A hands-on approach to technology transfer

Workshop pruning

A new series of workshops for members of Future Forests Research (FFR) is putting the latest scientific knowledge straight into the hands of commercial foresters.

The first event was a two-day Quantitative Silviculture Workshop. Held in Rotorua, it attracted a full-house of foresters keen to update their skills. The course content, quality of presenters and promised learning outcomes hit the spot.

This was important for FFR, which was formed as a partnership of industry stakeholders and research provider Scion to maximise the benefit of technology transfer for New Zealand forestry. Creating outcomes, not just outputs is the basis on which Scion and FFR research is conducted.

Scion and FFR are constantly seeking more effective ways of embedding research findings into industry practices. Producing research reports for FFR members had only limited success as a technology transfer mechanism. A proposal to elucidate research findings via case studies was knocked backed following consultation. The way to do it, said industry, is through more face-to-face contact.

Before the workshop programme was decided, potential participants were surveyed to gauge their topics of interest.

“The survey results helped us tailor the workshop content so it would be directly applicable to attendees,” said Dr John Moore, Scion’s Forest Management Science Leader.

“We condensed about 70 research reports into three topic areas and designed a series of practical and highly interactive workshops relevant to the forest industry.”

To ensure good learning outcomes, the workshops had presentations by industry experts and also applied forestry theory to real-life situations. Learning was achieved through frequent group exercises using empirical data and also field visits.

Another key benefit of the workshops is that they have been recognised by the New Zealand Institute of Forestry as counting towards participants’ continuing professional development.

Following the success of the two silviculture workshops, held in Rotorua in June and in Christchurch in August, the Scion and FFR team are now designing the programme for a productivity workshop scheduled for delivery at both locations before the end of the year. A third workshop on resource assessment is planned for early 2013.

Feedback from the silviculture workshops was very positive, with participants greatly valuing the opportunity to interact with their peers and to ask questions of individual researchers.

FFR Theme Leader Mike Riordan confirmed this feedback and said, "Participants liked the combination of targeted presentations, followed by exercises to reinforce learning”. One participant described the Christchurch workshop as “a fantastic event” and said “we need much more of this sort of stuff”.

Another unexpectedly positive outcome has been the number of sets of forestry data that have been sent in to Scion for analysis. Many forestry companies collect a range of data on their trees but now they understand that they can obtain commercial value by having these data analysed and using the results to improve decision making. It has also been a great opportunity for Scion researchers to learn more about current industry practices and challenges.

Scion and FFR are planning to hold workshops annually to update foresters' knowledge. They also aim to create ‘communities of practice’ where foresters can share knowledge and examine issues. The goal is to transform practice by improving the connection between scientists and industry practitioners. Follow-up surveys will indicate the effectiveness of this new approach to technology transfer.

For more information contact Peter Clinton