Ursula Kenny (Teagasc), Christine O’Meara (TSSG), Dave Hearne (TSSG)

This second blog post in our NIVA mini-series provides an overview of the first step [EMPATHISE] of the multi-actor approach employed in NIVA; including steps taken and lessons learned by the interdisciplinary team (Teagasc, TSSG and the Department of Agriculture, Food and The Marine) involved in Use Case 4a. For some background on this project and process please have a look at the first post in the series here. Before the team could begin to understand the perspectives of end-users, a stakeholder mapping exercise was conducted alongside a brainstorming session, led by Teagasc.  A total of 11 DAFM staff, from a range of functions, including IT, Inspectors and Officers were consulted, as part of this task. The initial stakeholder map below highlights the categories of key stakeholders identified.

Following this, 18 informant interviews were conducted, in which rigorous sampling techniques were employed to ensure that the selected participants could offer rich insights to the primary phase of the study. The goal of this phase was to (i) understand existing experiences by target groups of engaging with technology and (ii) possible barriers that might exist to adoption. Two distinct groups were targeted for this phase, including (a) farm advisors & farm organisations and (b) Staff from the Department of Agriculture Food & The Marine [DAFM]. These groups had either experience of developing technologies or experience of engaging with farmers. A sample of some of the key themes is highlighted below:

Farm advisors/ farm organisations

  • Some awareness of existing photo geotagging capability exists but views vary on usefulness. While some view the proposed technology as effective and useful, there are many concerns, such as, potential increased workload for advisors, tech limitations, e.g. image size around existing system and possible underpayments due to failure to correctly and completely capture land parcel under query.
  • The app may help to protect and empower farmers by helping to reduce the stress associated with inspections and enabling them to resolve outstanding queries in a timely, effective manner.
  • Departmental inefficiency and slow processing times caused some concern. While the possibility of the app speeding up transactions was acknowledged, there was also concern re inefficient handling of information submitted through the app and the possibility of ‘lost’ submissions, subsequently causing further delays.
  • Key barriers to adoption included age, lack of smartphone access and ability and trust issues. There was not an insignificant sense of suspicion towards the department and its motivations.
  • Key adoption drivers included, speedier payments, app features, high levels of usability and access to support including training / helpdesk.

DAFM Staff

  • Current claims procedure is based on notification letters and farmer emails and is somewhat functional, but issues exist with respect to file size limit, where multiple photos are required.
  • There was a range of views on a new app-based approach. Some viewed the transition from a paper-based scheme to an app-based approach as easy to make with positive outcomes likely, including speed of processing applications. Others held the view that the app might enable farmers to cover up issues and questioned the capability of the app to fully capture a desired parcel.
  • Concerns existed regarding level of comfort among farmers with technological capability, including switching on location features and sending emails.
  • Motivation of farmers to use the app was seen as an important consideration, for example, through faster resolution of queries.

Post interviews, 7 focus groups were held with 41 farmers, across 4 regions in Ireland. Key goals were to (i) identify barriers and facilitators that would prevent/promote technology adoption and (ii) explore supports that could enhance adoption. A structured interview schedule was used to guide the focus groups, with some ad-hoc questioning, to facilitate interview flow. As with all research phases of the project, scientific interview techniques were applied to ensure quality of participant and focus group outcomes. The same moderator facilitated all of the focus groups for consistency. Summaries were compiled immediately after each session. A thematic approach was again used to analyse the focus group outputs. The table below summaries these themes. A sample of some of the key themes is highlighted below:

  • Barriers to technology adoption were highlighted in the study, including:
    • Age
    • Education
    • Fear
    • A lack of trust
    • Cost
    • Internet connectivity
    • A lack of perceived value and interest
    • Prior negative experiences with technology
    • A preference for more traditional farming methods
  • Key facilitators of technology adoption also emerged, which included:
    • An enhanced sense of empowerment
    • A more flexible lifestyle
    • A reduction in stress
    • An improvement in time efficiency
    • An enhanced level of communication between farmers and their respective governing body
    • An ability to make data-driven decisions on the farm
  • A view shared by farmers was the need for adequate training to support end-users with technology use/navigation
  • Training sessions, in the form of workshops and smaller group discussions were considered an effective method of educating farmers on how to use the new app
  • Suggestions on how an effective training session could be delivered were also given including:
    • Recruitment of speakers who have previously designed good apps to deliver the training
    • Delivery of a hands-on practical session to farmers, whereby one could practise on a dummy system
    • Delivery of workshops to specific target groups at a time (e.g. deliver training to those with poor IT skills, separate to those with advanced IT knowledge)
    • Delivery of very simple training sessions
    • Delivery of separate training sessions for farm advisors
    • Peer-to-peer learning

Going forward, these themes will be used to guide development and supporting frameworks around technology trials and launch. All work will take account of the different profile of farmers that is emerging though this research and discovery phase (table below).