Innovation is viewed in economic theory as a critical factor contributing to the growth and development of industries. Thus producers, commercial organisations, government bodies and the general community are interested in ways to encourage enterprises to innovate. Questions have been raised over the level of innovation in small and medium beef cattle enterprises. The research reported here elucidates the economic roles of information and knowledge creation in innovation by small and medium beef cattle enterprises in the New England area of NSW. The acquisition of information and the formation of knowledge are essential constituents of the innovation process within enterprises, but theoretical explanations of how innovation occurs at the enterprise level often overlook the role of these key factors. This research advances the theory of the process of innovation as it manifests in small to medium beef cattle enterprises by explaining the centrality of informal activity to improve the capabilities of producers to innovate.
The inquiry reported here was guided by the following research questions:
• How do producers construct useful knowledge to implement change in their enterprises?
• How does informal activity in the beef cattle industry, as opposed to formal activity, relate to innovation at the farm enterprise level?
• What characterises the relationships between producers and other entities that contribute to enterprise development? and
• What informational dynamics lead to innovative outcomes that advance an enterprise‟s goals?
To provide empirical evidence of innovative activities and how producers obtain and use information, focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted with producers operating small and medium beef producing enterprises from the New England area of New South Wales. Corresponding interviews were carried out with the external information sources nominated by the producers to gain their perspective and account of events and the communication process. A qualitative analysis was performed to identify the characteristics of and variation between instances of innovation carried out by producers and to describe patterns in their processes for obtaining and using information. Three case studies of production processes and technologies commonly used in the New England area were constructed to exemplify the differences between enterprises in their implementation and in the information needs for different sorts of innovations. The three case
studies were of rotational grazing systems, improved and high performance pastures, and phenotypic/genotypic breeding technologies.
A producer requires knowledge of potential innovations and enterprise specific knowledge to be able to make decisions to implement changes to develop the enterprise. In this thesis, the importance and the process of how a producer‟s knowledge is developed through mediated learning processes is described. Whether learning is achieved using information obtained through experience from within an enterprise or from communication with information sources outside of the enterprise, what the producer learns from that information ultimately shapes their capabilities and hence, innovative activity.
Conditions for beef cattle production are uncertain and complex. Change to the relationships between an enterprise‟s many different components is a source of difficulty for the producer. Producers use routines for both the cyclical performance of productive activities and as a cognitive method of coping with the complexity and uncertainty of organising their resources and activities. They develop routines to carry out anticipated productive events and monitor routines to manage unanticipated change to the enterprise that arises from biological entities acting beyond the designs of the producer. Changes to routines create an opportunity and an impetus to innovate from within the enterprise.
Coincident with maintaining a productive order through adjustments to routines, producers use their knowledge to find complementarities amongst the complex relationships of resources and activities. Knowledge of these complementarities within the resource endowment enables producers to identify feasible resource configurations among the range of alternative combinations. Innovations change some routines but must complement other existing routines of the enterprise to advance a coherent productive system. This creates a tension for a producer between remaining knowledgeable to act purposefully within the circumstances of the enterprise and an impetus to innovate.
A producer acting alone often cannot solve the problem caused by this need to innovate and requires information from outside the enterprise. Producers utilise numerous information channels in attempts to gain suitable information. Aggregations of information channels between producers and information sources external to an enterprise function as networks within the industry. These networks have regular forms that influence the availability and quality of information and the way it is communicated to groups of producers. Individual information channels and the networks function
according to the social institutions, trust and relative strength of relationships present during communication.
Notwithstanding the diversity present between enterprises, these networks and information channels show that there are similarities between producers and their use of informal information for innovation. Producers benefit not only from the direct connections they have with information sources but also from the information channels they are indirectly connected to through the networks.
The results of the empirical analysis show that innovation is occurring in small and medium beef cattle enterprises in New England and that it is usually incremental, often taking place over substantial periods of time as producers acquire information internally and externally, process it and implement it into practice. Assistance from external sources varies depending on a producer‟s purpose for acquiring it but, in general, informal information is more advantageous for producers to innovate than information provided through formal processes. As shown by comparing the three case studies of innovation, the form and functioning of networks varies with the nature of the innovation, the nature of the information about it that is disseminated and who originates the information.
Communication between producers and information sources that incorporates informal attributes of communication allows producers to manipulate the information towards creating their own understanding and increases their ability to learn. Choices regarding media and channels for disseminating information should be taken in consideration of the diversity between producers so that each is able to obtain information that enables the appropriate knowledge to be developed to support innovation. Policy relating to the dissemination of information should look beyond the short term minimisation of costs to consider the long term benefit gained from a beef cattle community with substantial depth of knowledge accrued through interaction with industry professional advisors.