Pathways to Transition

Investigate Your Ideas to Find New Ground

Ten projects funded through the third round of the Rural Professionals Fund have been summarised in a short magazine. Communicating the results of both successful and unsuccessful projects is a crucial part of the scientific process, writes Professor Rich McDowell, chief scientist for Our Land and Water

The third annual edition of New Ground magazine has been published, outlining the findings of projects completed in the third iteration of the Rural Professionals Fund. As I write, the projects in the fourth and final fund are also nearing completion. It is therefore timely that I offer a few reflections about the Fund’s aims and achievements.

The Rural Professionals Fund was established to provide rural professionals with the opportunity to test the ideas they have come across in their day-to- day business, interacting with farmers and foresters.

Although the funding for each project was modest ($50,000–75,000), it was enough to test if the idea was good or not. Combined with a six- to nine-month duration, this is a ‘fast fail’ fund.

One of the interesting requirements of the Fund was that folk report results in reputable journals, including New Ground, and report failures. This is an anomaly in most reporting of science but is often just as important as a positive result. Often it is met with reticence.

The modern expression of science dates back to the time of Francis Bacon in the 16th century, and the binary decision that something was true or not. More recently, this has been formalised as statistical significance (relative to a distribution that says ‘yeah that’s right’, or not). ‘Significance‘ is important. We set laws based on it. Moreover, you’ll provide advice that, except in rare cases, will be right.

Often, science will not produce what you expect. This is a good thing. As a nation of innovators, we need to try things and, as a result, have succeeded in making ourselves different from our competitors. I’m proud of both the successes and ‘failures‘ of the Rural Professionals Fund projects (and we’ve had more successes than failures).

You might be expecting a list of each… well, I won’t disappoint:

You could argue that these successes were tempered by:

In essence, I confess, the Rural Professionals Fund was to get you to think about your ideas, robustly test them, and most important of all – investigate. I hope you find this issue of New Ground to be good fodder for thought. The final edition, sharing the 10 projects soon to finish, will be with you in winter 2024.


Rich McDowell

Professor Richard McDowell is the chief scientist at Our Land and Water

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