I have spent my first month as CEO visiting all of the eight AFBI sites, meeting with staff, and listening carefully to their comments.
I wanted to hear first-hand how managers and staff perceive AFBI – the good points, the less good points and any views on the way forward.
Feedback was consistent across sites. They felt that AFBI’s main strength was the knowledge of the workforce, and AFBI’s multi-disciplinary scientific capability.
There were many important messages on key areas that needed to be developed including an AFBI strategy, promotion and reward mechanisms, financial and data management systems, costing models, and improved consultation and decision-making processes.
From my own observations, general administrative support and resource also need to be strengthened to allow scientists to be accountable and to concentrate on science without an overly onerous administrative burden. These themes are not new – and feature prominently in an engagement survey carried out in 2009.
AFBI was created 10 years ago, and it is clear that now is the time, with the help of managers and staff, to review the current operation and develop ways of making it work more effectively and with enhanced outcomes. There is clearly an appetite among colleagues for the changes needed to make this happen and I believe that there is more than adequate talent among the staff groupings to embrace the challenge of building a robust and sustainable organisation.
AFBI is not an island. In general, its strength is in translational research – taking basic, fundamental research from the universities, and translating it into application for the benefit of the agri-food industry and policy-makers, through knowledge exchange partners such as CAFRE.
Our aim needs to be defined by commitment to a shared vision. To achieve a holistic approach from the “petri dish to the producer” requires collaborations and partnerships with key institutions in Northern Ireland – the universities, CAFRE, DAERA, and the industry itself. I have already started a series of visits to scope possibilities and to seek views from other institutes.
My goal is simple, yet ambitious: to position Northern Ireland as an exemplar in its holistic approach to innovation and application in agri-tech. This is particularly timely, as the UK government embarks on a programme of major strategic investment in agricultural technologies in its bid to make the UK a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation, and sustainability, contributing to global food security and international development.
Of course, there are external complexities – including the effect of Brexit, and we will be working closely with DAERA to ascertain the impact of Brexit and the implications for the NI agri-food industry. However, we must remain focused on the mission of the Institute and continue to develop both our internal infrastructure and external relationships to reshape AFBI in a period of new opportunity for agriculture, the environment, and food security. I will keep stakeholders informed of progress as we work together in creating a bold new vision for AFBI for the next 10 years.
With kind regards
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