AgriFutures National Rural Issues Program researcher spotlight: Kieren Moffat


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Dr Kieren Moffat, project lead for the AgriFutures National Rural Issues Community Trust in Rural Industries project

Building trust within communities is the key to the success and longevity of any agricultural industry and is becoming more important to consumers. Kieren Moffat and his team are leading the Community Trust in Rural Industries Program,  a collaborative partnership* led by AgriFutures Australia, involving 10 Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI). The Program aims to build the capacity of food and fibre industries to productively engage with the community and build trust.

Why is this research project important?

The trust landscape has shifted significantly in recent times. No business sector can rely solely on their financial contribution to the economy, job creation, innovative technologies or strong values as a benchmark for best practice. Increasingly, the public are influencing benchmarks for best practice. Unless industries can effectively engage with the public on issues and values important to them, in a transparent and consistent manner, then community trust will be compromised and so will the ability to do business effectively.

This project involves conducting national surveys of more than 5,000 Australians over three years to understand their perspectives on positive and more challenging aspects of Australian rural industry practices, and to determine the key drivers of trust and acceptance of these industries. In Year 1 we established a benchmark understanding of community perspectives; we’re now focusing on going deeper into areas of community uncertainty, testing and implementing strategies to build trust in rural industries.

Why did you get involved in the project?

AgriFutures Australia approached me to talk about work that we had been doing at CSIRO with Australian Eggs on community trust. When we spun that research out of CSIRO to form Voconiq, this project just felt like a fantastic way to scale up and build on that success with Australian Eggs with a key set of Australian rural industries. And while projects like this with lots of stakeholders and funders can be tricky to navigate, we knew that there was a unique opportunity to support collaborative action across Australia’s rural industries in an area we are passionate about.

How will this research benefit the agricultural sector?

Through this research we have already helped rural industries understand the key drivers of community trust in and acceptance of them. We’ve benchmarked community perceptions across a broad set of issues, highlighting those areas of real strength in the relationship, for example the value of industry products in people’s lives, its contribution to regional communities, and areas of challenge such as effective environmental management and acting as responsible stewards of the land and sea.

This is important because industries can and are using these insights to engage differently with the Australian community. Doing this well increases the ‘freedom to operate’ for rural industries and ensures they can innovate to meet the challenges of the future with community right there beside them.

But more than the data, the power of this project will be in creating a collaborative, cross-industry effort to understand and address social licence and community trust – that is hard, complex work and it’s just fantastic to be working with so many excellent and committed RDCs and industry stakeholders in this common pursuit.

What’s the best piece of professional/career advice you’ve ever been given?

My team and I participated in a CSIRO research commercialisation program called ON in 2017 – a three-month intensive program to work out how to achieve truly great impact from excellent science, and an experience that changed everything for us as researchers (leading to the founding of Voconiq). One piece of advice, among many, that has stuck with me was to find that one problem that your science can solve, and solve it really, really well. This relentless pursuit of excellence in a relatively narrow area is important to build momentum for the impact we’re trying to achieve with our work.

What have you learned from the growers/producers you have been involved with?

This is easy – more than any other industry that I’ve worked with, people that work in rural industries don’t see what they do as a job; it is a deep and defining part of their personal and social identity. This is the core of the strength of rural and regional communities in general, but it also means criticism from outside industry is felt much more deeply. Providing feedback to industry participants about what Australians value in their relationship with growers and producers has been fantastic and enabled industries to work on more difficult issues knowing they do so within a supportive community context.

Learn more about the Community Trust in Rural Industries Program:

You can connect with Kieren on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @kierenmoffat.

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