The DTC research platform
DTC is hosting longer-term collaborative research on diffuse pollution from agriculture, funded by multiple organisations. The aim is to establish a community of researchers and stakeholders enabling short and longer-term policy-relevant research questions to be answered, steering research and translating science into practice.
The components of a research platform. The platform consists of a community of researchers with a shared understanding of the issues, shared data and shared research sites and infrastructure. Research activities hosted on the platform, represented by vertical bars, make use of one or more of these layers.
When undertaking scientific research that ultimately relates to the management of the environment it is desirable to work with real businesses – landowners, land managers and local stakeholders. But to have some control of the experimentation, trust needs to be developed, and this only arises from a sometimes long process of engagement and knowledge exchange. Communities of practice develop where there is mutual understanding of the situation and views of the different participants and the ability to communicate across boundaries exists – the necessary foundation for trust to develop. The research platform model developing in DTC combines in one grouping the academics, the local stakeholders and the land-owners/managers, working together over a reasonably long timescale, allowing for the trust to develop and, at the local level, knowledge exchange happens on its own accord, as a consequence.
The benefits of communities of practice centred around research platforms
In each DTC consortium area a community of practice is developing. So the basic understanding can be developed by the academics whilst the more practical questions are taken up by the other members of the community. And this can be done with all participants involved and knowledgeable at each stage, allowing iterative processes to happen and a much more rapid development of options that are a consequence of the underpinning evidence. For example, in the Eden consortium, as well as the individual farmers on whose land the research is taking place, the partners include:
- Catchment Sensitive Farming and the Environment Agency (Policy delivery)
- The National Farmers Union, EBLEX – the organisation for beef and lamb levy payers in England, DairyCo, The Cumbria Farmers Network (stakeholders)
- Newton Rigg college (educational establishment)
- The Eden Rivers Trust (ERT) (knowledge broker and lead on the Eden Catchment plan)
The pooling of researchers and stakeholders knowledge along with that of the farmers participating in the monitored areas have helped to show that diffuse agricultural pollution can only be meaningfully addressed by taking a symbiotic approach to both farm business health and environmental health.
In the Wensum a slightly differing mix of partners is emerging and includes a close working relationship with a very large farming enterprise, the Sawle Estate. See www.sallefarms.co.uk/ for an example of a farm business realizing the potential of a close working relationship with a research group. Like the ERT, the Broadland Rivers Catchment Partnership is working towards a catchment plan under the Catchment Based Approach of Defra (CaBA) and the Wensum DTC project is working closely with them on water quality monitoring approaches with particular emphasis on a key finding, the influence of storm events on pollutant concentrations.
Besides the beneficiaries of having this facility at national level for Defra and its agencies, there are other customers at differing levels of working. As the Catchment Based Approach develops from its roll out this summer, there is a large and growing stakeholder community who will be a prime customer for the outputs of both the scientific research from DTC and the applied learning gained from these local working relationships with the stakeholder community.
The model is still developing but the framework has been laid in the three consortia catchments providing the platform for further development. A big challenge is in getting the approach recognised at higher levels than the local one, where the benefits are already being realised and taken up.