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Media Coverage: Bridging the Knowledge Gap (January 2007)

This article was featured in the January 2007 issue of AgKnowledge, a magazine produced by the College of Agriculture and Bioresources

If the old saying is true, and "knowledge is power," then the agriculture and rural community in Saskatchewan just got plugged in.

Twenty-three U of S researchers, including 18 from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, are taking part in a new project aiming to improve the flow of information and knowledge within the agriculture sector, rural communities, government and academia. The three-year project, led by Professor Murray Fulton, is one of 11 across Canada funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Knowledge Impact in Society (KIS) pilot program.

"The environment in which agriculture and rural communities operate is changing dramatically," Fulton explains. "Our goal is to get research ideas that have already been discussed and debated within the University out to those communities, and create a dialogue in the opposite direction as well. Information needs to flow in all direction, not just form the top down."

"I think it will enable people to have access to new ideas," Department Head Jill Hobbs, whose research on supply chains, consumers preferences and traceability will form part of the discussion. Other areas of emphasis include innovation, rural economies, environmental issues, governance and regulations. "We're not limited to these topics," notes Fulton, "but these areas represent strengths we have at this University."

In fact, the scope of the project actually extends beyond the U of S, as several collaborators are involved in major research networks across the country. Hobbs, for instance, is a member of three Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada funded research networks focused on innovation, trade and consumer and market demands. The ability to access researchers from different universities and disciplines significantly broadens the base of expertise available for the KIS project.

On the non-academic side, the project engages a long list of producer organizations in the crop and livestock sectors, along with industry, government, First Nations' and non-profit groups interested in the broader issues of agriculture, the environment and the rural economy. The KIS project will create regular opportunities for these groups to review research results and discuss key issues. Those interactions will come through a series of short policy briefs, public forums, an interactive website (www.kis.usask.ca), workshops, and other events.

"Much of what we're going to be doing is on the policy side," says Fulton. For that reason, the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy (SIPP), represented by Associate Director, Professor Rose Olfert, will be a key partner in the project. Fulton notes, "SIPP gives us a way to access a completely different set of players than what we would have through many of the other groups."

"I think the biggest thing is to break people out of their comfort zone in terms of the way they've been thinking about agriculture for the last 20 years. We need to get people thinking about different visions of the future, and out of that may come some new energy and policy ideas."

 

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