From Knowledge to Invention: Exploring User Innovation in Irish Agriculture

O'Flynn, Patricia (2017). From Knowledge to Invention: Exploring User Innovation in Irish Agriculture. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000c699

Abstract

Improvements in European agriculture are framed in the literature as arising from an Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System with innovations provided by others for farmers to adopt. The motivators for farmers who invent useful products for themselves, without outside involvement, are not well understood in such developed countries. These inventions, often shared with other farmers rather than introduced to the market, arise from a process of user innovation (von Hippel, 2005). This thesis examines Irish farmers’ motivators in the creation and subsequent sharing or commercialisation of farming artefacts. Their motivators are conceptualised from a sociological perspective, using Bourdieu’s theory of capitals (1986). Employing a multi-perspective research design, methods include a content analysis of 210 inventions, semi-structured interviews with key informants from innovation support organisations, and in-depth interviews with farmer-inventors. The findings indicate that most farmer-inventors get great personal satisfaction from problem-solving and, being generally without higher education, use their tacit knowledge to create inventions that increase efficiency as a means to improve family farm viability. Despite efficiency usually indicating skilful farming, Irish farmer-inventors are frequently derided by other farmers who deem their inventing to be culturally inappropriate. Farmer-inventors with entrepreneurial intentions, willing to withstand such hostility, face financial and temporal constraints, while the help offered by innovation support organisations is often inadequate. As a result, some inventions with commercial potential may never reach the market. Farmer-inventors who share their knowledge and inventions in social learning networks, similar to communities of practice, accrue social capital that leads to the emergence of a shared farmer-inventor identity. This thesis contributes to knowledge about user innovation in developed country agriculture by offering deeper understandings of farmer-inventors’ social, cultural, and economic processes. It proposes farmers to be an underappreciated source of knowledge and inventions, which offer low cost farm-level solutions to support family farm resilience.

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