A new approach to knowledge exchange and innovation in practice

Claire Weeks, Lisa van Dijk, David Main

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


APPLICATION Establishing practice-driven innovation networks could benefit agricultural practice, profitability and sustainability based on increased adoption of applied science. INTRODUCTION There is growing evidence that, despite considerable investment in knowledge transfer, there remains a gap between scientific research and the embedding of applied science into farm practice (e.g. Hill et al., 2017). The Hennovation project has been testing mechanisms to both enhance the uptake of scientific knowledge and to enable practice-driven innovation. The new approach establishes innovation networks of farmers or those engaged in the laying hen processing industry that are facilitated to proactively search for, share and use new ideas to improve hen welfare, efficiency and sustainability. Such collaborative learning approaches are proposed to have greater potential for uptake than ‘top-down’ approaches (MacMillan & Benton, 2014) and this is also being evaluated.MATERIALS AND METHODS Supporting networks requires skilled facilitation. Thus 11 facilitators in 5 EU countries (UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain and Czech Republic) had initial training to understand the innovation process and to both mobilise and support grassroots networks. A framework for the adaptive management and facilitation of practice-driven innovation was developed through participatory research and collective learning among network facilitators. Social scientists evaluated the whole process of the new methodology and how innovative ideas were generated, tested and refined in practice within the networks by analysing the online Wiki that recorded network progress, attending workshops and network meetings as well as holding structured interviews with each facilitator. RESULTS Some 15 innovation networks, involving producers and laying-hen processors have been mobilised in the 5 countries and are involved in finding solutions to concerns such as controlling red mite, minimising injurious pecking, marketing hen meat and improving handling practices at the end of lay. Responding to cultural norms and recognising that each network has unique needs for support has been an important outcome in the learning process. The networks are all multi-actor and have been assisted by a variety of specialists including animal welfare scientists, veterinary surgeons, technical experts and food chain actors. Moreover most have received small grants to support their trials.The key steps necessary for local innovation have been established and include: identifying a problem, generating an innovative idea, agreeing on and focusing on one idea at a time, planning and resource mobilisation, trialling the innovation, implementing/upscaling and finally dissemination/embedding. In addition to these process steps, the project has identified some important conditions necessary for supporting innovation within practice-led networks. These include involving the right people in the network, identifying common goals, focusing on areas that can change, providing sufficient resources, learning by doing, using knowledge from within and outside the network and crucially, expert facilitation.CONCLUSION Expert facilitation and sufficient resource is needed to support the establishment of practice-led networks in order to realise their potential for embedding science, developing innovative solutions and sharing best practice to drive productivity in the sector.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The paper draws upon research and discussions conducted under the HENNOVATION project, a H2020 EU collaborative research project with 6 academic partners funded under the topic 'Innovative, Sustainable and Inclusive Bioeconomy’ ISIB-2-2014/2015: Closing the research and innovation divide: the crucial role of innovation support services and knowledge exchange. Grant agreement no 652638. The authors wish to thank the many people involved in that project who collaborated in that research and contributed to the material of this paper.REFERENCESHill, B., Bradley, D. &Williams, E. (2017) J. Rural Studies 49, 41-49 MacMillan, T., & Benton, T.G. (2014). Nature 509, 25-27.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Jan 2017
EventWPSA UK Spring Meeting 2017 - University of Chester, Chester, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Apr 201727 Apr 2017


ConferenceWPSA UK Spring Meeting 2017
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

Bibliographical note

This will be published in British Poultry Science


  • knowledge exchange
  • innovation
  • laying hen
  • facilitation
  • networking

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  • Projects


    Podesta, T. J., Weeks, C. A., Main, D. C. J. & Van Dijk, L.


    Project: Research, Parent

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    Weeks, C., van Dijk, L., & Main, D. (Accepted/In press). A new approach to knowledge exchange and innovation in practice. Paper presented at WPSA UK Spring Meeting 2017, Chester, United Kingdom.