We organised an interactive workshop way back in June. While I had made a few notes both during and after the meeting, there was no real need to engage with the outputs of the workshop until now. The reason for this is that we have been trying to set up an actual web page that we could pilot and test in the coming months. In order to do this, we have to meet with some IT people and convey our understanding of what the web page should look like. This is what we discussed in the workshop.
The workshop began with a presentation by our facilitator who gave the participants a short overview of the AGRILINK project, but mainly focused on what we want to achieve in Latvia as part of WP3. This part was quite easy, as most of the people in the audience had already been approached and consulted individually. This was a chance for them to get together and discuss the ideas that had already been mentioned to Dalija (the facilitator) and me.
After the presentation, we split into two groups to work on the topics that we want to address with the web page. Prior to the meeting, the facilitator and I had agreed that, given the professional experience of the people who will attend the workshop, we should work on processing and marketing. This neatly corresponds to the overall idea for the living lab in Latvia – a web page with relevant information on horticultural processing. In our case, this includes both production and distribution.
Both groups were given the task of thinking about the kind of information that should be made available on the platform and, crucially, how this information could be structured.
The conversation in the marketing group took an interesting path. At first, the members of the group were puzzled by the task because they thought that an introductory book on marketing would be sufficient. However, upon further reflection (which I initiated), it became clear that the book would most likely present matters in an analytical and somewhat abstract manner, rather than an issue-based format that would be more relatable for farmers and small-scale producers.
Consequently, we came up with a list of topics that would make things easier on the farmer. Price was the obvious one. Packaging deign was another. Target audience? Of course. However, this is where things became a bit more complicated. The reason was that the target audience for the products of small producers may be interested in specific qualities, which should be taken into account when thinking about the product range and how one will distribute the goods. Farmers’ markets and supermarkets impose different requirements, and consumers have different expectations. While no particular order in which these issues should be addressed was agreed upon, it was concluded that all producers should consider them. Maybe in a web layout? (see below)
The conversation on processing was equally free-flowing. However, food safety regulations and practical requirements make some aspects of production more important than others. Consequently, each of the different aspects of production belongs to one or two “stages”.
Involves communication with others (e.g. other farmers, advisors), which may lead to an Idea (unfortunately the webpage cannot help with this), which requires the farmer/producer to carry out a financial assessment (i.e. is the idea feasible, given the resources at your disposal).
Involves the choice of raw materials, an appropriate recipe and technologies. An eye should be kept on the need for tests
This stage mostly concerns packaging and storage. Appropriate materials should be chosen for the intended shelf life of the product. This also involves tests to ensure quality and food safety.
Protection of intellectual property and production techniques. The producer must make sure that his approach does not violate any laws.
If production requires significant infrastructural modifications, these should be made.
What to make of this?
The contrasting approaches to the task raise the possibility that different topics could be structured and presented in divergent ways to ensure that users find it easy to use the facilities afforded by the web page. Both processing and marketing may require the farmer/producer to learn from mistakes and revisit other aspects as the idea or product crystallises. However, it may still be the case that the farmer/producer needs a more structured approach to the processing side of things, while marketing should be approached more like a toolset.
In addition, it became clear after the meeting that even the advisors and tutors, whose profiles we are planning to include in the database, may find the web page useful. Despite the fact that the community of professionals working in the area of horticultural processing is not big, not everyone is aware of the knowledge and courses on offer, or knows of pieces of equipment that are located in a different institution. This means that the range of agents who could make use of the web page is actually broader than previously imagined.
Finally, the positive outcome of the meeting underlined that, in this particular situation at least, a productive co-creation process requires that the team tailor its engagement techniques to the specific characteristics of the target audience, without being afraid to take the lead. This was something we were hesitant to do in the beginning, and our attempts to move forward with our idea did not lead to significant progress.