Development of a DOSPERT scale for farm businesses

Dr Catherine Milne, Scottish Agricultural College, & Dr Paul Norris, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

The aim of this project was, by linking expertise in SAC and the University of Edinburgh, to create a new tool for the study of risk in farm business decisions.  New tools such as this were needed for two reasons:

Increasing desires and actions to influence the decision choices of farmers.  The awareness of and concerns about failures of the market mechanism to achieve socially acceptable outcomes with respect to the management of resources in and outputs from agricultural activity is growing.  Examples include levels of ecosystem services derived from land management such as clean water, regulation of climate and provision of habitats. 

Knowledge gaps in the understanding of risk that is required to design more effective policy interventions.  Designing effective policy interventions to overcome the market failures requires a thorough understanding of the decision choices of farmers and others.  One important factor in decision-choice is risk.  Though this is recognised, understandings of risk that have recently been developed in non-agricultural disciplines, such as sociology, have not been transferred to the study of risk in agriculture, leaving a knowledge gap.  It is known that variations in the decision context as well as the decision maker can affect how risk is perceived and the willingness of decision makers to take risks (Hanoch et al., 2006; Weber et al., 2002).  Despite this awareness behavioural models of farmers typically assume risk neutrality and constancy, consequently their predictive ability is limited.  Furthermore, it is known that a farmer can have multiple simultaneous goals (Gasson, 1973) meaning in many situations that their decision choices are affected by multiple overlapping risks. 

In this project a tool previously developed to provide insights into how risks are perceived and risk taking behaviours in the general public was adapted for use in the agricultural business context.  This tool, the DOSPERT scale, developed by Weber et al. (2002) allows investigation of part of the decision context – how the decision domain (e.g. social, recreational, health and safety) affects risk perceptions and taking.  In the existing DOSPERT scale the ‘domains’ are defined with respect to risky decisions that members of the general public might face.  The range of risky decisions that farmers face and domains under which they can be grouped differ from the general public.  For this reason the existing DOSPERT scale needed further development by:

  • Developing of a risk question set specifically for farmers and establishment of a test set of domains.
  • Collection of data from a sample of over 160 farmers using the questionnaire.
  • Analysis of these data to establish a new DOSPERT scale for exploration of risk perceptions and taking by farm business managers.