Agricultural Education and Extension tuned on innovation for sustainability. Experiences and perspectives

Over the last years, the global economic crunch and the challenges about climate, food and natural resources, led innovation to the centre of the agricultural policy agenda. Innovation is considered the keystone to improve farms' competitiveness in an increasingly complex context, while ensuring the sustainable use of resources, food security and balanced development of territories.

New challenges pertaining to agricultural systems, including, the more recent sustainable development goals, require a different approach to innovation, that gives far greater recognition and power to grassroots actors and processes, shifting from 'transfer' to 'intermediation' and 'co-innovation'.

In this respect, new tools have been introduced to stimulate innovation through multi-actor processes and pave the way for bottom-up innovations, the capitalization of different types of knowledge, the development of interactive knowledge exchanges focused on territorial features and specificities.

The emerging paradigm asks for a change of the traditional role of Extension and Education that have to work more closely with all the actors of the innovation systems, in the development, dissemination and uptake of innovations. In particular, Extension needs to be reoriented to new technical competences as well as to a knowledge exchange attitude, thus to become able to support farmers' ability to change and close the gap between science and practice. 

Besides, greater involvement in the definition of policies and programmes is needed to create an enabling environment to favour co-innovation.

The future role of Extension in the development of sustainable agriculture must also take in account the diversity and organisational pluralism of services providers and the specific challenge of digitalisation.

Lead convenor: Pierre Labarthe
    Co-convenors: Maria Gerster-Bentaya, Andrea Knierim, Alexandros Koutsouris

    Rationale and objectives of the session
    Innovation Support Services/ ISS (found in the literature under different labels such as extension/ advisory services, intermediary organizations, etc.) and agricultural education/ AGRED play a primary role in stimulating the transition towards sustainable farming systems.

    ISS and AGRED also play an important role in speeding up the reflection and decision-making of farming families, as well as in capturing grassroots needs and ideas. This demands the provision of a more 'systemic' and interactive advice, brokering functions, facilitation, networking, consultancy and backstopping services able to bridge the gap between research and practice, enable knowledge flows and collaboration, connect networks and tailor the information to the farming system and the local context, thus facilitating the co-construction of solutions.

    The paradigm shift from 'transfer' to 'intermediation' entails the renewal of relationships between practitioners and research and new roles of ISS and AGRED deemed necessary in order to enhance the interfaces between research/advisors/farmers as well as a wide variety of other stakeholders. A variety of actors and organisations, that traditionally didn't play an advisory role (e.g. LAGs, Thematic Networks, farmers' associations, etc.), are nowadays supporting these processes and play a more active roles alongside traditional public sector providers, dealing with a wide range of farmers' needs. Private companies, non-governmental organizations, producer organizations, etc., can provide for tailored, different and market-oriented services, based on multiple knowledge sources and delivery approaches.

    Among the future challenges, ISS will have to facilitate and support farmers in orienting themselves in the digital landscape. ICT tools, digital information and data are more and more used to support farming decision-making and convey new knowledge. However, their uptake and adaptation to the specific farm circumstances require a qualified support. On the other hand, ICT tools and digitalisation can support ISS and AGRED, through IT knowledge platform, e-learning modules, etc., allowing for multi-level communication.

    As an orientation for authors we propose a number of key issues below. However, other related topics are welcome

    Orientations for papers:
  • Roles and functions of ISS and AGRED in boosting innovation and supporting farmers' decision-making processes
  • Roles and functions of ISS and AGRED in multi-actor approaches for innovation (including EIP-Agri)
  • Roles of ISS and AGRED in fuelling the supply chain integration
  • Pluralistic ISS and AGRED landscapes/ systems: relational dynamics and services' sustainability
  • Experiences, roles and functions of market-oriented providers (e.g. sales companies, food processors, banks, insurance providers, etc.) in supporting innovation in agriculture.
  • Roles and functions of pluralistic services in improving the use of ICT and supporting digitalisation
  • ICT tools and digitalisation to support ISS and AGRED
    1. Lead convenor: Eelke Wielinga
      Co-convenors: Michael KŘegler, Orhan Ízšatalbaş, Tom Kelly

      Rationale and objectives of the session
      A knowledgeable technician is not automtically a good advisor, let alone a skilful group facilitator. Some advisors appear to be natural talents in communication, but proper training and guidance on communication skills can contribute considerably to the quality of services for advice and innovation support to farmers and other rural stakeholders.

      This has been true for individual advice ever since ESEE was created, but the world has changed since internet and social media came into appearance. Furthermore, working with groups has received a new dimension since the European Commission puts emphasis on Operational Groups as key vehicle for stimulating innovations at farm level in its EIP program (European Innovation Partnerships), in line with an international trend of using a systemic approach in dealing with complex problems and transitions.

      The organization of innovative knowledge actions is also needed on results from OGs and research (H2020), as well as on new topics (e.g. digitization, use of digital technologies on-farm, circular economy, climate-smart agriculture and forestry, etc.).

      For this session we call for contributions about new capabilities, approaches and experiences regarding training and guidance of advisors and other intermediaries in rural development.

      As an orientation for authors we propose a number of key issues below. However, other related topics are welcome

      Orientations for papers:
  • Approaches, methods and topics of new educational/vocational plans for extension and innovation support services
  • Approaches and methods for needs' assessment of advisory and innovation support services for training
  • Responsiveness of E&E towards new roles and emerging topics
  • Experiences, methods and techniques for knowledge exchange
  • Co-operation between research, education and advisory for the provision of backstopping services
    1. Lead convenor: Guy Faure
      Co-convenors: Julie Ingram, Francesco Mantino, Patrizia Proietti

      Rationale and objectives of the session
      The recent policies for research and innovation are aimed to speed up the development of a more competitive and sustainable agriculture by fostering responsive systems for generating and spreading innovation, based on interactive and multi-actor approaches.

      These approaches involve different actors, roles and functions. As well, they call for the tuning of more inclusive policies and governance frameworks aimed at boosting functional relationships between the various actors and components and fosters the systemic capacity to innovate, by switching from fragmented project-led innovation to a developmental agricultural system.

      In this context, a new emphasis has been placed on the role of extension in capturing grassroot needs and ideas, strengthening links between farmers and other actors, including researchers, and ensuring both the support to niche innovation and a wide dissemination of innovative results along supply chains and territories. Similarly, the role of agricultural education is relevant for further development and uptake of innovation projects results. However, in many cases, the farmers' use of extension services and the involvement of advisors, trainers and educators in innovation projects (i.e. Operational Groups of European Innovation Partnership) remain challenging.

      As well, extensionists are not the unique actors able to play such a role and they often have to collaborate with other service providers to boost innovation, including private ones. Most Agricultural Innovation Systems in Europe and elsewhere are characterised by complex partnerships and networks of public extension and private services. It is highly relevant to consider how their interaction affects an 'enabling environment' for co-innovation.

      There is no doubt that delivering on more effective policies for innovation needs to give far greater recognition and power to all the innovation actors, especially extensionists, involving them since the early definition of policies and programs.

      For this session we call for contributions about experiences on strategies and policies aimed at supporting 'enabling environments' for innovation, particularly through inclusive and supportive approaches towards the extension and education systems. It is also interesting to investigate how the new policies for research and innovation have fostered the reorganization of extension and education services.

      As an orientation for authors we propose a number of key issues below. However, other related topics are welcome

      Orientations for papers:
  • Effects and perspectives of policies for research and innovation on the AKIS (re-organization; functionality) and especially on extension
  • Inclusion of agricultural extension and education services in policy's setting for research and innovation
  • Assessment of extension and education services for innovation and agricultural development
  • Strategic plans and policy instruments to enable the active participation of extension and education to innovation and agricultural development
  • Mix of policies to enable effective / functional agricultural innovation systems
  • Policy instruments and governance frameworks aimed at boosting interplays among the AKIS actors and especially with extension
  • Setting up of infrastructures and polices to enhance knowledge flows among the AKIS actors (fostering the farmers' use of E&E, involvement of E&E in innovation projects, cross-fertilization and implementation of results, etc.)
  • Policies and mechanism for engagement of people from outside the sector (citizens, young people, etc.) in agricultural innovation processes
    1. Lead convenor: Jeff Coutts
      Co-convenors: Simona Cristiano, Boelie Elzen

      Rationale and objectives of the session
      Monitoring and Evaluation is a critical management tool to understand what is working well in an intervention, what needs to change and what has been achieved. It impacts on how we operate in the future and demonstrating the value proposition of different types of intervention investments.

      The strategic approach to EU agricultural research and innovation (R&I) follows an 'interactive innovation' model which aims to increase project impacts through the establishment of a process of genuine co-creation of knowledge. This is in line with an international trend in dealing with complex issues through using a more systemic, multi-actor and interactive approach in understanding and guiding the research impact pathway.

      With this increased demand for adaptive governance of interventions and a more flexible and emergent approach to addressing complexities in rural communities, agriculture and the environment, we need to use new and innovative approaches to monitoring and evaluating these types of interventions.

      For this session we call for contributions about the theory and practice of the evaluative approaches, methods and instruments to guide and assess the effectiveness and impacts of the R&I models and approaches being used by the EU and others - and the agencies and organisations that provide these services. The focus is on the 'how to' best go about M&E for this purpose.

      As an orientation for authors we propose a number of key issues below. However, other related topics are welcome

      Orientations for papers:
  • Monitoring and Evaluation frameworks/approaches/experiences to inform policy making in setting up the AKISs' systems, plans and development
  • Frameworks and methods for supporting adpative management of interactive models of R&I with multi-actors and emergent design
  • Evaluation of R&I programs and interventions (with a focus on the methods and instruments used in the evaluation and what was learned about their effectiveness for this purpose)
  • Evaluation of E&E infrastructures, roles and functions within the AIS and for interactive innovation
  • Experiences on developmental evaluative approaches which supported the development of capabilities
  • Assessment of impact pathways of research and innovation and the methods used to identify and assess these
  • Assessment of AKIS' and their capacity development
  • The assessment of agencies and organisations funding extension and extension programs, lessons learned, and the strengths and weaknesses of the frameworks used for the assessment