Rural industries on track with trust

Research into community trust and acceptance of rural industries indicates Australians believe fishers, farmers and foresters play an important role in society.

By Catherine Norwood

A national research collaboration project is working to identify the drivers of trust in primary industries, and strategies to improve it. The ‘Community Trust in Rural Industries Program’ is a partnership involving 10 Rural Research and Development Corporations including the FRDC, as well as the National Farmers’ Federation and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.

The results from the first year of this three-year research project have already identified three key drivers of trust in rural industries: environmental responsibility, responsiveness to community concerns, and the importance of products produced by rural industries.

The research has also found large sectors of the community are uncertain about issues that relate mostly to environmental responsibility and industry responsiveness.

It has revealed that the behaviour of one rural sector affects the perception of others as well. An issue with live meat exports, for example, can influence perceptions of animal welfare in other sectors.
Work on cross-sector influences and strategies is expected to be a feature of the second year of the ‘Community Trust in Rural Industries Program’.

As the coordinator of the FRDC’s Human Dimensions Research subprogram, Emily Ogier is a member of the working group for the program, which is being delivered by Voconiq, a CSIRO spin-out company.

She says the significant level of uncertainty around the seafood sector’s responsiveness to community concerns was unexpected, although many of the other findings from the first year of the research are similar to those of other community attitudes research the FRDC has conducted.

She says while the seafood sector is getting better at “doing the right thing and letting people know”, the “right thing” is always changing. “There needs ongoing engagement that allows the community to raise concerns as they change over time, and have the industry consider and respond to those concerns.”

One of the other early findings that she is keen to see the sector make greater use of is the high level of trust reported for fisheries and aquaculture products. Trust can be assigned not just to the end product, the fish on the table or the prawn on the barbie, she says, but to the whole “package”: who produces it, where it is produced, the provenance and care invested in supplying it. 

“It’s a simple way to think about what fisheries and aquaculture do and produce. We can make more use of the link between consumers and our products to help improve our community relationships and make them stronger.”

The program’s lead researcher, Kieren Moffat from Voconiq, says trust is crucial for industry and business because it translates community expectations and experience into acceptance.

“Trust in an industry builds acceptance for an industry and helps manage this risk. It is what enables an organisation or industry to be given the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong, it provides a licence for innovation and flexibility to experiment, and a general freedom to operate,” he says.

“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,” says Kieren Moffat.

“The findings show 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.”

Research years two and three 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.

Findings from the first year of the research can be viewed here.


FRDC Research Code: 2019-042

More information

Emily Ogier, emily.ogier@utas.edu.au