Helping to shape post-crisis policy

07 Apr 2020

A professor at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) is leading a piece of research to gather evidence of how households, rural communities and small businesses, including farms, are adapting during the Coronavirus crisis.

Professor Tom MacMillan is Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy & Strategy at the University and also Research Director for the RSA Food, Farming & Countryside Commission (FFCC).

The FFCC was established in 2017 to think afresh about where our food comes from, how we support farming and rural communities and how we invest in the many benefits the countryside provides.

The project aims to gather evidence of community responses to the pandemic to help shape policy after the crisis. This includes capturing changes that might otherwise go unrecorded, such as changes in eating and shopping behaviour, the strategic significance of food and farming, supply chain logistics and community action.

Writing in a blog about the research, Professor Tom MacMillan, said: “When this forced change means our opportunity to learn is greatest, our ability to do so is most limited. People are struggling with worry, grief, isolation and unemployment, juggling work and caring, and in some cases lacking necessities. Those in the thick of it all and adapting fastest, from ministers and civil servants to NHS staff and community groups, are inevitably among those with the least bandwidth to reflect on the long-run implications. 

“It will be afterwards, therefore, as the crisis eases that these debates and possibilities will play out. But how much will we remember then of what we are doing, feeling and wanting now, of what’s working well and what’s failing? Some experiences will surely mark us forever. But how skewed will our collective memory be, and the political space for reconstruction, by our capacity to capture data in the meantime?”

The project supports wider efforts to gather stories about how people are adapting, around the UK and internationally, by collecting quantitative data on the extent and impact of such changes.

They are calling on other researchers, organisations and partners, also collecting similar data, to join forces.

He continues: “We would like to team up – in the interests of respecting the limited time and attention of the people we will be approaching in our research, to make best use of resources, and to create the most rigorous and coherent evidence base that we can.”

At the RAU, as Creak Chair, Professor MacMillan focuses on informing national and international policy relating to the land-based sector, the environment and food.

The RAU recently launched the BSc (Hons) Environment, Food and Society course providing the opportunity to understand the challenges of major global issues and help contribute to solutions. Find out more and about other available undergraduate courses here (