Social Media for Enhancing Innovation in Agri-food and Rural Development: Current Dynamics in Ontario, Canada

Ataharul Chowdhury, Helen Hambly Odame


Communication for innovation in agriculture and rural development involves
interactive and multi-stakeholder approaches that mobilize ideas and resources
from the public and private sectors as well as civil society. Digital tools broadly
referred to as Web 2.0 technologies, and in particular, social media such as
Facebook, Twitter, blogs and webinars are allegedly channels of communication
for innovation. These tools potentially offer support for collective learning
processes and co-creation of knowledge. There is little evidence, however, to
substantiate that new media are enabling innovation by and among stakeholders of
agri-food and rural systems. Are diverse agri-food producers, rural entrepreneurs,
scientists or researchers, community-level volunteers and public servants
interacting more effectively in Web 2.0 environments? Are social media
reinventing agri-food and rural information flows? Employing methods of multiple
database searches, review of literature, and content analysis of 50 relevant online
communities this paper identifies emerging issues in the development and use of
social media in the agri-food and rural sectors with an emphasis on data from
Ontario and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in Canada. Findings suggest that the
uptake of social media is still in an early, exploratory phase associated with modest
opportunities and relevant limitations of Web 2.0 mediated multi-stakeholder
collaboration. Notably, there are gaps in giving and receiving feedback which are
intrinsic to dyadic communication as well as innovation processes. Limitations
identified include (a) conflicting perceptions among stakeholders about the use,
risk, credibility and institutional incentives associated with social media, and (b)
lack of capacity that enables use and development of appropriate social media
applications. The paper concludes by summarizing the importance of autonomous,
user-oriented applications of Web 2.0 tools in agri-food and rural systems.

Keywords: Social media, Internet, Agriculture, Rural, Innovation,
Communication, Canada, Ontario

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.