TRUST in rural industries is high with Australians believing fishers, farmers and foresters play an important role in society and are a vital part of Australia’s history, according to the findings of a study into the drivers of community trust and acceptance for the rural industries sector.
However, the first year’s results of the ‘Community Trust in Rural Industries Program’ found there are areas of community uncertainty that present risks and opportunities for the sector.
The program is a partnership involving 10 Rural Research and Development Corporations, the National Farmers’ Federation and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Under the three-year program, 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.
Key take-outs from the program so far include that trust in rural industries is dependent on three drivers:
- environmental responsibility,
- responsiveness to community concerns,
- 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.
Cotton Research and Development Corporation executive director, Dr Ian Taylor, said the community also highly valued 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,” he said.
“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.”
Implications for industry
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,” Dr Moffat said.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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.