Rural industries on track with trust – new research reveals key drivers, risks and opportunities


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Farmers shaking hands

Insights into the drivers of community trust and acceptance for the rural industries sector have been revealed this month, indicating that trust in rural industries is high—Australians believe fishers, farmers and foresters play an important role in society and are a vital part of Australia’s history, however there are areas of community uncertainty that present risks and opportunities for the sector.

Australian rural industries are collaborating to enhance trust in rural industries, by developing an aligned approach to proactive, transparent, long term engagement with the community via a three-year research program, with the first year’s results just released.

Key take-outs include that trust in rural industries is dependent on three drivers: environmental responsibility, responsiveness to community concerns and the importance of products produced by rural industries. The research also uncovered a number of topics that large sections of the community are uncertain about, most of which relate to two of the key drivers of trust – environmental responsibility and responsiveness. There is an opportunity to address this uncertainty through community engagement. Highlighting the connectedness of the sector, the research showed that overwhelmingly, environmental responsibility is a shared responsibility across all rural industries.

Dr Ian Taylor, Executive Director of Cotton Research and Development Corporation, a partner in the project said the community also highly values the food and fibre produced by rural industries.

“The community sees rural industries as stewards of the land and sea, and expects us to use resources responsibly and sustainably; the community wants to know it is being heard and understood by rural industries, and seeks ongoing reassurance that their concerns are being addressed.

“This is something we are already very familiar with in the cotton industry. The industry has always been innovative and shown strong environmental stewardship – but there is an ongoing need to engage the community in the great work that is happening right across our industry.”

The Community Trust in Rural Industries Program is a partnership involving ten Rural Research and Development Corporations , the National Farmers’ Federation and the NSW Department of Primary Industries. This timely capacity building initiative is designed to drive impactful, cohesive and consistent responses to the cross-sector community trust challenge.

David Nation, Managing Director of Dairy Australia said the project enables rural industries to work together to enhance community trust.

“There is opportunity for rural industries to be proactive, work together to build on strong trust and acceptance that exists, as well as stay ahead of community expectations.

“We also know that trust is shared, and a lack of trust affects all industries together so collaboration between rural industries is vital.”

According to the Program’s lead researcher, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Voconiq (a CSIRO spin-out company), Dr Kieren Moffat, trust is crucial for industry and business because it translates community expectations and experience into acceptance.

“There are big implications for any industry, sector or individual business when the community questions it or its practices. Trust in an industry builds acceptance for an industry and helps manage this risk. It’s what enables an organisation or industry to be given the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong, it provides a license for innovation and flexibility to experiment, and a general freedom to operate,” said Dr Moffat.

“The Community Trust in Rural Industries Program is uncovering what builds trust and acceptance of rural industries, and where there are clear opportunities for industries to take action. For Australia’s rural industries we have shown that environmental responsibility, responsiveness to community concern and the important role rural industry products play in our lives are the strongest drivers of trust and acceptance.

“We are also seeking to understand how food and fibre industries relate to each other in the minds of the community, and see how the actions of one industry affect how Australians feel about other rural industries. This will help us understand the sector wide risks and the role of collaboration in addressing them,” said Dr Moffat.

“The findings show that the pathway to building and maintaining community trust is to be genuinely responsive to community sentiment, particularly around environmental sustainability and resource use. The key is to demonstrate responsiveness through action, and there are huge opportunities for industries who do this,” he said.

“Industries are encouraged to review the research findings in line with their current practises to see where they could apply the learnings and in turn, build community trust,” Dr Moffat concluded.

Years two and three research will seek to benchmark the results of the first year, but also examine certain areas in more depth and detail as required, with industries continuing to apply the learnings.

Download the Community Trust in Australia’s Rural Industries report for a full overview of findings.

About the Program

The Program is a jointly funded initiative of AgriFutures Australia, Australian Eggs, Australian Pork Limited, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Dairy Australia, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Sugar Research Australia, Grains Research and Development Corporation, LiveCorp, Meat and Livestock Australia and the NSW Department of Primary Industries. National Farmers’ Federation is also a project partner and AgriFutures Australia is the managing agent.

It involves community research by Voconiq amongst a sample of more than 6,000 Australians over a three-year period to provide insights on cross-sector issues and best practice approaches. This fact sheet outlines the results from Year One research.

Data collection for the community survey was completed between the 2nd of December 2019 and the 30th of January 2020. Of the 7329 surveys that were completed, 6,461 were included for analysis after data cleaning. Voconiq is an Australian data science company built on a platform of research developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

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