For the Commission to understand the reality of UK food, farming and countryside, we need to go on the road. Between April and November 2018 our team will wend its way through dozens of villages and towns throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, listening to people who have been much talked about but little heard in debates on food, farming and the countryside, and recording what they tell us about their hopes, needs, challenges and success stories.
The bike tour is emblematic of the Commission’s intentions to talk to people in rural communities around the UK about what matters to them. By getting on a bike and going to where people are, mainly by invitation but otherwise simply through showing up out of interest and curiosity, we hope that we demonstrate that we are serious about involving the broadest cross section of citizens and communities in our work. We are showing up in high streets, supermarkets, farmers markets, livestock markets, schools, sheltered housing, health centres, community centres, workplaces and the pub. We are meeting people where they are, to talk to people about what matters to them, about where they live and work, in language that is simple, straightforward and familiar.
On the bike, we are carrying our ‘engagement tools’ – cameras, iPads, and audio recording. We are using digital tools to capture responses to simple questions, but we are also inviting and encouraging people to record themselves or talk to camera. This alone will enable us to create a vivid picture of the rich diversity and complexity of UK rural communities and countryside (and urban settings too when we pass through).
The tour will combine ethnographic tradition with conversation and interview. Researchers will record their experiences through photograph, video and diary to share their personal perspectives and insights. On route researchers will be meeting with farmers, food distributors, manufacturers, retailers, contractors, interest groups, shoppers, parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, patients, school children and more. By working with industry experts and citizens the Commission aims to understand how public perception and values differ and align with the reality of our food, farming and countryside.
Our approach is to join people in their own worlds. We are visiting farms, going on tours of factories, attending WI meetings, hosting sessions in schools, visiting hospital catering and joining people in their supermarket trips. We’ll conduct our interviews in relaxed and informal settings in which the researcher steps into the world of the interviewee. The interviews will be minimally structured, to ensure conversations can flow and genuine values, concerns and ideas can emerge. This approach is intended to upend the pedagogy of consultation.