Social marketers from Brisbane’s Griffith University are holding Australia’s first collective intelligence workshop in Mackay this week. This work is part of the National Environmental Science Program’s Tropical Water Quality Hub. In the workshop, people will discuss why pesticide losses from paddocks keep getting into the region’s waterways.

“To get change we need to start by understanding what people think and then work together to find ways to overcome the obstacles faced,” project lead Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele said.

“We learnt how significant progress can be made on ambitious targets set, and are applying systems methods after being trained by Dr Christine Domegan in Ireland.”

Representatives and stakeholders from government, chemical resellers, scientists and farmers are coming together this Wednesday, 8 May, to have a conversation in a workshop facilitated by Griffith Business School’s Social Marketing @ Griffith unit.

The researchers have expressed their gratitude for the support we have received to get this far, with Professor Rundle-Thiele noting: “This workshop is a result of the people we are lucky enough to have met and many who we will be meeting on Wednesday. This shows people are committed to finding solutions to overcome identified barriers to help to hasten progress on the issue.”

Wednesday’s workshop will be attended by sugarcane growers from both in and outside the Sandy Creek catchment, extension service providers, chemical resellers, contractors, scientists, and representatives of the Department of Environment and Science and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

In the most recent Collective Intelligence phase, all workshop participants and other stakeholders were asked to identify up to five barriers in response to one question. Everyone was asked the same question — “What is preventing farmers from permanently reducing pesticide losses from paddocks in the Sandy Creek catchment?” — and every person could give up to five answers.

An aerial shot of Mackay. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Issues that have been identified for discussion include a failure of growers to minimise the use of pesticides, an unwillingness to change, a lack of exposure to advice, interference from external bodies, red tape around the maintenance of farming business and the cost of building run-off storages to limit the amount of pesticides leaving farms.

“In receiving responses from different people we can see different opinions about the factors preventing change and it will be interesting to see which factors are voted as most important in Wednesday’s workshop,” Professor Rundle-Thiele, who is also the director of Social Marketing @ Griffith, said.

“The CI participants will be coming together to debate and reach consensus about the factors at the heart of the issue.

“The respondents indicated a concern about, among other things, the lack of connection between science and practical farming, as well as the perceived lack of alternative ways to manage weeds and pests, and a sense that there is a general resistance to changing this entrenched behaviour.”

Challenges have been identified in the preliminary, anonymous survey sent to the various corners of the agriculture industry, and people’s views are starting and leading the course of discussion at the event.

Professor Rundle-Thiele describes the upcoming workshop — which will be held at the Western Suburbs League Club, in Walkerton — as an “action mapping process”, which brings together a diversity of viewpoints from across the sector in order to drive debate and form feasible solutions for difficult ongoing problems.

“Now that we’ve managed to identify the core challenges facing growers, government and other elements of the sector in making progress on the issue of pesticide runoff reduction, the next step is to come together in one room,” Professor Rundle-Thiele said.

“We are looking forward to facilitating an open, honest and frank discussion in order to address and overcome the roadblocks to help to contribute to making a positive, lasting change.”