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Farm veterinarians are part of the knowledge-based economy in which professionals earn their livelihood by selling their expertise directly to clients. They face complex and ever-changing calls on this expertise. How do they keep their knowledge of livestock health and production up to date in practice?
ACCORDING to the standard formulation of knowledge transfer, ‘field professionals’ such as veterinary surgeons act as intermediaries bringing science to the farm. Undoubtedly they do this, but findings from our research into the role of field advisers in knowledge sharing in the UK show that, in addition, vets actively broker different types of knowledge apart from formal science, and also generate new knowledge themselves. Does the profession appreciate this brokering role sufficiently? And should greater attention be paid to the knowledge generated ‘on the job’?
As part of an Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project entitled ‘Science in the Field’, we interviewed and shadowed field advisers (vets, ecologists and land agents), their professional associations and land managers. Our interviews with the field professionals revealed the complexity of their knowledge sources. Professional associations were the most important source, through programmed CPD training, websites, publications and meetings of specialist divisions. Vets also updated their knowledge through other channels, including the internet, books, journals, magazines and circulars. These extraprofessional sources tended to relate as much to regulatory knowledge (such as policy or guidance documents) as to scientific knowledge.
Working vets complained that they lacked time to refresh their scientific knowledge. They considered that most scientific output was not relevant or applicable to what they did. They expressed concerns about the shift in public funding away from applied work towards ‘blue-sky’ research. Some complained that published science was inaccessible, and most expected their professional organisations to filter out and synthesise information about scientific developments relevant to their …