This study examines the effectiveness of an experiential workshop designed to engender purposeful changes in the attitudes and behaviour of agribusiness managers. Delivered on 13 occasions across Canada, the workshops’ effectiveness was tested using an evaluation framework that combined a method previously used in agricultural extension, with an approach designed to improve the effectiveness of learning programs delivered in non-agricultural social settings.
Businesses do not operate in isolation; they each have suppliers from whom they source a product or service. They then seek to add value to that product or service prior to its sale to a customer or a final consumer at a price that exceeds its cost of production. Thus, a series of businesses that together derive value from supplying products and services to target consumers can be thought of as a value chain. Value chain management (VCM) describes a business approach where firms in a value chain choose to work together with a focus on improving the efficiency of operations within and between firms, and the effectiveness of creating value for the end consumer.
Agribusiness firms have been much slower to adopt VCM practices than firms in other industries. More widespread adoption of VCM in agribusiness requires changes in thinking and practice. This dissertation addresses the problem of identifying how agribusiness managers can be motivated to learn about VCM and then apply their newly acquired knowledge to purposely developing closer strategic relationships with other businesses. It achieved this by evaluating the effectiveness of an experiential workshop that reflects the theory of adult learning and the principles of VCM.
The research is located in the paradigm of social constructivism. It employed a longitudinal case study involving 279 exit surveys of individuals immediately after each of the 13 workshops, and 109 semi-structured follow-up interviews conducted an average of 14 months later.
Results show that experiential VCM workshops are effective in motivating agribusiness managers to acquire then act upon the knowledge necessary to develop closer relationships with other businesses. The majority (80%) of agribusiness managers who participated in the research changed how they managed their businesses, with 92% (56 individuals) of them attributing the changes in their behaviour to having attended a VCM workshop. In 37 cases, the changes made led to improvements in the financial performance of their businesses, 11 of which were very significant.
A positive correlation exists between individuals’ level of education, experience of marketing, and/or working outside agribusiness, and their propensity to change. Most likely to embrace VCM business approaches were individuals aged 45-64 who possess university level education, with 100% of farm managers from this group changing behaviour or already being involved in a value chain initiative. Recognising ‘why’ a change in their (or members’/clients’) behaviour is warranted was found to have greater influence on motivating changes in behaviour than feeling confident about knowing ‘how’ to change. Statistically less likely to have changed behaviour were stakeholders to whom agribusiness managers look for guidance and advice, namely individuals from government and industry organisations.
The most important elements of the workshops for facilitating changes in individuals’ attitude and behaviour were video case studies of successful value chain initiatives, and facilitated discussions where the audience compared and contrasted sometimes differing perspectives on what they had witnessed in the case studies, with their own situation. The workshop experience led individuals to connect emotionally with the topic of VCM in the context of their own situation, which in turn led many of them to commence an action learning cycle that resulted in changes occurring in their attitudes and behaviour.
The influence of external factors on determining whether changes occurred in individuals’ attitude and behaviour was sufficiently important that it was added as a fifth element (E) to Bennett’s (1974) Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Aspirations (KASA) framework. Bennett’s Hierarchical framework was also adapted to reflect the concept of taking a generative [versus successionist] approach to identifying opportunities to improve the effectiveness of a learning program.
The theoretical contribution of this study lies in its combination of adult learning theory, the principles of VCM, and evaluation theory, to develop then test a method that proved effective in motivating and enabling agribusiness managers to adopt VCM – a non-traditional management approach. Its practical implications extend to how agribusiness training is designed, delivered and evaluated. It demonstrates the value of experiential learning for engendering purposeful changes in agribusiness managers’ attitude and behaviour. It also highlights the negative impact that external factors can have on motivating and enabling changes in individuals’ attitude and behaviour, particularly among less educated farm managers. The research also led to the development of an evaluation model that enables researchers to more thoroughly identify how to improve a program’s effectiveness by determining for whom a program might work, and why.