Many of us have been there…we’ve been asked a question in which the answer can be deemed controversial because the topic is based on emotion and beliefs. How do we respond? Do we get caught up in the emotion and passion of the issue and try to force our beliefs on others? Do we shy away or try to avoid an answer altogether by remaining silent?
Last week’s Sensitive Issues Media and Communications Training was developed to help all of us through these situations. It was a remarkable experience working with an amazing group of ladies, all passionate about food, but looking at food from a variety of perspectives and taking an issues-based approach in developing our team. Our team was comprised of a livestock expert, a manure expert, two food and nutrition experts, a communication’s expert, and myself from a crop production perspective. Special thanks to Dr. Chuck Hibberd, Nebraska Extension Dean and Director, for providing us a New Audiences Innovation Grant to partially fund this training. You can catch the conversation on Twitter at #SIMCT15.
We invited the Center for Food Integrity to conduct their Engage training with us, which was sponsored by the United Soybean Board. This training uses “the power of shared values to highlight industry trends and teaches strategies for using values-based messaging in daily conversations, and public speaking and media opportunities.” There was discussion, role playing, and mock media interviews. The training challenged me to use something I also just learned from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” training….Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood.
Essentially, ask questions. Understand why a consumer believes X, Y, or Z about food and agriculture. Universal values include:
Seek to understand the other person’s values by listening and asking questions. Then share by communicating about common values telling your food and ag story. We can’t really script this. We can’t be so vague that we’re not credible. For example, the following is vague and perhaps over-used:
By doing X we help the environment.
Instead, we need to be willing to talk about the hard issues with authentic transparency…to share our own individual stories.
I also desire water that is safe for my family to drink and desire for there to be enough water for future generations. That’s why my colleagues and I work with farmers to use research-based irrigation scheduling tools. Doing so helps reduce over-irrigation which can reduce the nitrate levels reaching our groundwater and the amount of water being pumped from the aquifer.
There were a few surprises for me. The first being the progress in one year (based on the Center for Food Integrity’s research) that we’ve made in consumer trust. This slide is essentially saying that 42% of consumers feel the food system is going the right direction (up from 34% last year). Men are more trusting of the food system at 48% believing the food system is on the right track. 32% of women feel the food system is on the wrong track.
Another surprising, yet encouraging piece of information for me to see is which people are trusted the most on sensitive topics. On the topic of genetically modified foods, University Scientists topped the list, a Scientist that was a Mom was second, and Farmers were third. This is different than other research I’d seen, so I was excited about this. It was a survey of 2005 individuals conducted in 2014 and was encouraging from the standpoint that we do still have an opportunity to share our stories with those who truly desire to know more about where their food comes from. We will never change the activists, but we can reach the middle.
Finally, I loved the following quote which is so true:
A picture is worth 1000 words; a video is a library.
They showed the following video from Similac entitled, “The Mother ‘Hood“. Instantly, my mind went to how easy it would be for ag to do something similar. We tend to be so divided, but division is killing us. We are in the business of providing a safe, affordable, food supply to the world…but beyond that, our diversity provides consumer choice. If you watch the video, consider what is the common issue that could bring all of ag together. I have some ideas and my team members and I have discussed what a similar video with diverse agriculture groups would look like. What are your thoughts and ideas?