203 – Predicting adoption of new farming practices

Predicting adoption of new practices by farmers is important for researchers, extension agents and policy makers. A new tool to assist with this difficult task has been released.

My most successful published paper, in some respects, is a review of the published research literature on landholder adoption of conservation practices (Pannell et al., 2006). It was a really enjoyable paper to write, partly because it was done with an outstanding team of collaborators. The level of interest in the paper has been remarkable, and this has led me and the co-authors to deliver a range of other activities and outputs on the topic, including a couple of national workshops (www.ruralpracticechange.org) and a book (Pannell and Vanclay, 2011).

One thing you couldn’t do based on the review paper alone is predict the level and speed of adoption for a particular farming practice that hadn’t already been studied in detail. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any tool or framework anywhere that will predict adoption of agricultural practices (not just conservation practices) in a quick and easy way.

The only real option has been to undertake detailed surveys of potential users of the practice, but that’s a big job.

It struck me that this was an important information gap. There are lots of situations where people do need to predict adoption of new farming practices.

Examples include:

  • agricultural scientists wondering whether to research a particular agricultural technology
  • agricultural extension agents wondering whether a new agricultural practice is worth promoting
  • policy officers developing a program to encourage uptake of new practices

In each case, there is a lot of value in knowing whether or not the technology or practice is potentially adoptable by farmers. If not, it would be better to save the resources involved in researching or promoting something that will never be taken up. In part because of the lack of a suitable tool, there are many examples of research or extension or policy programs that have wasted resources on proposed farming practices that were never going to be adopted.

Recognising the need, and the existing knowledge gap, a team of researchers from the Future Farm Industries CRC (all of whom had been involved in the book, the workshops and/or the review paper) decided to try to develop a simple tool to predict adoption of agricultural practices. The team, consisting of Rick Llewellyn (CSIRO), Perry Dolling (Department of Agriculture and Food WA), Roger Wilkinson (Department of Primary Industries Victoria), Mike Ewing (CRC FFI) and me, obtained funding from the CRC to employ a research fellow, Geoff Kuehne (CSIRO).

We started by developing a framework that specified how all the different bits of information would fit together. Then we quantified the model and tested it against available real-world data, where we could find it. It performed pretty well!

We’re calling the tool ADOPT (Adoption and Diffusion Outcome Prediction Tool). It provides a step-by-step approach to evaluating and predicting the likely level of adoption of specific agricultural innovations. Predictions are made in response to the answers to a series of 22 questions, which the user responds to with a particular innovation and a particular target population of potential adopters in mind.

The 22 questions cover issues relating to the innovation and the target population. In each case, the questions explore the relative advantage of the innovation and its trialability.

After a couple of years work, we have decided to release a test version of the tool to anybody who wants to have a go with it. If you’re interested, download the tool from http://www.csiro.au/ADOPT, and let us know what you think.

Further reading

Pannell, D.J. and Vanclay, F.M. (eds) (2011). Changing Land Management: Adoption of New Practices by Rural Landholders, CSIRO Publishing, Canberra. Available at the publisher’s website.

Pannell, D.J., Marshall, G.R., Barr, N., Curtis, A., Vanclay, F. and Wilkinson, R. (2006). Understanding and promoting adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 46(11): 1407-1424. Journal web site, or email David.Pannell@uwa.edu.au to ask for a copy.

Also see http://www.ruralpracticechange.net for a set of videos on this topic.

One comment

  • Steve D
    19 January, 2012 - 1:43 pm | link

    A great new communication platform for Pannell Discussions, well done. I think Twitter would also be a valuable platform to better share your writing, just a thought.

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