters – out in the field – LEAF’s annual IFM Field Event aims to boost learning through this science into practice approach. We talk to LEAF Technical Coordinator (Projects), Laura Tippin about what makes an effective demonstration event.

What does suc­cess look like?

LEAF has always worked at a grass roots lev­el pro­vid­ing man­age­ment tools, resources, farm vis­its and prac­ti­cal on-farm train­ing to sup­port farm­ers in their uptake of more sus­tain­able farm­ing. Our IFM Field Event is an annu­al high­light, bring­ing togeth­er farm­ers, inno­va­tors and experts to high­light new trends and best practices.

The feed­back we get from atten­dees tells us they real­ly val­ue the chance to see things in action. But we want to delve a bit deep­er; is it doing the job we want it to do? are farm­ers going away with the knowl­edge, skills and inspi­ra­tion to make changes back at home? Essen­tial­ly, is the event being effec­tive in meet­ing these impor­tant objectives? 

As part of the PLAID project (Peer to peer learn­ing. Assess­ing Inno­va­tion through Demon­stra­tion), we looked at last year’s IFM Field Event, held at LEAF Demon­stra­tion Farm, Elve­den Farms in Suf­folk. Our find­ings will join 25 oth­er case stud­ies from across Europe to inform prac­ti­tion­er and pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions for demon­stra­tion events. 

Delv­ing deeper

We looked at the demon­stra­tion event itself, moti­va­tions of atten­dees as well as their learn­ing and net­work­ing styles. Some 80% of atten­dees felt the event demon­strat­ed a great deal of envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able farm­ing approach­es. The remain­ing 20% felt it ade­quate­ly demon­strat­ed envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able farm­ing approaches.

We also looked at issues around anchor­ing” (how to ensure mes­sages and learn­ings stick both dur­ing and post event) and scal­ing” (how learn­ings from the event rip­ple out to the wider indus­try). Atten­dees were asked to com­plete a feed­back form and ques­tioned through­out the day. Some were inter­viewed a month after the event and asked to reflect on the day and oth­er demon­stra­tion events they have pre­vi­ous­ly attended.

From this, we got a clear idea of some of the essen­tial ingre­di­ents of a suc­cess­ful demon­stra­tion event. These included:

  • Pro­vi­sion of new ideas and key mes­sages to action or spark interest
  • Abil­i­ty to explore a wide range of top­ics and dis­cus­sion oppor­tu­ni­ties out in the field
  • See­ing the­o­ry put into prac­tice in real’ farm situations
  • Net­work­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to share ideas, expe­ri­ences and make new contacts
  • Pro­vid­ing new infor­ma­tion or mate­ri­als after the event through videos or on social media to max­imise impact

Next steps

This work pro­vid­ed impor­tant insights which will help shape future demon­stra­tion events. Amongst these are offer­ing fol­low up dis­cus­sion groups and events to help track progress and inno­va­tion uptake amongst farm­ers, ensur­ing they utilise knowl­edge on their own busi­ness­es. We also know that videos and vir­tu­al demon­stra­tion are key tools in knowl­edge exchange and par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful in break­ing down geo­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers to reach­ing those unable to attend. Final­ly, there is real val­ue in work­ing with a wide range of experts across the sup­ply chain to share expe­ri­ences and exper­tise across the sector.