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Chair Update: Andrew Watters

Andrew Watters, Nuffield New Zealand Chair
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This time of the year is a busy period for trustees, selecting and presenting our 2019 Nuffield scholars.  The process is robust and involves shortlisting, referee checks and of course the interview process.  It all culminates with the announcement in the Banquet Hall of Parliament in early November. 

You will see from the profiles that we have very good hands-on farmers in this year’s selection with representation in dairy, sheep & beef, fibre, arable sectors.  It is also notable that the topics initially selected (which can change) are very outward/ market/ customer focused in recognition that the challenges and opportunities facing many sectors are more about the how and why of what we are doing on-farm than the what. 

We obtained excellent feedback from this year’s scholar announcement event.  Prior to the Awards, we had a highly valuable two-hour session engaging returning scholars and programme partners on topics and perspectives facing NZ and global agriculture.  And at the formal announcement at Parliament more than 75 people enjoyed hearing perspectives on the 2018 Scholar’s preliminary insights on their research topic which included challenges of setting environmental policy, the physical limitations of moving to low carbon energy systems, the need to optimise farm systems within environmental limits, the need for NZ agriculture to up its game on biosecurity and the opportunities for high value nutritional ingredients. 

One notable fact that we will be addressing in future selections is the lack of diversity amongst our scholar group.  We are under-represented this year in horticulture, in Maori agribusiness and in women scholars.  This isn’t an issue of selection, it is an issue of ensuring that we get a sufficiently diverse group of applicants.  We will be developing some plans to address this for the new year.  The answer is probably a mix of better engagement with our business partners and sponsors around candidate nomination and some more activity in the regions. 

Since our last Enuff, I am pleased to confirm the appointment of Louise Webster as an independent trustee.  As noted on our website, Louise brings a different skill set based around technology, innovation and leadership development.  Louise will join the Trust Board in January following a six-month sabbatical in Europe looking at the agri-food and other sectors.  We look forward to her contribution helping us ensure we remain relevant in a fast-changing world. 

I can also report on progress on the Thought Leadership or Rural Communities project.  Utilising the ‘Good to Great’ hedgehog as an organising concept, we have confirmed as a Trust that we are passionate about “Growing New Zealand through thriving rural communities”.  We are working on the other two components of the hedgehog but believe we can be world’s best at “Developing rural leaders that can solve (or untangle) wicked problems”.  And finally, we think that our real economic engine (how we secure ongoing funding) is “delivering leaders, and cost-effective solutions, that can address wicked problems” for our programme partners and sponsors. 

A wicked problem is defined as a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements that may be difficult to recognise.  An effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may create other problems.
 

The trend towards commoditisation, the need to meet environmental standards, climate change, the role of genetic engineering, attracting young kiwis to work on farms are all examples of wicked problems.  Often these problems are across industry rather than within industry silos. 

As an organisation, we have limited resources so we need to crawl before we walk.  What we can do in the near term is ensure that our new scholars (Nuffield and Kelloggs) understand the wicked problem concept and can develop their topic area into an aspect that we need to solve for the future of NZ agriculture.  We then need to better leverage the post scholarship period to ensure scholars can engage with our partners and the alumni to transfer their knowledge into positive action. 

Finally, as we near the Christmas period it is important to acknowledge the work of Anne Hindson and her very small team.  They are currently fully engaged in running the Nuffield (working with 2018 and 2019 scholar groups) and Kellogg programs (class 38 just completed last week) & planning for the 2019 courses starting in mid-January and supporting the Nuffield Triennial work being done by Michael Taylor and his group.  As we move forward it will be important that we match our desire for impact with resourcing and this in-between time can be difficult to traverse.