In an ever-changing world, it is essential that individuals are able to access, and act upon, the most relevant information and advice, and no more so than in agriculture. In this technologically-evolving age, finding information is not an issue, but finding information that is trustworthy, and in a format that is fit for purpose, can be challenging.
This SEFARI Gateway funded project involved a collaboration between the Moredun Research and James Hutton Institutes and Scotland’s Rural College. The team set out to explore how to provide those working in agriculture with a new way to access a collation of useful and trusted sources and used the topic of sustainable roundworm control in livestock as an exemplar. A directory of available knowledge exchange tools and a prototype, immersive multimedia platform was developed to present the information which allows users to easily tailor the information to their needs.
Directory of Expertise
In this new digital world, accessing information, advice and opinion has never been easier, but getting tailor-made information that individuals want and need to make informed decisions may actually be getting more difficult. Accessing clear, honest and trusted advice is important for all individuals, but when it comes to livestock farming, the information is often used to make decisions regarding the day-to-day and long-term management of stock, which in turn affects farm finances, future planning, investment and resource allocation.
Farming requires the integration of a wide range of skills to address complex and inter-linked problems, therefore, different stakeholders need to be involved in the development, communication and implementation of advice such as on sustainable worm control measures. The involvement of different audiences brings its own complications, as different stakeholders may have different expectations, priorities and challenges. Good practice guidelines and recommendations need to take account of differences in the perspectives and understanding of individual stakeholders. Understanding and embracing these expectations is key to developing acceptable messages and is why an integrated socio-ecological approach is essential, as a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in every region/country.
Gastrointestinal nematode (GIN; roundworm) infections rank as one of the top three production-limiting pathogens of ruminant stock. On most farms GINs occur as co-infections both with other parasites (multiple roundworm species, fluke and/or ecto-parasite) as well as bacteria and viruses. Control of most parasites should be based on a variety of chemical and non-chemical treatment options that can be adapted to individual farms. Nonetheless, each farm and farmer are essentially unique, so the adaptations required to apply the recommendations and advice from diverse sources of information can lead to misunderstandings, making compliance challenging. Focus group discussions with Scottish sheep farmers found that uptake of advice was often hindered by the messages being too complex or because diverse sources of information gave what appeared to be different guidance. Other potential barriers, as identified by us through previous Scottish Government funded research, are visually represented in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Word-cloud of barriers to effective communication to farmers and veterinarians.
Another SEFARI Gateway funded Responsive Opportunity project - identified ten stakeholder priorities for supporting and informing farmers; four were continued education, ongoing collaboration, evidence-based science and the need for trusted independent knowledge sources. Therefore this project sought to help address these identified needs and aimed to:
- Signpost available advice and information for stakeholders
- Investigate areas of interest around the topic of sustainable roundworm control in livestock
- Explore the use of new immersive (360°/virtual reality) and/or digital technologies to promote end-user engagement and best practice.
There is a wealth of information available on the different aspects sustainable and effective control of roundworms from a wide range of sources including levy boards, pharmaceutical companies, vet practices and research Institutes.
To narrow this topic area down and focus our efforts where advice was most needed, a Twitter poll was conducted in which farmers and vets were asked what they would most like to obtain further information about. The rapid poll received 84 responses, the results of which are shown in Figure 2. Alternative control tools and monitoring of anthelmintic resistance accounted for ~3/4 of the responses, highlighting the importance of these areas to the livestock sector.
Figure 2: Twitter poll results presenting areas of interest to farmers and vets around effective roundworm control in livestock.
Readily available information on these topics was reviewed and a directory of links to trusted information sources was created. Topics include alternative roundworm control strategies, effective anthelmintic use, quarantine, refugia and anthelmintic treatment options. Furthermore, these links include a range of communication materials i.e., not just written material but also animations, videos and webpages.
Further collating the available information into a single, easy-to-use platform was explored through the development of a prototype immersive, visual platform (Figure 3). This platform will allow users to explore areas of interest and access tailored information appropriate to their needs and desires. Again, multimedia content (e.g. videos, animations, audio clips and infographics) from a variety of sources were drawn together to create a user-friendly knowledge exchange platform that is open and accessible to everyone and encompasses the main areas of interest highlighted by stakeholder feedback (Twitter poll responses).
Figure 3: Screenshot of prototype immersive knowledge exchange platform on sustainable roundworm control in livestock.
The prototype KE platform will now be beta tested and further developed to ensure that it is robust and delivers the key messages to the users in a relevant, useable and digestable format.
The project has drawn together trusted information and advice for stakeholders into an easily accessible format and highlighted the breadth of available resources to them. It is too early to measure the impact of the information directory and prototye KE platform on user uptake and understanding of the topic of sustainable roundworm control but we expect that users will find it easier to access in the information they require and such tools will help to demystify some of the common misconceptions.
Throughout the developement of this project, it was clear messaging needs to be presented in an accessible and easy to understand format. Visual, oral and written formats of the same material are really useful as they help to reach a variety of audiences and their varied needs. Furthermore, immersive technologies allow users to easily tailor the information to what they want. In summary, and as researchers wishing to communicate, we learnt it is essential to consider who the information is for. Individuals may have different learning requirements and expectations, especially as the different stakeholders interested in this topic are driven by different priorities.
The overall findings and experiences from both projects are relevant, and will be of use, to others both in the agriculture arena and further afield. Conversations about our experiences have been held with colleagues from across Europe as part of a large multi-partnered European Union funded COST action (COMBAR; COMbatting Anthelmintic Resistance in Ruminants) and will be shared at the Leading Ideas Hub in 2022.
With further development, such tools would also be useful for outreach activities for a variety of stakeholders such as farmers, vets, students and the general public.
- A quantitative analysis of attitudes and behaviours concerning sustainable parasite control practices from Scottish sheep farmers
- Determining the influence of socio-psychological factors on the adoption of individual ‘best practice’ parasite control behaviours from Scottish sheep farmers
- Chapter Three - Anthelmintic resistance in ruminants: challenges and solutions