By Catriona Macleod, Angela Brandt, Kevin Collins, Henrik Moller and Jon Manhire
As part of our ongoing research into delivering conservation by engaging communities, we have developed a newfound respect for product development engineers – the people who develop, design and create new products that they hope someone, somewhere, some day will buy.
Our team of sustainability scientists and practitioners saw the need for a new online tool to help farmers enhance biodiversity on their farms. There are tools galore, of course, and we know that many (or maybe most) of them are dusty shelf-sitters rather than indispensable companions. Most of these tools were made using the “If we build it, surely they will buy it” philosophy.
Our point of difference was a clever process for having an inclusive, open, and responsive discussion about what biodiversity problems farmers faced and how to build a tool that might help solve them. For the record, this process is known as participatory action research.
To make this work we had to put aside our instinctive inclination to document and understand the biological processes that underlie biodiversity losses. Instead, we asked ourselves how we could understand what farmers needed to successfully alter their practices to help biodiversity on their farms.
Not surprisingly, the answer was that we should ask them, and then let them guide how to create it.
Our goal was not so much to build the tool (although we did that too) but to better understand how and why farmers might use the tool. This is tricky because the choices a farmer makes are influenced not just by themselves as individuals, but also the wider context in which they work.
To help us address this challenge, we drew on some nifty resources developed by others working in social psychology, behavioural economics, sociology and management. By examining the challenge from these different perspectives and integrating the learnings, an enriched system-level understanding emerged.
In this way, we lay the groundwork for co-creating an action plan to advance the tool development to empower farmers to enhance biodiversity outcomes within New Zealand’s production landscapes.