Ulster University has extensive expertise in the areas of SME development, innovation, entrepreneurship, and agri-food. The University works closely with local industry and regional bodies on developing programmes on entrepreneurship and business developments that are aimed at SME employers from the agri food industry. In 2017 Ulster University Business School established an Agri-Food Business Development Centre to provide sector specific support through teaching and research activities. Ulster University Business School has developed strong working relationships with a range of policymakers in the food sector and business development agencies. This includes representatives from Government Departments and other agencies for economic development and agriculture/rural economy. The Business School was previously involved in a transnational project funded through the INTERREG IVC Territorial Co-operation Programme called LOCFOOD (Local Food as an Engine for Local Business). This was a 3-year (2012 – 2014) transnational project involving 12 partners from 9 European countries examining policy for support and the development of best practice in supporting smaller companies in the agri-food sector. The Business School led on a work component on this project (work component 3 – ‘exchange of experience’) with responsibility for the project methodology and data collection.
Our research interests include the nature of the advisor-client and advisor-advisor relationship in the context of agri-food and we have research papers and publications on this topic. We would be able to bring knowledge from a previous European project (LOCFOOD) on support for food networks and the factors that facilitate and constrain network development and collaboration for innovation in agri-food. The project practically involved the documenting of support advisors/agencies across the European partner regions, best practices in support advice and gaps in advice. Recommendations on new approaches to advisory support in agri-food were made to policy makers in each partner region. Thus, we can offer access to existing knowledge on advisory supports in various European regions and insights into best practices, gaps in advisory services, and the barriers to the transfer of knowledge for innovation between advisor-client and advisor-advisor.
The regional AKIS in Northern Ireland is different to the rest of the UK in that under Northern Ireland’s devolved, regional, government, the model of business support remains largely public based and there has not been the same degree of pluralism and level of privatization of rural advisory services that has been documented in other parts of the UK and across Europe. However, in Northern Ireland advice for rural and agricultural clients takes various forms and continues to be supplied via a range of bodies and agencies. This raises interesting questions about how clients view the support advisory system and how they interact with advisors in differing models of agricultural and rural advisory systems (i.e. public or private based). At Ulster University we work closely with various actors in the Northern Ireland AKIS, particularly the key actor (CAFRE).
We would like to partner with others who have similar academic and/or practical interest in the advisor-client and advisor-advisor relationships, specifically to better understand the features of strong relationships that can lead to knowledge transfer for innovation. We seek partners who are able to identify and share best practices, new approaches and different ways of thinking on AKISs.