Meet the facilitator: Calum Johnston (SAC Consulting)

“I would encourage both industry and facilitators to come forward, because RISS  allows you the flexibility to pursue new ideas and to work through impactful projects in the Scottish rural and food and drink sectors”

Calum Johnston is a specialist consultant with SAC Consulting (part of Scotland’s Rural College), with experience in the agri-food sector, farm diversification, agri-tourism, farm retail, farm vending, e-commerce, and marketing.

He’s facilitated several Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) groups, including the Skye Mutton group, the Scottish PRRS Elimination group, the PolyProduce group, and the Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) group.

Here he tells us about the value of the RISS approach, how facilitators can bring the right people together, and how not being an expert in the field can make you a better facilitator.


“Facilitation is about bringing together the right people with the right skills”

“My role as a facilitator is not necessarily to be an expert, and it’s often a benefit to the group if the facilitator is not an expert because then they don’t have a biased view.

“To me facilitation is about bringing together the right people with the right skills, who can provide the best input to the farmers or the group.

“During meetings it’s the facilitator’s role to keep discussions going, with the aim of setting a series of actions for group members to take away and implement.”

Calum with the Skye Mutton Group's recipe competition winner Emily Haim, and fellow facilitator Janette Sutherland. The competition was to find innovative ways to cook mutton.


“The good thing with RISS is that it allows you the opportunity and flexibility to carve and steer your direction”

"RISS is one of the few initiatives that allow us flexibility with what we aim to achieve. With RISS you start with an idea, then the group can decide how to carve its path.

“The first meeting is crucial. It’s probably the most important meeting because that’s when you get everyone in the room and start bashing ideas around.

“We got the  Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) PCN project approved back in August, and there was some pressure to have the first meeting quickly, but I was well aware that we were heading into the busy harvest period. Given that the group is aimed at growers, industry, and agronomists, the timing wasn’t right to get high attendance so we held off until November.

The first meeting of the Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) group

“The key is bringing the right people into the room.”

“At the PCN kick-off meeting, I had four key industry speakers, so my role was organising and chairing the meeting. We had Kim Davie and Jon Pickup from SASA, and Stuart Wale and Andy Evans from SRUC/SAC Consulting: four of the most influential figures in the Scottish potato sector.

“I come from a food and drink background, and to put it quite bluntly, before I started facilitating another RISS group -  the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) group - I knew nothing about pigs.

“But the reason that group was successful was because I got some of the most influential people from the pig industry in a room together. We had vets, pharmaceutical companies, pig producers, and other industry representatives there. I’ve found that if you go to individuals in the group and encourage them to take a lead on particular activities, it empowers them to do it."

A large RISS group aimed to find a strategy to tackle Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) – one of the costliest diseases in the pig sector.

“The idea for me is that the facilitator is there to guide, not to take control. You want to allow the group the opportunity to develop their own ideas and it’s your role to help steer and make decisions based on the group's needs.

“The PRRS group has the potential to have a massive impact on the Scottish pig sector, and if it wasn’t for RISS, the whole project may not have happened.”


“Quite often farmers, industry and businesses have an idea but no one to take it on”

“The value of a facilitator to the group is immense. Often farmers, industry and businesses are really busy and don’t have the time to take things on. The role of the facilitator is to organise meetings, organise people, and get things done.

“You’re trying to work towards common goals, and you’re pulling the right people in, setting actions, setting objectives, and setting short terms goals with a longer-term vision.

“If I were to give advice to a new facilitator I would say – consider your group members, consider their workload, including the seasonality of agriculture, and ensure you are working with the interests of the group."


More about Calum

Calum joined SAC Consulting in April 2018. He has expertise across the Agri-Food sector, farm diversification and retail, e-commerce and marketing.

You can contact Calum by email or find out more on the SRUC website.

> Read about the RISS group trying to save Scotland's potato sector

> Hear more from our other RISS facilitators

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