A ranch in Montana, USA

Day two of the ADBCAP Symposium, held on May 16, 2019 in College Park, Maryland, was designed as a workshop to foster discussion and rich conversation with people involved in agricultural biosecurity research and practice. Those representing both plant and animal biosecurity interests were invited to listen and actively participate in sessions that explored how risk and crisis messaging, stories, and “communities of practice” could support their biosecurity-related work.

What are Communities of Practice?

Communities of Practice (CoPs) are groups of people who share a common pursuit or interest. Stakeholders in a biosecurity CoP could include producers, educators, Extension professionals, researchers, consultants, diagnosticians, and practicing and regulatory veterinarians. CoPs emerge organically and need to be cultivated, not forced into existence or participation. CoPs require productive engagement, sharing of ideas and strategies, and a chance for stakeholders to determine their future direction together.

Storytelling and Communicating About Risk

During the early morning session, a series of presentations by Glynn Tonsor Ph.D. (Kansas State University), Matthew Myers (University of Vermont), and Timothy Sellnow Ph.D. (University of Central Florida), showcased storytelling as an important element of effective communication. Collecting and curating stories was embraced as a valuable activity for biosecurity CoP development. In a keynote presentation, Matthew Seeger Ph.D. (Wayne State University) explained the process of risk and crisis communication and the challenges of communicating in situations with high uncertainty.

In a series of presentations, Joel Iverson Ph.D. (University of Montana) led participants through envisioning themselves as part of and contributing in new ways to a biosecurity CoP. Participants discussed the importance of engaging with each other to learn about and improve upon biosecurity practices. Workshop attendees shared that CoPs can be fruitful sources of information and resources for individuals to connect. This is particularly true when CoPs consist of individuals from differing backgrounds who contribute uniquely to a vision or common goal of the community. Overall, participants reflected that the day was energizing and helped provide a way to cultivate their existing CoPs.

Communicating Biosecurity Concerns in a CoP

Joel Iverson PhD and Danielle Farley at the University of Montana
Joel Iverson PhD and Danielle Farley at the University of Montana

As members of the ADBCAP research team, Iverson and University of Montana graduate student Danielle Farley are interested in enhancing how people understand and communicate biosecurity concerns within their CoPs. They will explore the relationship of stakeholders to various CoPs and the functions of those CoPs. In particular, they are seeking to identify points of convergence where biosecurity information is shared, especially at operational and production level facilities in farming and ranching communities.

This research will lead to a deeper understanding of individual and collective identities across the spectrum of animal production stakeholders, and the development of biosecurity messaging tailored for each CoP.

About the Author: Danielle Farley

Danielle Farley is a graduate research assistant at the University of Montana, working with Joel Iverson Ph.D. in the Communication Studies Department and at the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities. She started her academic studies with a focus on human nutrition and dietetics, which inspired her to explore food systems from an agricultural lens. After six years of working with small-scale, community-based agriculture nonprofits and programs, she moved to Missoula, Montana to pursue a master’s degree in communication studies at the University of Montana. Danielle’s research revolves around critical concerns within the food system specifically through the academic lens of environmental rhetoric, corporate social responsibility in the food industry, social support and health, risk and crisis communication, and communities of practice theory.