Information management needs new skills

To achieve successful knowledge delivery in a changing business environment, advisers need to harness new and varied communication skills

Photo of a man with skyscrapers behind him

Futurist Paul Higgins suggests that skilling in the use of information communication technology is central to future success for rural business.

PHOTOS: Emma Leonard

Recently a grower said to me that they want their farm adviser to gather all the new information from meetings and reports and provide them with the relevant parts. Even for an experienced farm adviser this request presents several challenges.

Keeping abreast of all information takes time. What is relevant will depend on each client’s situation. Presenting the information in a form suited to the learning style of different clients can be difficult.

Three speakers at the GRDC Grains Research Update in Adelaide offered options for addressing these challenges now and into the future. Upskilling in the use of information communication technology was considered central to future success.

Futurist Paul Higgins from Emergent Futures suggested that the key skill for farm advisers would be the ability to harness the value of cooperating networks, rather than being an ‘expert’.

He added that the role of a futurist was not to predict the future but to help people put together a picture of what the future might look like, so they could develop and adopt appropriate business strategies and models.

While Mr Higgins acknowledged that many growers and agronomists already had networks, these were often locally or regionally based and formalised through organisations or funding bodies.

In the future he envisaged agronomy networks that would be self-organising, purposeful and would also have a global focus. Also, network participants might have no direct link to agriculture but could be specialists in mathematics, data management or business management.

Photo of two women and a man in front of a GRDC poster

Upskilling in the use of information communication technology is considered central to future success for rural businesses. Linda Eldridge (left) shows David Shannon, chair of the Southern Panel, and Deanna Lush, GRDC technical communicator Southern Region, cloud-based farm-management apps she has been assessing as part of her Nuffield Farming Scholarship.

So, rather than an agronomist spending time seeking out an answer by looking for information sources, they could use such a network to pose questions for other members to answer.

Social media platforms, which continue to proliferate, were also raised as another part of the development of collaboration techniques.

Information communication technology tools and social media were the focus of a presentation by Pru Cook from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries. Ms Cook suggested four key ways for advisers to benefit from social media tools. Like Mr Higgins, she proposed the use of social media for consuming content and conversing with others, and in addition she looked at creating and curating content.

The curation aspect, as a way to avoid information overload, was of particular interest to people at the update. Ms Cook said that by using a TweetDeck to organise her messages, she was able to manage her Twitter account in less than half an hour a day. 

She said that social media activities needed to be carefully planned and have clear objectives. Because these activities are highly personalised, they could be adapted to suit individuals, businesses and clients.

Personalising the delivery of information to suit different clients was also addressed by Bill Long from Ag Consulting Co. In his presentation on understanding grower decision-making and behaviour (see page 36, March – April 2013 Ground Cover) he said decisions were influenced by a complex mix of experience, intuition and individual situations.

Decision-support systems (computer-based decision-making tools) provide answers based on sound logic and reason but could not take into account a person’s intuition, beliefs, stress or other human factors.

Mr Long encouraged agronomists to use decision-support systems to run through multiple scenarios and test out theories. Taking this approach could enable them to respond to a wide range of client needs and hopefully achieve a better decision or adoption of a practice.

Technology to improve information delivery was not only discussed at the Update but also put into action. Many sessions from the Adelaide Update were broadcast live online. In addition, Professor David Lamb from the University of New England demonstrated the role of broadband connectivity on Australian farms via a webcast from Armidale, New South Wales.

More information:

ORM Communications

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