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Innovation, agricultural systems and the importance of context

Photo of Tom's remote lecture setup, in his home office in front of a window

The term innovation – like sustainability, resilience, and many others – can be used to the point that it is devoid of focus and without acknowledgement of context. Yesterday, as part of a guest lecture for the recently established post-graduate course ‘Agricultural Innovation’ at the Australian National University, Sustineo’s CEO, Tom Sloan, reflected on lessons learned from Sustineo’s experience working across different agriculture based projects in the Indo-Pacific (as a spoiler, it included the importance of understanding context).

The newly established course at the ANU is designed to help students and future professionals understand the complexities related to agri-food systems and the application to technological and systems innovation in different domestic and international contexts. Tom’s contribution was made as part of a lecture block focusing on contrasting agricultural innovation in ‘developing’ economies against what has been taught about innovation in ‘developed’ economies.

As part of the lecture title “Innovation, agricultural systems and the importance of context”, Tom spoke to the importance of understanding context – including the social, cultural, and political– when looking to apply new technologies, approaches, or innovations in diverse agricultural systems.

Drawing on Sustineo’s experience working across a variety of impact assessment, evaluation, and research projects focused on agricultural systems in the Indo-Pacific, Tom emphasised the need to:

  • understand local priorities and interests
  • establish meaningful partnerships with local institutions on local knowledge, expertise and capability
  • factor in as part of a holistic design process considerations for sustainability and long-term impacts
  • carefully consider the intended project beneficiaries and users, and understand the factors that might shape access (for example, gender considerations)
  • establish processes for learning, reflection and adaptation. 

Tom’s lecture this year continues our long-term association with the ANU, and particularly the Fenner School of Environment and Society, through contributing to university student experience by hosting student groups, individual postgraduate and undergraduate research projects, and guest lecturing. With many ANU alumni among our staff, we are proud to contribute back to this academic community, complementing the various international and domestic projects where we collaborate with staff across the ANU.

For more information on the Sustineo projects that Tom referenced as part of his presentation, see the links below:

If you have any questions, reach out to Tom directly via email:

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Sustineo acknowledges the Traditional owners and Custodians of this country and our Ancestors and Elders, both past, present and into the future. We also acknowledge the importance of our connections with land, sea, community and cultures.