Keeping agriculture research relevant

The Agriculture Institute of Canada wants to make sure research leaves the lab and enters the real world

female scientist pouring liquid in a tube

The Agriculture Institute of Canada has released a policy on best practices in agriculture research to make sure that knowledge gained in the lab is shared with others in the field and consumers.

AIC’s CEO Serge Buy calls the policy a living document that like research itself will be updated with new information to keep it relevant.

He also says it’s a highly readable policy that everyone in the agri-food sector should peruse to appreciate what the research community is trying to accomplish and how to explain it to the rest of the public.

“We hope people will use it as a reference,” Buy said. “We want them to see what the AIC is doing to move forward. We don’t want our policy just sitting there. Research should not be the sole preserve of scientists and researchers.”

The overarching goal of the 20 best practices identified in the AIC policy is “to bridge the gap between implementation and knowledge. People have to be aware of what we’re learning.”

Now that the policy is public, the AIC will look at what aspects of it need revising, Buy said. “We also plan to go into universities to talk to students about the policy.”

The recent report of the federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth noted that Canada has a poor track when it comes to commercializing what the country’s scientists discover and develop.

The policy makes the case for everyone in agri-food to pay more attention to the activities within the research sector.

“The knowledge system underpinning agriculture is a crucial driver of agricultural growth and productivity in Canada. Our full agricultural potential cannot be realized without research that is informed by real problems on the ground — nor without genuine efforts to effectively disseminate research outcomes to end-users and a broader audience.

“To realize the full potential of agricultural innovation, knowledge institutions, the private sector, industry and governments must incorporate research systems into their operations that are better connected not only with each other, but also with the farming community.

“The adoption of cutting-edge research has rapidly become a social process that relies heavily on both effective access to new technologies and the exchange of information,” the policy said.

“This knowledge-intensive environment demands the innovative use of various communication channels and the implementation of new strategies to communicate research results to all end-users — including producers, researchers, funders, extension agents, industry, consumers and the public.”

The Top 20 best practices “provide concrete examples of knowledge sharing and information dissemination. Our hope is that these examples help give tangible ideas on how, among others, to deliver research results to end-users, engage stakeholders and evaluate programs.”

The policy outlines a number of communication channels and strategies for sharing research findings.

“The ultimate goal underlying all of the examples is to unpack the complexity of agricultural research, explain new research findings, foster public trust and support commercialization of new technologies and processes.”

The policy says there’s a clear need to communicate agricultural research, transfer new knowledge and commercialize innovation.

In its review of best research practices, the AIC found factors that are imperative “to the success of best practices that facilitate the movement of research into practice either by improving communication pathways between researchers and end-users, promoting ongoing knowledge transfer or accelerating the commercialization and adoption of innovation.”

They include pairing scientific knowledge and hands-on expertise. “Connecting stakeholders and ensuring industry participation helps ensure research and knowledge communication efforts work to address important industry challenges and consumer concerns.”

Collaboration is vital to allow “researchers to respond more effectively to industry needs and develop technologies that can be commercialized and adopted more widely.”

Stable funding and incentives ensure researchers have “the resources necessary for effective communication, knowledge transfer and commercialization efforts.”

Communications about research outcomes must be uncomplicated, timely, relevant and delivered in appropriate format, the policy said. “Programs and technologies should be designed with ease of use, interactivity, audience accessibility and flexibility in mind to ensure broader impact.”

The communicators must be trained in the various formats.

Research programs must have “a defined process to benchmark progress toward the attainment of specific targets, supported by a clear long-term strategy, mission and defined description of roles.”

Government needs to provide a modern regulatory environment that ensures knowledge of intellectual property (IP) and flexibility in IP agreements because they “are essential in collaborative research leading to marketable innovations.”

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