Doing it together : technology as practice in the New Zealand dairy sector

M.S. Paine

    Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU


    The economic reforms in New Zealand (NZ) that introduced free market policies following the election of the 1984 Labour Government led to a rapid and extensive reduction in subsidies to agriculture. Over a period of ten years fertiliser subsidies and price support schemes were removed, the government extension service was privatised, and research organisations were restructured to function on a contestable funding basis. The NZ government pursued a policy of joint investment in technology development with the productive sectors benefitting by the development outcomes. These changes provoked debate among science policy-makers and science managers about the way research companies and commercial organisations could collaborate in research and development programmes. The research reported in this thesis responded to a need to progress understanding of the linkage activities currently operating in the NZ dairy sector and thereby assist science policy and science managers operating in the sector to improve linkages with commercial organisations. Specifically, how do organisations and actors link their activities to evolve technology for use in the NZ dairy sector, and how can an understanding of these linkage activities inform technology managers in the NZ dairy sector? The dairy sector was selected as a context with a reasonable likelihood of observing collaboration in technology management.

    A case study research design was used to investigate three programmes that involved some form of collaboration between government research and commercial organisations in joint development work. These programmes included: development and marketing of a device (CIDR); developing a sector-wide quality management system (SAMM); developing resource management methods for farming (SSGP). The Grounded Theory methodology was used to study each programme. In particular, this research followed the Glasarian school of Grounded Theory that emphasises the emergence of theoretical perspectives using the constant comparative method of data gathering and analysis. A procedure for questioning and comparison of field data guides the analyst to build and compare theory with other perspectives offered in the literature.

    The organisation theory literature has dealt extensively with issues of collaboration and technology management. This literature was reviewed with a view to an agricultural context. Two particularly informative perspectives were identified: Agricultural Knowledge Systems (AKS); and the Interplay Model. The AKS perspective sensitised the analyst to a constructivist view - theatres of innovation where actors and organisations negotiate and socially construct their knowledge with respect to their problem context. The Interplay Model emphasised that the emergent properties of collaborative relations among research and commercial entities were primarily a function of activities performed in practices. A specialised notion of practice is used in the model, whereby practice is a way of doing, that if asked, actors would explain their activities in terms of, 'the way things are done around here.' Practices, operating in theatres of innovation, are performed intentionally by actors. The above perspectives were combined by the analyst to investigate case study data in terms of activities performed in what was viewed as theatres of innovation.

    The CIDR (Controlled Intravaginal Drug Release) case study documents in four chronological stages the emergence of synchronising technology for managing dairy cow reproduction. Early development efforts were concerned with developing a device, whereas later activities focused on building protocols for treatment. The alignment of activities performed by those actors working on the programme was achieved in several ways. As actors worked together they acquired windows of insight into the practices performed by other actors. When these practices were interwoven with the delivery of professional services, trust and respect were required for the programme workers to collaborate. The Intellectual Property Rights emerging from the programme developments were periodically reviewed and renegotiated by appealing to the notion of a family or club that had a membership of actors from several organisations. The identity of the club provided opportunity to build innovative strategies for performing new development and marketing activities. The CIDR is depicted as contributing towards an emerging practice in the case study, in as much as the device formed part of an expanding scope of development that encompassed several dairy cow synchronising devices, protocols and concepts. Developers used these devices and protocols to embody the rules of synchronising practice. The practice of synchronising enabled developers to cross boundaries that might otherwise be imposed by organisations seeking to lay an independent claim to intellectual property rights. The continuity of emergence in the case of CIDR was worked out by the actors in a process of muddling through. By reflecting on their activities actors learned from past errors and redirecting their intentions accordingly.

    The SAMM (Seasonal Approach to Managing Mastitis) case study investigated how a sector wide intervention, operating under free market policies, worked towards mastitis management in the national herd. A series of interventions had been operating in the sector prior to the introduction of SAMM. Indeed, these earlier interventions assisted to 'prepare the way' for the SAMM, in that actors that performed different tasks in relation to managing mastitis in the sector were attuned to problems of mastitis and had developed tools and routines to cope with these problems. However, no specific organisation or profession claimed mastitis management as their domain of work, allowing the formation of a committee (NMAC) that fostered interactive activity to overcome problems of mastitis. The NMAC provided an interface for practices involved in developing interventions. Furthermore, the NMAC used the SAMM to embody the rules of mastitis management, that enabled farmers and others to act on mastitis in a way specific to their farm enterprise. The activities of the NMAC itself constituted a type of practice, referred to as mediating practice. The mediating practice of the NMAC constructed strategies to foster collaboration among organisations and actors. These organisations and actors learnt by reflecting on past errors and combining their experiences in the committee, that itself received institutional support. The dairy companies, who process milk into diverse milk products for export, were members of the NMAC and came to play an increasingly important role in the working out of mastitis management. The dairy companies used pricing policies for raw milk and the provision of information to support their farmer suppliers reduce the level of mastitis in their herds. In the case of SAMM problems were an emergent property of practice. Again the activities of actors were depicted as a muddling towards improved mastitis management, with changes in intervention programmes being wrought out of reflection on past errors. The mediating practice worked towards the facilitation of improved conditions for working on mastitis management, and for actors to learn and improve management strategies.

    The final case study investigated a Sustainability Study Group Programme (SSGP) that was following a participatory approach among farmers, environmentalists and researchers to work out an alignment of resource management and farm production goals. A pair of actors from farming and research backgrounds developed the SSGP and were referred to as programme leaders. These programme leaders encouraged other participants, who worked in farming, resource management and research activities, to join SSGP. Over an 18 month period the activities of the programme evolved methods for farming that helped align production and resource management goals, albeit, with considerable uncertainty about the programme purpose, or prerequisites for collective activity. A crisis of conflict between environmental and farm production aims catalysed a comprehensive effort to redefine the programme purposes. These efforts involved the building of shared needs, working from the needs of farmers, but encompassing the needs of environmentalists and researchers. The activities that redefined the programme purpose and workplans introduced a new. style of interactive work, whereby farmers, environmentalists and researchers were advocating one anothers'work to those outside the programme. The way actors represented the programme to others fostered an emerging integrity that evolved from the work performed in the programme. This emerging integrity enabled the use of more sophisticated forms of reflection on action, whereby actors were judging and positioning the work of one another in the overall programme.

    Part of the aspirations of policy-makers who advocated the reforms in NZ was to enhance the linkage between science and commercial institutions. This thesis did not set out to evaluate the reforms, so much as to identify new opportunities for collaboration in free market settings. Recommendations to actors and organisations, operating in free market contexts for innovation, are restricted to situations similar to the NZ dairy sector where a vertically integrated market channel is accompanied by sector programmes for young entrants to farming and coordinated information support services to farmers. Notwithstanding this qualification, it appears an appreciation of the way actors work together may assist programme managers in theatres of innovation and the management of technology. In particular, how these activities are coordinated and emerge as refined strategies for acting on problems and issues that are themselves emerging out of collective work. This thesis concludes that there is a need for further development of methodologies that can enhance analysts' abilities to observe activities in participatory working contexts. These methodologies ought to equip field analysts and programme managers who are grappling with contemporary issues of technology management in their conventional work.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Röling, N.G., Promotor
    Award date24 Jun 1997
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789054857327
    Publication statusPublished - 1997


    • milk products
    • dairy industry
    • technology
    • appropriate technology
    • diffusion of research
    • diffusion of information
    • expert systems
    • agriculture
    • farm management
    • new zealand
    • artificial intelligence


    Dive into the research topics of 'Doing it together : technology as practice in the New Zealand dairy sector'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this