Case Study - Understanding and Harnessing Stakeholder Motivation
Mobilising stakeholders to make key contributions can be fundamental to the success of LWEC initiatives. The challenge for the Demonstration Test Catchments programme, exploring the scope for new farming practices to cut pollution of rivers and groundwater, was to pinpoint how farmers might be motivated not just to support the initiative but actually to participate directly. Bob Harris of Defra explains how analysing the motivations of different types of farmer helped bring them on board.
Farmers tend to be quite conservative in outlook. They can be reticent when it comes to embracing potential innovations, getting involved in government-backed initiatives and working with the academic community. But securing their buy-in was essential if the Demonstration Test Catchment programme was to meet its objectives. We needed access to farmland so we could set up long-term water monitoring equipment. But we also wanted to provide a number of farmers with test kits so they themselves could measure nitrate and other pollutant levels on their land and keep a detailed record.
The key was to develop a clear understanding of the pressures and priorities facing farmers in the three catchment areas we were targeting.
Then we could pinpoint how our programme might contribute to what they saw as their vital interests. We had to go to them with a picture of how our initiative would not simply benefit agriculture in general but also address their individual, specific needs.
It soon became obvious that we must tailor our message for each region. In Cumbria, for example, the agricultural community is typified by small livestock farms which have often been in the same family for generations. We had to show that our programme would aid farmers’ stewardship of the land by helping them understand and ultimately mitigate the impact of their operations on the environment.
But in East Anglia, we adjusted our approach. Here, the industry is dominated by big arable farms run by agri-businesses with a very sophisticated commercial outlook. Underpinning their ability to operate profitably is their compliance with regulatory frameworks. So we had to convince them that our programme would help them improve the local environment at no detriment to their overall business.
It’s fair to say that differentiating our message like this was absolutely critical to securing the farmer involvement we needed.
What’s more, to ensure our credibility, we had to get it ‘right first time’ in terms of how we actually delivered those messages. In Cumbria, for instance, we used an intermediary with excellent local contacts who could build relationships and establish trust.
We’re now about halfway through our five-year programme. It’s been great to see how the farmers we’re working with have embraced it.
They really ‘get’ what’s in it for them – and that’s a direct result of our determination to truly understand what drives them.