Influencing agriculture practice behaviour change and trust frameworks

Suzanne Long
Led by: Dr Suzanne Long, RRRC


Project Summary

The ecologically-determined water quality improvement targets for the Great Barrier Reef can only be met with significant improvement in farm management practices. Numerous programs over many years, utilising a variety of approaches, have worked with land managers and representative farmer groups, seeking to achieve high levels of uptake of recommended farming practices. However, these have only met with low-moderate success. There has been significant work encouraging and facilitating behaviour and practice change in recent years, including through, but certainly not limited to, the NESP TWQ Hub. Programs encouraging behaviour and practice change are set to remain a feature of contemporary reef funding programs. Thus it is timely to coordinate a synthesis of learnings in this domain. Increasing understanding of, and improving trust frameworks and behaviour change of land managers will lead to improved water quality to the Great Barrier Reef. Understanding the impetus, benefits and barriers of behaviour change for agricultural practice is a large step in improving water quality to the Great Barrier Reef.

extension officers and the importance of developing trust frameworks with land managers.


Project Publications
Case Study
Fact Sheet
Synthesis Report



Project Description

An intermediate outcome outlined in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan is: Reef communities are engaged and empowered to improve practices and behaviours beyond minimum practice standard for water quality improvement. The Queensland Government and land manager agencies have been delivering programs to assist farmers to change their practices without loss of productivity. The NESP TWQ Hub has funded projects that have evaluated programs, incentives, communication methods, the role of
The objectives and outcomes of this project are to:

  • Synthesise research and on-ground outcomes funded through the NESP TWQ Hub and draw from other relevant programs working in the GBR, that have examined best practice management and behaviour change in both grazing and sugar cane farming industries; and
  • Provide a summary of future research and actions required to improve the effectiveness of on-ground investment.
  • It may, where identified as important, analyse existing data that make a beneficial contribution to the synthesis.

The synthesis project will have the capacity to draw together information from projects across the entire scope of the NESP TWQ Hub, plus external material where relevant. NESP TWQ Hub investments in this domain have included social marketing, economic incentives and levers, building trust frameworks through collaborative projects with land managers, and considerations of improved governance regimes, as well as evaluations of past government-funded behaviour/practice change programs.


Outcomes from the following NESP TWQ Hub projects will inform the synthesis products:

  • Project 1.5: Legacy of the Lower Burdekin Water Quality Tender.
  • Project 2.2: A tradeable permit scheme for cost effective reduction of nitrogen runoff in the sugarcane catchments of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Project 3.12: Development of an offset financial contribution calculator for Reef Trust.
  • Project 2.1.3: Harnessing the science of social marketing and behaviour change for improved water quality in the GBR: an action research project.
  • Project 3.1.3: Harnessing the science of social marketing in communication materials development and behaviour change for improved water quality in the GBR: a desktop review.
  • Project 3.1.8: Innovative economic levers: a system for underwriting risk of practice change in cane-farming.
  • Project 3.2.2: The IMS 2050 Human Dimensions Project: cost-effective indicators and metrics for key GBRWHA human dimensions.
  • Project 3.2.4: Defining, assessing and monitoring Great Barrier Reef aesthetics.
  • Project 4.8: ‘Project 25’ – farmers, water quality and on-farm decision-making.
  • Project 4.12: Longevity and cost-effectiveness of previous government reef program investments.

The NESP TWQ Hub funded projects have evaluated approaches to deliver support for land manager leadership and mentoring through extension officers; the establishment of trust frameworks with land managers; and economic levers to ensure no net loss of productivity have been a focus of this research. The end goal has been centred on change in individual behaviour and increased stewardship which will lead to ongoing improvements in land management. The synthesis will contribute to the Human Dimensions priorities of the Reef 2050 Water Quality RDI Strategy 2017-2022.


Key project deliverables:

  • Synthesis report;
  • Summary for policy makers and managers;
  • Short video summarising the science and practical information required for behaviour practice change; and
  • Workshop with end-users to deliver main synthesis conclusions and practical information

Practical and achievable recommendations will be provided for uptake by both grazing and cane farming extension officers and agencies that are engaged with land managers to improve best management practice and actionable behaviour change. Recommendations will address whole of GBR behaviour change management in general. Targeted catchment scale recommendations will be provided to encourage land managers to monitor and assess their practices for water quality improvement as evidenced by participatory action research projects.


NESP 2017 Research Priority Alignment

This project aligns with NESP 2017 Research Priority: Improved understanding of the impacts, including cumulative impacts, and pressures on priority freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and species (Theme 1)

This project aligns with TWQ Hub 2018 Research Priority 2. Informing reef management in a post-bleaching/increased cyclone frequency world.


Project Keywords

Farming; Agriculture; Behaviour change; Best practice; Culture.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through JCU, GU, CSIRO and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.