Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Agresearch: Should I stay or should I go?

I have been reading the various articles on the pros and cons of the proposed AgResearch restructuring which intends to centralise most of it’s’ capabilities to Lincoln and Palmerston North.

Centralisation and then decentralisation is something that seems to go in cycles, governments, banks and significant businesses have all done it.  You get someone new at the top and they want to make a change.  Centralisation tends to be economically rationalised by lower admin costs, more cost effective use of physical assets (in theory at least), scale efficiencies and so on.   Then 10 years later decentralisation is rationalised and justified on better client service, we need to be where our customers are, personal contact is what makes the difference, I am sure there are many more ways of justifying both actions.

 The reality for me is I deal with people, if you deal with someone you like and trust, and they shift to another entity in the same business then I find I tend to follow them.   My loyalty is to the person and not the business, so if they leave the industry I am looking for someone else who I trust to deal with.   Most business is all about relationships.  I would suggest the importance of this is being overlooked at the moment and/or immensely undervalued in the proposed restructure.   

 These relationships are even more important when carrying out industry good research as you need to have good solid direct working relationship with those you are in theory developing the science for, you need people with a foot in both camps who understand the practicalities of what is happening and what the industry is wanting. 

 What do I mean by this, two people I deal with at AgResearch at Invermay with regards to sheep genetics, are both married to farmers and live on farms, they understand the challenges and the realities of what is going on and I would suggest empathise with the industry.  Will they relocate, the odds must be against it.  People like them are important to ensure research is followed to its logical conclusion or further developed if required.    The cynic in me believes that sometimes funding is sort for projects which is more about keeping someone in paid employment than attaining industry good objectives, because when the funding runs out, the project is shelved and they move onto something else.  

 It’s important to have people in all regions that are easily accessible to the farmer, the better the relationship I suggest the better the science being undertaken and of course the better the buy in to the research by the farmer.  Centralising AgResearch’s capabilities will severely impact on this as it would be inevitable that there would be many more scientists undertaking research who would have little or no contact with the actual farmer themselves.  In other words centralising scientists at Lincoln and Palmerston North I believe will create a greater disconnect with the farmer.  I often cheekily say when describing a scientist I have some time for, they could probably almost succeed as a farmer if they wanted to (this is because they understand the practicalities and realities facing farmers, not all scientists do, they only way they can get an inkling is by forming good relationships with farmers and similarly for farmers to understand the science). 

 On top of this to create the relationships I am talking about you need to be where the subject of the research is: if it’s about sheep then pick an area where there are considerable sheep, Canterbury as we all know has a huge dairy presence now, so centralising to Lincoln, doesn’t really stack up that well for sheep research.



1 comment:

  1. I can't agree with your comment about projects - I left my research project to my technician to do and he became a PhD with the work I had mapped out, so projects can go on without the leader. Change doesn't always mean improvement - I do agree with some of your points.