Thursday, 4 June 2015

Innovation strategies with Dr.Boelie Elzen

Recently we had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dr. Boelie Elzen held at OMAFRA in Guelph, ON. Dr. Elzen is a research consultant in the Netherlands and is involved in the area of innovation for sustainability and knowledge translation and transfer (KTT). He focuses on livestock research, seeking methods for innovative changes.

His presentation focused on an innovation strategy that would improve the livestock sectors' innovation system, saying that it should be fundamentally altered to improve production, processing and consumption. Dr. Elzen and his research team have devised a system they call 'Portfolio of Promises' or PoP. The structure of this innovation strategy is designed to permit input from all levels; academic research, corporate, and the individual farmer. 

Historically, innovation systems function in a top-down approach, as Dr. Elzen notes. This means research that resulted in innovations being introduced to an economic sector has been mandated by government or corporations onto the end user; in this case, the farmers. Dr. Elzen proposes a bottom-up approach that is more supportive of fostering innovation. 

The PoP would be a database featuring input from farmers as well as traditional sources of innovation. Each item in the portfolio would outline an idea, its function and the benefits or promise that the solution provides. In creating this portfolio that would be widely accessible, farmers would be able to connect with others that have similar ideas or problems and can share innovative ideas or work together towards a solution. 

The research function of this portfolio is such that areas of study can focus on what is important to the farmer. Current trends indicate a growing resistance by farmers against research. Dr. Elzen attributes this to constantly changing research outcomes, and study after study that steadily increases operating costs. 

Innovation systems starting at the bottom would enable testing at the farmer level where success or failure can be determined prior to more substantial investment and adaptation or adoption. Dr. Elzen believes this to be a strong approach to stimulate change in behaviour in the livestock sector to become more sustainable and innovative.

The question remains though if the change in behaviour is also supported by institutional changes in the innovation system to support new ways of doing R&D? For example, in Netherlands, this shared knowledge database is a viable option for farmers to adopt because they have access to ubiquitous high-speed broadband networks. 

Applying this innovation system to Ontario, however, would meet many challenges as farm families and rural agricultural businesses do not have universal access to high speed broadband infrastructure and mobile Internet services that support cloud-based or data intensive applications. A shared database would not be accessible to all and would limit the inclusiveness of innovation. We will continue to explore the premise that opportunities to improve systems of innovation that directly affect Ontario’s economy are missed because of the lack of high-speed broadband in rural areas and some regions of the Province.

Image source here. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

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