Contracts2.0 at the ESP Europe Conference

Contracts2.0 at the ESP Europe Conference

The Ecosystem Service Partnership Conference offered a welcome opportunity to discuss the topics and research of Contracts2.0. From the 10th until 14th of October, the Ecosystem service research community gathered in Heraklion, Crete, to spend five warm autumn days together discussing transformative ecosystem research, the future of education, and values.

Discussing motivating contract design

The researchers working in the Contracts2.0 project were well represented and hosted several sessions. For instance, the session “Motivating contract design for the provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity in agriculture”, facilitated by Bettina Matzdorf, discussed the development and implementation of innovative contract models to produce more biodiversity and ecosystem services in the agricultural landscape.

Eszter Kelemen talked about the results from the Policy Delphi study, which was carried out as part of the Contracts2.0 project and explored how and under which circumstances novel contractual solutions could be better implemented within the European policy context.

Then, in his talk about farmers’ preferences for new agri-environmental-climate measures (AECM), Wojciech Zawadzki presented the results from the stated-preference-based Discrete Choice Experiment, where farmers could choose between practice-based and results-based agri-environmental measures.

Reflecting the implementation of novel contractual models

In the session on “Results-based approaches and other integrated models as drivers for ecological conservation and policy integration”, István Szentirmai gave a presentation on the case study Őrség National Park where new results-based and value chain contracts were designed together with practitioners. Dieter Mortelmans talked about the experiences from the contract innovation labs in Flanders to shift towards results-based agri-environmental measures and simultaneously achieve policy integration in rural municipalities faced with high land pressures.

Making local knowledge count

The last of the sessions that incorporated the Contracts2.0 project was “Making local knowledge count: co-design principles and practices for agri-environmental programmes”, facilitated by Francis Turkelboom. In this session, Louise Vercruysse presented the lessons-learned regarding practitioner participation in the co-design of agro-environmental contracts. Inés Gutiérrez-Briceño held a presentation on how to find incentives to move towards agroecological transition in the Community of Madrid and Jennifer Dodsworth discussed the mapping processes of co-design within Agri-Environment Scheme Development in North-England. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, these last two presentations were quite difficult to follow. The discussion in this session centred around the question of how to deal with local power dynamics and whose knowledge to include.


Food for thought: the role of science and researchers

The conference hosted a number of captivating keynote speeches. On the second day, for instance, Contracts2.0 researcher Ezster Kelemen, gave a talk about the inclusion of indigenous knowledge in Ecosystem Service research.

Who do you include? And how do you navigate the different layers of marginalization?

Her presentation made us reflect on our own position and role as researchers in local power fields. Giving a voice to representatives of local communities may not be enough, and true inclusivity is challenging and requires creative methods. These topics would come back at different times during the conference, and especially in the sessions related to participatory contract co-design.

Another remarkable keynote speech was given by Esther Turnhout about transformative ecosystem services research. She addressed the lack of diversity in the science community and the misconceptions about the science-policy-interface by both scientists and policy makers. There is not enough attention given to the interests and power relations within science, and the dominant framing of research problems. Esther calls for epistemic disobedience, for scientists to claim cognitive justice and integrate a plurality of paradigms. Furthermore, science is not an objective source, but should be part of the “messy, democratic game” that is politics. Definitely one to think about.

All in all…

…it was a successful conference for the Contracts2.0 researchers. Not only to present our work and discuss it with fellow researchers, but also to get inspired by people engaged in similar projects, make new connections and networks, and to reflect critically on our own research.

© Text and Pictures: Louise Vercruysse
To Innovate or not to Innovate? – A Danish Study on Conservation Grazing Schemes

To Innovate or not to Innovate? – A Danish Study on Conservation Grazing Schemes

A study on different options to improve a scheme on conservation grazing revealed that Danish farmers are not hugely keen on adopting innovative contractual approaches. Even though many of the Danish farmers feel the need to increase the ecological impact of the measures, they argue that this could be achieved by improving the existing schemes.

How relevant are findings from the Innovation Lab to the Danish farming community?

Contracts2.0 aims to develop innovative contracts between farmers or land managers and other public or private bodies, which help to strengthen the implementation of agri-environmental measures in agriculture. This is done mainly in the Contract Innovation Labs (CIL), which have a regional or local base. In our Danish case, innovative solutions for contracts on conservation grazing have been developed on the island of Bornholm, which covers 1.3 % of the Danish agricultural area and is the home of 1.2 % of the Danish farmers.

In our CIL, the farmers of Bornholm expressed interest in the integration of innovative components to boost the impact of the existing measures. However, are the novel solutions developed in a specific region also applicable in national contexts? To check the national applicability of the innovative approaches, we initiated a survey addressing affected farmers all over Denmark. 370 farmers, a little less than 10 % of all farmers currently participating in a scheme on conservation grazing, provided answers.


The Top 4 preferred options are old acquaintances

The question we considered as the most important, dealt with potential options to provide farmers with additional payments for additional efforts. Six different options were listed, and each farmer could choose up to three favoured options.

The option that farmers point to as most interesting actually already existed earlier (albeit to a limited extent) in older versions of the Danish scheme for the management of grassland and natural areas. More than four out of ten farmers indicate that they would be interested in obtaining additional payment for small areas and areas with difficult access, i.e. areas with relatively high management costs.

The second most popular option is to get extra payments for more specific requirements. Again, this is an option previously available in the Danish scheme with differentiation according to, for example, the use of fertilisation and grazing pressure at different levels.

Thirdly, a little more than one in three farmers is interested in obtaining additional pay out for following a management plan for the contracted area. Today, management plans are already a reality for a number of farmers managing publicly owned land, but the support scheme is currently not directly linked to the plan. The most frequent model in these situations is that the authorities lease the land to the farmer and that the farmer holds the contracts on conservation grazing and gets the payment for this.

In fourth place is a bonus payment for maintaining areas of high nature value (HNV) according to the map of the Agricultural Agency. At present, aid is not differentiated according to the HNV-levels of the land, as the HNV feature is only used to determine whether land outside Natura 2000 areas is eligible for enrolment in conservation grazing schemes or not.

What about the rest?

Only slightly more than one farmer in five would opt for a scheme offering an additional payment when meeting certain nature quality indicators. Slightly fewer than one in five farmers would like to see a bonus payment for high local contract coverage (agglomeration bonus). The latter has been tried for a period of time with a small additional payment of 10% for local coverage of more than half of the eligible area.

Additionally, two thirds of the farmers are interested in improving the management of grasslands in the conservation grazing scheme to improve or secure the nature content. Apparently half of these farmers are even interested in improving management without additional payments.

Conclusions from the Danish Survey

Three observations can be made from the results presented here. Firstly, none of the presented options alone would be attractive for the majority of farmers. Secondly, the contract option featuring an individual management plan, developed in the Innovation Lab Bornholm, scores relatively high in the survey among the farmers from other parts of the country. Thirdly, the options with innovative elements, like results-based payments or collective implementation score relatively poor.

For further reference, see our survey results in the Graph below.

Bottom line…

…tweaking the existing schemes can bring about desired results in terms of conservation grassland management. Many farmers are generally interested in improving management to improve or secure the nature content of the grasslands under agreement. The Contract Innovation Lab on Bornholm suggests integrating the innovative approaches in the implementation of nature protection management plans in the agri-environmental schemes on conservation grazing under the Common Agricultural Policy.

The survey which also covers farmers’ views on other issues of agri-environmental programs (e.g. checks/controls, advisory services) is reported in Andersen, E.: Landmændenes syn på tilsagn om pleje af græs- og naturarealer (original, in Danish). A reviewed English translation is available here

How to utilize SWOT results in a Multi Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) model

How to utilize SWOT results in a Multi Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) model

It is challenging to identify the deciding success factors for an effective and efficient implementation of collective agri-environmental schemes (AES). The relatively short implemantation phase of the  collective model as a nationwide scheme and the diversified environment around the different implementation levels make identifying success factors a rather complex task. We found no common indicators or quantitative data to compare agricultural collectives regarding their performance to realize their environmental targets. So the question for us was: How to make the performance in different cases easily comparable and thus identify the relating success factors via a Multi criteria Decision Making model?

The only available data to tackle this question was qualitative data collected in SWOT analyses at the beginning of the project. Each Contract Innovation Lab (CIL) was asked to complete a SWOT analysis assessing internal and external factors that affect the effective provision of environmental public goods. However, the challenge remained to simultaneously compare the results of several SWOT analyses and use them in a multi-criteria decision-making (MCDM) model. To this end, we introduced a new technique: The SWOT scorecard (Rudolf and Udovč, 2022). Here we explain how we developed this new technique.

1. Preparing a decision tree for MCDM

In the first step of our modeling process, we created a decision tree, a decision support tool typically using a tree-like structure to visualize decisions and their potential consequences. We used an individual decision-making approach based on a qualitative analysis of the relevant literature. Using a hierarchical top-down approach, we identified the main goals and the corresponding attributes, criteria, and sub-criteria that should influence the synergy between aspects in the collective case studies.

The criteria are still being investigated and are not yet final. However, for testing the SWOT scorecard technique, they were appropriate.

2. From SWOT Scorecard to MCDM model

The following steps describe how the SWOT scorecard technique can be used to arrange qualitative data to feed into an MCDM DEX model.

Step 1: First, we organized descriptive SWOT results by criteria for every analyzed collective scheme, making sure to keep track of the origin of data (S, W, O, and T factors). This step gives us a set of so-called ‘prime input data.’

Step 2: We applied the SWOT scorecard technique, transforming the ‘prime input data’ with a formula to numeric results. The SWOT scorecard sums the importance of S, W, O, and T factors for the criteria.

Step 3: Transforming the SWOT scorecard results to a descriptive scale that can be used in the DEX model. This gives us options of values of basic attributes and is the input data for the DEX model.

Step 4: In the last step, the descriptive values are fed into the DEX model. The SWOT scorecard keeps track of the results from SWOT analysis. It considers the diversity of collective schemes, which results in the appearance of common variables that can be described with the same name. This is key for comparing the collective schemes regarding environmental public goods delivery. Furthermore, we get results of success factors for any number of collective AES.

3. Towards a decision support tool

The DEX model is a first step towards building a decision support tool for decision-makers dealing with the design and implementation of collective AES, who would like to understand better the success factors contributing to an improved provision of environmental public goods. We are now building a user-friendly interface that links our database and the DEX model to make it accessible for decision-makers.

For more detailed information, check our paper, which was published in Sustainability, vol. 14 (2), 2022.

Written by: Janja Rudolf, Biotechnical faculty, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia)

Webinar: Implementing the Collective Approach – Evidence from Science and Practice

Webinar: Implementing the Collective Approach – Evidence from Science and Practice

On Friday, January the 28th 2022 from 9:30 am – 1:30 pm, the EU-funded research & innovation project Contracts2.0 hosts the Online Policy Event:

Implementing the Collective Approach in Agri-environmental Schemes – Evidence from Science and Practice

Here you find links to the recorded presentations of the Webinar!

Contracts2.0 develops innovative contractual solutions to strengthen participation in agri-environmental measures (AEM) and to improve their effectiveness.

 This event summarizes relevant project results focusing on the collective approach to inform stakeholders involved in implementing the national strategic plans across Europe. The first part will present scientific findings, featuring the effects of collective contracts on cropland birds or a multi-criteria decision support tool for policy makers by example of  selected collective case studies.

The second part will shed light on the diversity of collective agreements in practice. Three case studies (UK, BE, and NL) will present different implementation depths of the collective approach. A Q&A session will conclude the event. With a panel and the audience, we want to discuss the potential policy implications regarding the practical implementation.

Here you find the agenda!

The Role of Social Capital in Agri-environmental Collectives

The Role of Social Capital in Agri-environmental Collectives

The network analysis of the Collective Natuurrijk Limburg reveals the various actors involved and their (formal and informal) relations. The well-developed practice of cooperation between the actors contribute greatly to the success of the scheme, even though some challenges could be detected. The social capital (trust, knowledge exchange, social cohesion etc.) within the network is crucial for the effectiveness of the measures and the motivation of farmers to join a collective.

This study focuses on one of the forty existing collectives, located in the South-east of the Netherlands. The collective Natuurrijk Limburg covers the whole area of the Province of Limburg and has about 1300 members, making it the largest of all Dutch collectives.

This research uses Social Network Analysis (SNA) which is an umbrella term for a body of research methods that try to analyse underlying structures of social networks. Important actors, as well as their formal and informal connections, motivations and influences are inquired. Relevant interviewees were identified through referral sampling and eight interviews were conducted in total. Thereby we ensured to cover different views from farmers, representatives of the collective as well as governmental organizations. Five respondents are on the provincial level in Limburg, while three are on the national level of the ANLb (ANLb – Agricultural Nature and Landscape Management).

The research was guided by the following two research questions:

  1. Who are the central actors and how do they interact?
  2. In which way does the presence of social capital influence the functionality of the network?

Governance Tasks are Decentralized and Partly Outsourced from Governmental Responsibility

The formal network representation (Figure 1) shows the decentralized approach of the agri-environmental program. Basically, the framework conditions are set on EU and national level but the province is the responsible authority that carries out the program in collaboration with the collective through the so-called “front-door-back-door”- approach of contracting. However, governance tasks are shared among different actors in a more complex way leading to cross-level feedback loops.

Fig. 1: Network representation of formal relations

The province is involved in decisions on the national framework of the program. There is an execution unit for nature related issues from the 12 provinces (Bij12) that supports them with information exchange and advice. In this way, regional concerns are considered in fundamental decisions. In addition, regional interests from the collectives are represented by their umbrella organization BoerenNatuur through participation in the national steering meetings. They are the voice for the collectives. BoerenNatuur also disseminates information from government or nature conservation organizations to the collectives. As an important service for the collectives, BoerenNatuur runs an IT-system that allows the collectives comfortably to indicate which measures are implemented at plot level. The very well-designed IT-System increases also increases flexibility by enabling a “last minute management”. The role of BoerenNatuur as a linking actor is not to underestimate. Yet, interviewees on local level did not name them as important because they may have no direct contact with them.

Regarding the checking of the agreed measures, there is a parallel structure. Central government authorities (RVO and NVWA) audit the fulfilment of the contract at an administrative level and on a random basis also at the field level (on-the-spot checks). The collective itself undertakes checks at field level which often help to identify difficulties in fulfilling the contract early on when adjustments are still possible. In consequence, the province decides on sanctions in the form of reduced payment to the collective in case the controlling agencies detected errors. The collective however decides how they deal with non-compliance of individual farmers according to their statutes (e.g. “red card” with the requirement to repeat the measure, reduced payment etc.).

The Importance of Social Capital for the Governance Network

Informal relations between the actors make the network much denser (see Figure 2). These relations are important for knowledge and information exchange in parallel to the formal communication channels. They also connect actors who are not connected formally, e.g., the collective and nature conservation organizations, or the regional water board, who have ecological expertise and data that are necessary to plan targeted measures. Another example is the integration of the farmers’ association in Limburg who contribute agronomic expertise and have certain influence on the members. Informal relations can be seen as a complement to the formal ones.

representation of  actors and their relations

Fig. 2: Network representation showing both formal and informal links. Size of nodes indicates how well an actor is connected

The social cohesion within the collective, among members and between members and the organization is important to motivate members to engage in the program. Therefore, the collective organizes meetings and exchange of small groups on the field. Since Natuurrijk Limburg is a large collective, there cannot be personal relationships between all members. The nested structure of four local sub-collectives who can bring members in their territory together helps to maintain connectedness to the collective at the regional level.

Hence, it is important that the staff at the regional level also tries to be in direct contact with members. In that sense, the fieldworkers play an essential role. They are hired by the regional collective and maintain the direct communication with members through providing advice on site. They do the on-site checking of the agreed measures for the collective. They do this in dialogue with the members of the collective, which contributes to a feeling of trust in the organization and the program in general.

Social capital also facilitates cooperation between heterogeneous actors that differ in organizational backgrounds, interests, or formal power hierarchies. Joint evaluation of collective and province on a regular basis on how the program works is important so that solutions to potential bottlenecks can be discussed. Besides planned budget cuts several interviewees stated a lack of support from the province, meaning rather the decision-makers than the people from the administration, in terms of developing a shared vision and promoting the collectives’ work in the region. However, regarding the formal contracting, the collective and the province work together efficiently. The fact that individual farmers no longer need to negotiate with the government in case of dissatisfaction on how measures were carried out is highly appreciated by all actors.

This text is an excerpt of a research note written by Berner, R. & Barghusen, R. (2022)

 Check out this blogpost featuring the  developments in the two Dutch Contracts2.0-Case studies. 

Photo by Harm Kossen (Natuurrijk Limburg)