Farmers’ Perceptions of Payment by Results scheme in UK

Farmers’ Perceptions of Payment by Results scheme in UK

Earlier this year, researchers from the UK ‘Contracts2.0’ team spent some time working with Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Pilot Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBAPS) to study farmers’ perceptions of this results-based pilot project. Another focus of the joint study was to identify the changes to the management practices as well as the habitat quality of the farmland resulting from the participation in this results-based scheme.

 We found that farmers had very positive experiences of the payments by results scheme and, overall, habitat quality was at a comparable level to control sites in conventional agri-environmental agreements. This can be seen as a success considering the relatively short timescale of the project and the additional empowerment of farmers within PBR approaches. Interestingly, many farmers chose to maintain many of their existing management practices, rather than aim to improve the habitat quality as we might expect in a results-based system. Farmers recognised a relationship between their existing habitat quality and the cultural & environmental heritage of the landscape, where unique elements of the area such as ancient flower meadows resulted in sufficient payments. Farmers also noted some important factors outside of their control which impacted management, from the weather conditions to the valuable advice and support received from local project officers.

Our report was submitted to the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, as a part of the supplementary evidence relating to the ongoing RBAPS trial and development of the new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) in England.

Project Outline

We conducted detailed interviews with farmers involved in the RBAPS pilot in January 2021. The interviews lasted on average for approximately 1 hour 30 minutes, with the shortest interview being just over 1 hour and the longest being 2 hours and 30 minutes. The interviews took place either online via video call (on Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or WhatsApp) or over the telephone. To ‘map’ the farmers’ land management timelines and to compare any changes to management before and during the pilot, we used an interactive online platform called Mural to show farmers the timeline as we were making it. The RBAPS pilot in Wensleydale and Coverdale is focused on Grassland habitats for breeding waders and species rich hay meadows. The upland environments of many of England’s National Parks, and across the UK’s CIL area in the Contracts project, are in many ways ideal landscapes for the delivery of these types of environmental public goods, alongside numerous others.

Figure: Example of a Land Management Timeline made during the interview on Mural

Land Management Approaches in Results-Based Schemes

Motivations and Objectives in Results-based Approaches

One of the most important factors we identified through our in-depth interviews was a distinction between farmers who aim to ‘improve’ habitat quality and those who aim to ‘maintain’ it through results-based schemes. This distinction between ‘improvers’ and ‘maintainers’ appeared both in terms of motives for habitat quality and the management strategies the farmers employed. The objective of maintaining habitat quality might appear to run counter to the conventional assumption in results-based approaches that farmers will be incentivised to ‘do more to get more’. Though initially surprising, farmers explained that their reasoning for maintaining habitats were many-sided and varied from the short-term scope of the pilot to the existing relatively high standard of their habitats, detailed further below. 

Figure: Tracing Farmers’ Land Management Goals in PBR

Environmental Heritage in Protected Areas

Where we found that many farmers were content to maintain the quality of the habitats that they already had, several farmers said that some long-existing cultural environmental features of these habitats, which are unique to protected landscapes, were reasons for their existing good standard. So, where farmers have sought to maintain existing habitats, alongside pragmatic factors of management, they also emphasised the already high-value heritage features of their habitats. These include features more common in National Landscapes, such as

  • long-existing uncultivated hay meadows with rare and ancient seeds,
  • local & traditional land and animal management practices such as making small hay bales
  • locally unique cultural and environmental landscape features such as hay barns

To illustrate, hay barns, for example, are not only highly valued by tourists as beautiful, picturesque features of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, they also hold an important traditional role in practices of small hay bale making, as they enable farmers to house the hay close to the place it was made and where it will be needed for livestock in winter months. Furthermore, this process is one of the most environmentally friendly practices of producing storable forage: the ‘tedding’ (or drying process) redisperses seeds across the meadow. Traditional small bale hay making also avoids issues of soil compaction, where larger bales necessitate heavier machinery, and remove the use of plastic, which is needed to wrap grass for fermentation in silage or haylage production. Therefore, we can see that many of these ‘environmental heritage’ features have both environmentally and culturally valuable qualities which are unique to England’s protected landscapes. 

 

Figure: Hay Barns in Wensleydale (Image © James LePage)

Administration and Support in a Results-Based Pilot

Another factor which was universally identified by farmers as a huge benefit of the results-based approach was the scheme administration. Beyond the highly valued simplicity and flexibility offered by results-based contracts (in contrast to the demanding and complicated paperwork of England’s existing action-based schemes) farmers also emphasised the key role that the National Park Authority (NPA) officers played in scheme support and delivery. Farmers highlighted that the role of the NPA’s local officers in scheme design, information provision, training, and dialogue was fundamental to scheme uptake and success. For the broader developments of results-based schemes, local or regional organisations such as NPAs are, in many ways, well placed to be important intermediary facilitating bodies for these roles.

Issues out of their control: Adverse weather

Farmers also emphasised their habitats’ vulnerability to the impact of the weather, including extreme flooding or conversely, unexpected dry spells. Almost all the farmers made several comments about the negative effect of the weather, particularly when this was combined with differing assessment timings, upon their habitat scores. This vulnerability has important consequences for ‘pure’ results-based schemes, and indicates that ‘hybrid’ schemes, which combine results and action-based, might help to reduce some of the risk to farmers from issues outside of their control.

Disseminating our results

Following our interviews and analysis, we complied a detailed report which was submitted to DEFRA alongside Natural England’s main summary of the Pilot to date. We were also delighted to present some of our recent research into participant farmers’ opinions on payments by results as a part of a national conference ‘Farming with Nature’. This conference, convened by the University of Cumbria, aimed to explore how nature can be delivered within our farmed ‘National Landscapes’, namely England’s main protected areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). This approach was a key recommendation from the Landscapes Review.

Future Directions for Wensleydale RBAPS

The pilot is currently running under another extension funded by DEFRA and is exploring alongside the participating farmers how future schemes might work better: Either as ‘hybrid’ schemes which combine elements of action and results-based approaches, or at varying scales which might plan agreements at farm or even landscape levels, rather than individual field parcels.

For more information read our full report regarding Farmers’ Experiences of Results-based contracts in Wensleydale or contact me at Jennifer.dodsworth@abdn.ac.uk or @JennyferDods on Twitter.

Implementing innovative contract models – results from the Policy Delphi

Implementing innovative contract models – results from the Policy Delphi

The second round of our online Policy Delphi study – focusing on opportunities to implement innovative contract models in the current policy arena – was closed during the summer, and the first results are just fresh out of the oven.

A key characteristic of the Delphi method is that it runs in several consecutive rounds. This allows the researchers to use the findings from the preceding rounds to design questions in the forthcoming rounds. This allows to dig a little deeper into the most exciting (often controversial) topics, which is exactly what happened in Contracts2.0. The results of our first Delphi round were analysed to identify converging and contested topics, which were then turned into questions and statements to test in the second round of the survey. 32 experts from 15 European countries participated in the second round, with almost half of them indicated to have direct policy experience at national or subnational level.

Based on the answers from the first round on how the ideal contract would look like to incentivize farmers for more sustainable farming we could synthesize three prototypes: a) a mixed contract combining action-based and result-based elements, signed bi-laterally between farmers and funding agencies for a medium duration (5-7 years); b) a result-based contract, signed between a group of farmers (collective) and the funding agency, with flexible duration (from short to medium or long term); and c) a value-chain contract, signed between farmers and other actors of the value chain (e.g. food processors, retailers, certifiers), which builds on an existing AECM contract and provides a price premium for more sustainable products. As the figure (above) suggests, the majority of the respondents would choose a mixed, action- and results-based contract for an European level contract prototype, but still almost one-quarter of the respondents would suggest alternative contracts, mainly ones which offer more flexibility to choose collective (landscape-level) agreements or different contract lengths from shorter to longer term.

We also asked what the best way is to implement these novel contracts, and there seems to be an agreement about agri-environmental-and climate measures still being the main target area, where innovative contract characteristics can be implemented as top-ups or additional payments to more mainstream conventional (i.e. action-based) contracts. In terms of funding novel contracts through the Common Agricultural Policy, responding experts underlined the outstanding importance of the Pillar 2 payments. Within Pillar 2 policy instruments, almost 70% of the participants pointed to agri-environmental and climate measures, while voluntary interventions in Pillar 2 for investment, knowledge exchange and cooperation, as well as for ecological constraints were listed by 34.5%. Eco-schemes, which is a part of the new green architecture affiliated with the Pillar 1 payments, were also mentioned by 34.5% of the respondents – with this proportion, eco-schemes seem to be the most promising instrument within Pillar 1 with a considerable potential to integrate innovative contracts.

As we learned from the first round of the Delphi study, available budget is a strong constraint for implementing innovative contracts (beside others, like increased transaction costs or higher uncertainties). Financially supporting environmentally friendly farming through different instruments of the CAP, as suggested by the findings shared above, can be a strategy to alleviate the budget burden. However, it raises further questions such as additionality and potential double-payments received for the same result from different schemes. Fostering coherence within the CAP and between the CAP and other policy areas is a key step forward and will also be a focal topic of the third round of our Delphi study.

written by Eszter Kelemen & Boldizsár Megyesi (ESSRG)

 

For infos on tools and techniques for initiating a policy dialogue on innovative approaches check our Practice Abstracts no. 10

Collective AES – exploring Dutch farmers’ motivation to participate

Collective AES – exploring Dutch farmers’ motivation to participate

To address the degradation of the natural environment, agri-environment schemes (AES) have been designed within the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy. AES have been criticised for showing low ecological effectiveness. To improve the schemes’ effectiveness, a collective approach focusing on a landscape level as opposed to a single field or farm level is recommended. So far, this approach has rarely been applied across Europe. The Netherlands is an exception, where all AES have to be implemented collectively since 2016. Participation for farmers in the schemes is voluntary. Therefore, understanding farmers’ motivation to join is crucial as the uptake and implementation of measures is a prerequisite for achieving any effects.

In early 2021, we interviewed 15 farmers from six Dutch collectives about their motivation to participate in collective AES and assessed the advantages and disadvantages of collective AES from the participating farmers’ perspective.

Overview collectives participating in the study

Figure 1. Overview of participating collectives.

Methodological approach

We carried out a Q-study to learn what motivates farmers to join collective AES. Q methodology explores different perspectives on a topic by combining quantitative and qualitative elements within an interview. For the quantitative part, we asked farmers to sort 37 statements into a grid. The grid ranged from -4 (disagreement) to +4 (agreement) and allowed the participants to sort the statements relative to each other depending on their personal level of (dis)agreement. We developed the statements based on an extensive literature review, capturing as many different aspects of the debate as possible. In the qualitative part of the interview, the farmers could comment on the statements, explain their sorting choices and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the schemes.

Filled in Q-grid

Figure 2. Example of statement sorting, with red (disagree), green (agree) and grey (neutral) statements.

Motivation to join collective AES

The analysis revealed three motivational views: collective-oriented, business-oriented and environment-oriented. Farmers sharing the collective-oriented perspective (‘the collectivists’) feel a stronger connection to the collective and are proud of common achievements. The business-oriented perspective (‘the business rationalists’) is shared by farmers who think rationally about their farm business and how collective AES and other actions fit the overall operative purpose. Within the environment-oriented perspective (‘the environmental optimisers’), farmers care strongest about the environment and how their farm can actively engage in biodiversity or climate protection.

All farmers share great affection and care for nature. They agree that taking care of the environment is part of being a good farmer. They appreciate the collectives’ collaboration with nature conservationists and citizens. Financial compensation for the measures is important, however, it is viewed as a necessity to enable required changes in farming practices rather than an additional source of income. Individual independence is crucial to all participating farmers, yet, they don’t think that cooperation within the collective threatens their autonomy but rather strengthens it. All farmers strongly reject the idea of having joined the scheme because of fellow farmers’ participation. They do not necessarily trust that their neighbours are good partners for cooperation. At the same time, they are not afraid that someone in the collective would benefit without contributing. While it is central for them that people acknowledge their efforts within the schemes, they do not perceive pressure by society that would influence their actions.

Advantages and disadvantages of collective AES

The collective scheme offers many advantages to farmers, notably improved ecological impacts and support from the collectives. Farmers appreciate that the collectives assist with applications and administrative tasks and facilitate exchange with fellow farmers, creating room for discussions, mutual learning, inspiration, and network building. Another significant advantage is the provision of knowledge and advice with close contact between farmers and the collectives’ field workers, who speak the farmers’ language and know what’s going on in the region.

However, farmers still wish for more flexibility and a better integration of their knowledge and experiences into scheme design and decision-making processes. Policy processes should be transparent and promises should be kept to avoid disappointment and mistrust. The consequences of joining the schemes should be communicated openly to prevent farmers’ concerns about raising conservation standards and land possibly becoming protected and excluded from farming activities. It might be worth evaluating the possibility of providing voluntary long-term contract options for certain measures to allow for better planning. Also, the government should guarantee sufficient funding to enable all applying farmers to join the schemes.

Communication with the public can still be improved to better show farmers’ achievements. Also, between the different collectives, communication could be enhanced to allow for a better exchange. A prime example is the approach to tackle predation in meadow bird management, which in some collectives works better than in others.

Outlook

A large-scale survey-based follow-up study, including non-participants in collective AES, would be needed to reach representative results. Many of the caveats for collective AES described in the literature were not confirmed, some of them were even explicitly dismissed by all participating farmers, for instance, the fear of depending on others or the risk of others benefitting without contributing. The findings indicate a potential to promote the Dutch approach to AES in other regions if organisations similar to the Dutch collectives exist (or develop), which would offer the necessary support for farmers.

In Contracts2.0, we will continue to explore how the Dutch approach can be enhanced and how AES can best be implemented collectively in other European regions, such as the French CIL Hautes-Pyrénées, the Belgian CIL Flanders or the German CIL NRW.

For more information, see Margarethe Schneider’s master’s thesis.

Economic experiments for improving agricultural policy

Economic experiments for improving agricultural policy

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is constantly evolving. Its evaluation tools must develop concurrently. Including economic experiments in the toolset would be a valuable complement to capture farmers’ behavior and policy acceptance. economic experiments are highly effective for policy evaluation. They allow testing new policies before implementation, provide evidence on their effects, and identify factors influencing policy outcomes. 

As part of the Research Network of Economics Experiments for CAP evaluation (REECAP), Contracts2.0-collegue Jens Rommel from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences contributed to a newly published article in the EuroChoices Journal. “Can Economic Experiments Contribute to a More Effective CAP?,” the authors ask. They examine experiments use in agricultural policy research and discuss their potential to help policy-makers understand farmer decision-making processes better.

 What are economic experiments?

Experiments are situations that allow for the study of decisions in controlled and reproducible environments. Like medical trials, where patients randomly receive medicine or a placebo, farmers are randomly assigned to different “treatments”. Treatments can, for example, simulate situations with and without CAP measures or include alternative measures’ designs. Comparing decisions in the treatments, researchers can isolate the causal impact of the policy and the relative performance of design alternatives.

 Advantages for policy evaluation

That way, experiments provide answers in a short amount of time and at much lower costs than, for example, trial and error in the “real world” would before the policy is implemented. As experiments are based on farmers’ preferences policy design and related incentives can flexibly be adjusted in advance. The use of control groups ensures to distinguish responses to different policy designs from policy effects and external factors.

Current agricultural policy simulators assume profit-maximizing behaviors only. economic experiments often include cultural and other factors, which can generate profound insights into farmers’ complex decision-making processes.

Including economic experiments in the policy evaluation toolbox

Experimental approaches still need to find their place within the policy evaluation cycle. Collaborations between stakeholders involved in agricultural policy-making and research will be vital to ensure that economic experiments will find their place in the CAP evaluation toolbox to support a more effective CAP development.

For more information, see the original article: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1746-692X.12324

Policy Innovation Labs – The new age of policymaking?

Policy Innovation Labs – The new age of policymaking?

The development of innovative approaches to strengthen the provision of public goods is at the heart of Contracts2.0. The corresponding contractual solutions are co-designed by a diversity of stakeholders and practitioners in our regional Contract Innovation Labs (CIL).  To support the wider acceptance or the scaling up of these novel contracts, the Contracts2.0-Policy Innovation Labs (PIL) aim to lobby for the implementation of the innovative approaches into the respective policies on regional, national and EU-Level. The following article reveals how this is done in case of Contracts2.0 and what kind of general approaches are available to drive policy innovation.

The phrase “policy-making” can evoke a certain image in one’s mind. As something that is made by experts, technocrats and politicians, it is often associated with a rather hierarchical, strictly top-down process.

The remoteness of those who produce policies from those who will be affected by them is a major challenge for all levels of public policy — local, national and international.

So how does one bridge the gap between policy-makers and “policy-takers”, and make the process a bit less hierarchical? That’s where policy innovation comes in, as governments across the world try to experiment with the way in which policies are created, gradually moving away from the traditional ways of conjuring solutions behind closed ministerial doors. This novel approach to policy creation flips the entire process over, and the results have been quite promising.

 Types of policy innovation

The realm of policy innovation abounds in methods and tools that all seek to resolve the same policy problem in various ways. Although the list of such methods is indeed very long, some of them have been successfully applied in practice to generate new policy ideas:

Policy experimentation for developing and testing policies has gained traction in recent years with increasing support for Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) by organisations such as the World Bank, and various initiatives to improve public service delivery and institutional efficiency. Chances are, if you’ve recently read about a major policy breakthrough, especially in the developing world, its effectiveness was probably established through RCTs.

Although experimentation in policymaking is often conflated with ‘innovation’, out-of-the-box thinking and trying out new or different ideas, in essence, it is a systematic process requiring rigorous evidence collection/generation and evaluation. It allows policymakers to assess the impact of potential policies by employing techniques such as piloting and prototyping. This enables them to gauge the cost-effectiveness of policy interventions to see if they require adjustment or even termination before they are rolled out or scaled up.

Despite the potential benefits, governments are often reluctant to innovate or veer too far from the status quo, fearing loss of investment or policy failure. However, with experimentation and evidence, there is immense potential for learning from failure as well and examining what does not work at the same time as trying to figure out what does. That is the model at the heart of the UK Cabinet Office’s What Works Network that has been replicated, amongst others, in Canada, the US, Finland, Colombia and the UAE. The pilot Accelerator Labs at UNDP are also experimenting with local innovations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Behavioural insights provide an inductive approach to policymaking research, borrowing from economics, psychology and cognitive science, and are often used to create incentives and ‘nudge’ people to follow an established policy. The behavioural approach is underpinned by experimentation and use of evidence related to typical patterns of behaviour in a cost-benefit context. This approach enables policymakers to create the environments to induce public to make decisions working towards the desired outcomes without changing any costs or benefits that they are faced with. While this kind of policy design can have ethical issues, nevertheless, it can be a useful tool for more effective policies.

While experimentation and behaviour-inducing policies are driven by evidence, strategic foresight is applied in cases where the future policy context is unclear and can only be modelled through tools such as trend analysis, horizon scanning and scenario planning. This allows policymakers to map plausible “futures” and situations that could arise as well as the corresponding challenges and opportunities. The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the necessity for such anticipatory measures, and the need to prepare and innovate for crises. This approach enables policymakers to ‘stress-test’ existing or potential policies and systems to anticipate risks and evaluate whether they can sustain future shocks.

In contrast to the technocratic (or top-down) types of policy creation involving exclusively expert knowledge and political will, there are also approaches that attempts to come up with new policies in a less hierarchical and more bottom-up way. There are many variations within this approach, but the gist remains the same: policies are to be made together (or co-designed) with those whom they will affect. This goes far beyond a mere consultative function, since direct and meaningful involvement of all parties is key.

 Policy Innovation Labs (PIL)

One of such novel approaches to policymaking that uses co-design is the Policy Innovation Lab (PIL), which engages various stakeholders in an innovative co-creation of policies. Taking a holistic view of whatever problem is at hand, this approach brings together policymakers, scientists, community representatives and whoever is at least tangentially related to the particular context of the problem.

This multi-actor composition is designed to address the issues of ineffective policymaking and low levels of policy acceptance (i.e. popularity among those that it is designed to affect) by bringing stakeholder engagement to a new height and placing it at the heart of the policy formulation process.

The PIL-Approach in Contracts2.0

The PIL approach is also used in Contracts 2.0, an EU-funded project that aims to inform and improve policymaking with regards to the increased provision of environmental public goods in agriculture. In nine European countries (Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and United Kingdom) Contracts2.0 established Contract Innovation Labs (CILs), in order to co-design innovative contracts with regional farmers and other stakeholders. The resulting output of the CILs (“dream contracts”) is then fed into the Policy Innovation Labs (PILs). The PIls aim to facilitate the implementation of the novel approaches into the policy framework. They do so by taking a constant feedback from relevant stakeholders (e.g. regional/national policymakers, practitioners and public administrators, scientists, NGOs and associations) into account, to ensure that potential pitfalls are avoided.

The outlined mechanism of interactions within and between CILs and PILs represents an effective bottom-up approach to policymaking by placing stakeholder contributions at the most important stages of the policy cycle (e.g. agenda setting, policy formulation). The multi-stakeholder approach ensures that the different points of view are taking into account. The project framework envisages that the policy requirements formulated in the CILs and refined into policy recommendations by the PILs would be taken up or in some way implemented by policymakers, thus completing the policy cycle (from formulation to effectuation).

How to ensure success?

However, the mid-term evaluation of the Contracts 2.0 project and its PIL-approach identified some weak spots, which could prevent the PILs from exploiting their full potential. Some of the assessed PILs report problems regarding an active and consistent pattern of participation of relevant stakeholders in the PIL Workshops. Another risk to the success of the PILs is the potential intertia of administrative institutions and the clinging to the status quo. Features which stand in the way of a recognition let alone adoption of novel policies or recommendations.

While the PIL method is indeed well-designed and has the potential to generate great policy insights, it is important to motivate policymakers to commit to a more consistent support of the co-designing and the implementation of innovative policies. The success of this approach also depends very much on the personality of the involved stakeholders and policy makers, to go out of their way and try something new. The lab coordinators need to address this issue via a tailor-made flow of information and a well-structured discussion culture to facilitate the implementation.

A very important aspect of the PIL-approach in Contracts2.0 is the Cross-PIL-collaboration and integration of research (from the scientific work packages), which enables the exchange of experiences and knowledge across borders, setting off synergies and avoiding duplication of effort. This approach needs to be strengthened in the near future to help inform not only national policymaking but also support the development of a set of more holistic recommendations (e.g. #CAP-Refom) for the development of a conducive common framework while allowing enough flexibility for the individual Member states.

Perhaps in the future governments will rely more on this method of policy innovation, and establish their own autonomous Policy Labs (e.g. similar to that established in Northern Ireland). This way, the bottom-up approach would make its way to the top of national policy-making.

(Written by our guest authors: Ifrah Hassan & Daniel Borsos (School of Public Policy, Central European University)

Further Reading:

Experimentation: https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/assets/documents/CPI-A-brief-intoduction-to-Policy-experimentation.pdf

Behavioural Insights: https://oecd-opsi.org/guide/behavioural-insights/

Northern Ireland’s government-backed Innovation lab: https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/articles/evaluation-innovation-lab