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Achieving a paradigm shift with natural resource managers

Margaret Bridgeford

Resource Consulting Services, 138 Flinders Pde., Sandgate, Q 4017. Email


RCS has been delivering education, training and extension programs to rural enterprise owners and managers across Australia for more than 15 years. Its success at achieving influential landholder engagement and significant enterprise change with strong NRM outcomes has been widely recognised during this time. A combination of technical application, powerful change processes and an holistic approach to enterprise-wide planning and decision making has led to the establishment of a series of RCS learning programs, known as the Rural Profit System™. This paper considers the characteristics of the RCS approach which have led to this recognised success. Issues covered include the importance of intent in the engagement process, appropriate program design and delivery strategies, as well as a focus on the human element in achieving the required results. It also considers the potential to meet future requirements for landholder engagement to achieve the NRM outcomes that lie ahead for the broader community at a landscape scale.

Media summary

RCS is a private company which has been delivering significant NRM outcomes, through an holistic approach to learning, to landholders for the past 15 years.

Key Words

Holistic, social capital, staged learning.


“…Over 20 years of research and development has gone into the design of this unique learning process. Built on a foundation of practical science and action learning, the (RCS) Rural Profit System™ has now become the benchmark for capacity building in rural and regional Australia…”

This is strong statement which has been presented in RCS publicity material for several years.

As CEO for just over 12 months, I have been fascinated by the level of client enquiry that comes into the company across all aspects of their business enterprise over long periods of time. In addition, I have had reason to assess the extensive on-ground research that RCS has conducted over the years. I have also been interested in the frequency of communication that comes into the company from scientists, researchers and extension professionals around Australia requesting commentary, references, writing and speaking engagements. I continue to see papers and articles written by RCS staff, over many years, on a raft of issues, concepts and principles – all taking a perspective that adds value to the discussion of the health and wealth of our natural resources, surrounded by the productive business of agriculture and the intertwined social life of its families and communities.

So how has RCS achieved its success?


It is not simple to define the reasons for the success of RCS. In many respects, it is a little like trying to define culture – there are several valid answers. I have drawn three characteristics which I believe have been important to the ongoing influence of RCS in the world of agriculture.


The RCS learning process has been actively evolving since 1990 when the first GrazingforProfit™ courses were first delivered. Many factors have contributed to the company’s ability to grow and evolve over time. Of greatest importance, yet perhaps the most difficult to define, is the ‘intent’ of the company to meet client needs. If clients believe this intent has been achieved, it is through the practice of remaining eternally the student, as well as engaging in the discipline of active and reflective listening, combined with the technical and organisational ability to respond to these client needs. In addition, I believe that respect for the individual perspective combined with a clear understanding of future social, economic and environmental demands has contributed to RCS retaining the ‘challenge’ that the organisation puts to its clients and the long term client relationships which have allowed the degree of influence over long periods of time.

Program Design & Delivery

The common thread across all the RCS programs is the ability to incorporate a powerful change process, which provides participants with strong challenges, yet allows solutions to be found in a safe working environment. These programs are generally delivered in a group learning mode where peer advice and review become effective tools for change.

Chart 1: The Rural Profit System

The RCS Rural Profit System™ is a staged learning program which introduces science-based concepts to landholders and blends these ideas into an applied environment. This allows each person to reflect on the information from his or her own perspective.

The learning continues in stages, with the each stage asking the participants to look at their own business and do some real life exercises to help their understanding of the possibilities for improved business performance, incorporating the natural and human resource base. In addition, financial benchmarking against more than 4,000 business years is an integral part of the success of the RCS Rural Profit System™. As the process continues, each participant has the chance to extend his or her own knowledge to the level that suits their circumstances.

Of particular interest to the audience of this symposium, is the inclusion of the decisions surrounding the natural resource base as an integral part of the decision making process. Whilst the RCS learning process recognises that environmentally sound decisions about the natural resource base are fundamental to the future of the enterprise, no part of the equation is considered in isolation. This raises a challenge for NRM bodies whose charter is to improve the environmental results in our landscape. You may well ask “If the RCS learning programs are so effective at engaging landholders in the change process and generating significant improvement across environmental, social and economic outcomes, how can the environmental part of that equation be captured and allow us to focus on this critical issue?”

The answer is that we can focus on the environmental results. To do so in a positive and productive manner requires true engagement and understanding (rather than an imposed result) from the parties involved. The experience of RCS says that true engagement and understanding occurs when all 3 ‘legs of the pot’ (people, land and finance) are dealt with together. Others may have a different view. It is not for this paper to provide a single solution, but to raise experience which has demonstrated success.

The Human Element

(a) Social Capital

Whether or not we accept that all 3 legs (people, land and finance) should be dealt with together to achieve the best environmental results, the human element of engagement needs to be captured to achieve any results at all.

The RCS process has been analysed by many people over many years and several research papers produced as a result. Most notably, Sue Kilpatrick has been co-author to several papers which have assessed the impact of the RCS learning process, particularly focused on the increase in social capital which is achieved as a result of this process. The definition of social capital is given as “…networks, values, trust and commitment (which) facilitate learning and change in communities by ‘oiling’ the processes of accessing and acquiring new knowledge, skills and values.” (Kilpatrick & Bell, year unknown).

If we are to capture the human element to achieve environmental change, then building social capital in our communities is a powerful enabler. Building social capital requires building the individual capacity.

(b) Individual Capacity

Individual capacity is dealt with in the RCS learning process as a part of the interchange between ENERGY and CAPITAL. Capital provides the physical, financial, intellectual and natural resources to develop business and society. Energy on the other hand, is what gives individuals the capacity to harness and utilise these resources effectively, as shown in Chart 2. (drawn from a paper by David Hanlon, RCS 2005, for his forthcoming book)

Chart 2: Matching capacity with resources

The four areas of capital are:

  • Human: in the form of labour and intelligence, culture and organisation
  • Financial: in the form of cash, investments and monetary instruments
  • Manufactured: including infrastructure, machines, tools and factories
  • Natural: which comprises resources, living systems and ecosystem services

In our western societies, it seems that our balance sheets are very good at accounting for the tangible assets, but ignore the contribution of natural capital and human capital.

The four forms of energy focussed on are:

  • Spiritual: which is our sense of purpose.
  • Emotional: which is controlled by our self-confidence, self-control, social skills and empathy
  • Mental: which is fuelled by mental preparation, visualisation, positive self-talk, effective time management and creativity
  • Physical: which is the fundamental source of fuel and is maintained by a balance of exercise and diet

David Hanlon has drawn from his desk research and professional experience to conclude that human beings are under-stressed spiritually and physically, and over-stressed mentally and emotionally.

If our aim is to match our capacity with our resources, we need to recognize that improvement in our natural capital will be achieved through recognizing the role of human capital and the utilization of its relevant energies in a balanced way.


A major demand of the current environmental focus is to create change at a ‘landscape scale’. To achieve this change across sub-catchment and whole catchment regions, change must first of all occur at enterprise level. As discussed above, this change requires the involvement of the human element. Enterprise monitoring procedures provide information on what has been done individually, whereas spatial monitors provide information on the design and effect of this at a landscape level(eg water runoff, reduced soil loss, remnant vegetation, wildlife corridors, etc.)

Individual Enterprise Results

The RCS programs have been delivered for 15 years to individual enterprise owners and managers helping to achieve single enterprise change. Results have varied from small impact to significant property redesign bringing about substantial NRM outcomes, including

  • Better and continuous ground cover
  • Reduced fire incidence
  • Reduced mechanical intervention
  • A grazing system which incorporates adequate rest for plants
  • Rest for root development
  • reduced fertiliser useage
  • Increased rainfall infiltration/water holding capacity/water use efficiency
  • Increased biological activity
  • The provision of comfort, oxygen, water and food for plants, animals, insects and microbes. (Earl & Jones, 1996; Joyce, 2000)

Landscape Results

Landscape scale change has not been attempted with the RCS learning programs. After 15 years of individual enterprise change, the foundation has been laid for these RCS learning programs to contribute, at a new level, to our future environmental health through group learning processes with landscape scale engagement. RCS has begun this approach with the development of new programs which are designed to be delivered with an enterprise focus within the context of landscape scale change. The time is right to utilise the extensive knowledge, skills and abilities of this highly professional organisation and combine them with the landholder and broader community demand for the preservation and more efficient use of our natural resources. As Mike Berwick, Chairman of Far North Queensland NRM Ltd., said recently, “We (NRM bodies) will survive or sink based on the trust we can build with the community and landholders” (Qld Rural Press Club, September 2005).


Success rarely occurs in the way it was planned. For RCS, success remains an evolutionary experience. For the clients who have benefited from the RCS learning programs, success has taken many years of focus and commitment. For our future environment, the opportunity exists for RCS to contribute at the landscape level in a planned manner, whilst retaining the focus on enterprise level change. This success will be achieved through a combination of factors, not the least of which will include intent, program delivery and design, and the human element.


Berwick, M., Guest speaker, Queensland Rural Press Club, Brisbane, September 2005

Earl J. & Jones C., 1996, The need for a new approach to grazing management – is cell grazing the answer?, Journal of Rangeland Management, Vol 18(2), pp 327-50

Joyce S., 2000, Change in Management and what happens – a producers perspective, Tropical Grasslands Vol 34, pp 223-229.

Kilpartrick S & Vanclay F, 2002, Communities of practice for building social capital in rural Australia: A case study of ExecutiveLink™

Kilpatrick S and Bell R, (unknown), Support networks and trust: how social capital facilitates economic outcomes for small businesses. Centre for Research and Learning in Regional Australia, University of Tasmania

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