The Rural Innovation Research Group (RIRG) is a social science group that researches and designs innovative pathways for facilitating change and enabling social-ecological resilience.
We research critical challenges in farm decision making and practice change, agricultural workforce and technologies, climate change, community resilience, Indigenous land and sea management, and the governing of rural innovation.
We recognise that innovation involves complex interactions between technologies, people, places and policies. Applying theories of change and transformation, social-ecological resilience and innovation systems, we collaborate with stakeholders to produce relevant knowledge and co-design and facilitate processes for innovation. We draw on stakeholder knowledge and skills to build capacity for responding to multiple challenges.
Research partners include farmers and advisors; local communities; scientists and technologists, government and industry bodies.
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The Rural Innovation Research Group (RIRG) offers unique capabilitiesin engaged-social science research; co-innovation as a response to social, economic and environmental issues; and advice for new policies and capacity building programs.
Our capability in engaged social science research focuses on the people and practices involved in implementing change. Our research capability is deployed across four domains of innovation and change:
- Transitions in farming systems and rural communities (including workforce change, succession and drought resilience)
- Agricultural extension and change management
- Processes in natural resource management (including climate change adaptation, water resources management)
- Agricultural knowledge and innovation systems.
Our engaged-research approach helps us target and tailor the research to the goals of our stakeholders. We co-develop research agendas, translate research outputs into implementable actions and foster joint learning and capacity building.
In our research practice we design, coordinate and deliver participatory events that build innovation capacity. We continually build and maintain networks for innovation in Australia and internationally. We have collaborated with communities, agricultural industries, governments, and philanthropic foundations to progress thinking and collective action required to drive social transitions and agricultural transformation.
We also prepare Australia’s future change leaders through our research and education programs.
Engaged-social science research
The social science research we deliver provides solutions for the innovation and change challenges faced by stakeholders.
Our research involves co-design of innovative responses to social, economic and environmental issues with stakeholders.
Advice, policy formation and capacity building
Our past and current research, as well as international networks, position us to provide thought leadership into agricultural policies as well as directions for capacity building programs.
Our researchers and graduate researchers.
Professor Ruth Nettle
Lead, Rural Innovation Research Group
Ruth Nettle leads the Rural Innovation Research Group. This team of social scientists are recognised nationally and internationally for their engaged-research practices directed toward the critical issues of innovation and change in farming systems, rural communities and in human and natural resources management. Ruth's personal research interests include: rural workforce development; the role of extension in rural change; multidisciplinary research, development and extension; and farming systems change.
Dr Margaret Ayre
Senior Lecturer (Rural Innovation and Adaptation)
Margaret Ayre works on transdisciplinary projects investigating responses to climate variability, effective catchment management and agricultural and regional development. Her research interests are in the production of scientific knowledge and the relationship between science, technology and society in natural resource management policy and practice, agricultural development and Indigenous community-based land and sea management.
Dr Michael Santhanam-Martin
Lecturer (Agricultural Production Systems)
Michael Santhanam-Martin conducts collaborative research with agricultural industries and rural communities on topics including farm work organisations, farm workforce and the social dimensions of sustainability.
Dr Kaitlyn Height
Tutor in Rural Innovation
Kaitlyn Height’s doctoral thesis explored the ways in which social norms have the potential to influence the management of rural, private property. Her research interests include using applied social science to improve land and natural resource management policy and practice, particularly through exploration of social capital and collective action.
Research Fellow (Rural innovation, adoption and adaptation)
Nikki Reichelt leads and contributes to research that focuses on co-designing innovative ways to enable farm practice change, enhance agricultural advisory services and support the adoption new agricultural technologies. She is currently a key researcher in exploring and developing adaptation pathways to future regional climate change scenarios for the red meat livestock sector.
Awards: Australia Awards for Africa 2013. Master of Agribusiness, Deans Honourss List 2014. Master of Agribusiness Class, Melbourne International Research Scholarship 2017. Doctor of Philosophy (Agricultural Sciences). Project: A study into how stakeholder power relations affect agricultural extension service delivery in a pluralistic agricultural innovation system: A case study of Homabay County in Kenya.
Awards: Doctor of Philosophy (Agricultural Science), the University of Melbourne. Project: Dairy workforce development: Attraction and retention of skilled migrants to the Australian dairy industry.
Awards: Doctor of Philosophy, the University of Melbourne. Project: Social dimensions, influence and attitudes of Victorian lamb producers around the adoption of improved genetics generated by evaluation services.
Awards: Bachelor of Science (Hons), Deakin University. Master of Agricultural Science, the University of Melbourne. Master of Divinity, Melbourne College of Divinity. Project: The Logic of innovation: how institutional logics shape innovation performance in Australian agriculture.
Awards: Bachelor of Science, Master of Management (Technology), Master of Marketing, Master of Education, the University of Melbourne. Postgraduate Diploma (Strategy and Innovation), Postgraduate Diploma (Organisational Leadership), the University of Oxford. Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Fellow of the Institue of Managers and Leaders.
Project: What are the gaps in the Australian Agricultural Technology (AgTech) Innovation System that are limiting Agricultural Technology being commercialised and not delivering the potential economic, social and /or environmental returns?
As applied social scientists, we work closely with our research partners to maximise engagement and impact in real-world contexts.
Our social science expertise in qualitative and quantitative research and analysis includes:
- Co-design and facilitation of participatory and action research
- Design and facilitation of focus groups and workshops
- Case study approaches
- Design, delivery and statistical analysis of surveys.
Our research engages with the social, cultural and institutional dimensions of change; assists community, industry and government stakeholders in building adaptive capacity and resilience to a range of challenges; and promotes socio-economic equity for Australian and international communities.
Collectively, we also bring diverse disciplinary backgrounds and prior knowledge, which informs our collaborations with research partners. This includes agricultural extension, farming and livestock production systems, natural resource management, disaster risk management, cultural geography, environmental sociology, veterinary science, agricultural engineering, forestry and community engagement processes.