Blog 5: Feeding the World or Just Groupthink?

One of the topics we continue to discuss with great passion, is the need for a better message on behalf of  U.S. farmers. The agricultural community is not the only one who thinks so. A story by NPR concluded that the message of “we feed the world” is no longer a message that resonates with the American public. The story cites a survey where consumers were ask if they think the U.S. even has a responsibility to provide food to the rest of the world. Only 13 percent of these consumers strongly agreed. Additionally, the article mentions focus groups where people said that if feeding the world means more industrial-scale farming, they’re not comfortable with it.

I guess I am not surprised by this, but I think most farmers will be. This is a message that agricultural producers announce loudly and proudly. How does this message continue despite consumers not relating to it? Is this a form of groupthink? Agriculturalists like this message; but if the public doesn’t, how do we change it? What did you learn in this week’s readings related to group communication that might offer suggestions to help? Are there theories of interpersonal communication at play here too?

Think about a specific group you are involved with. What symbols does this group use that have specific meaning for your group. Do these carry a different meaning for outsiders in the way the “feed the world” message does? Which stage of Tuckman’s model do you think your group (has) reached? Does your group have the four requisite functions of effective decision-making? How could knowledge of rules and resources help members of your group be more strategic in reaching the goals and objectives of the group?

The theories in the book related to group communication have underlying assumptions that group decisions are better than individual decisions and that some form of conflict (storming, direct discussion of issues, etc.) is helpful for these decisions. Do you agree with both of these assumptions? Why or why not?

19 thoughts on “Blog 5: Feeding the World or Just Groupthink?

  1. I really enjoyed this week’s readings. I really enjoyed learning about the theories pertaining to communication in relationships as well as group communications. Understanding both forms of communications is vital in not only my personal, but my profession life as well. In this week’s blog, Dr. Baker mentions a story done by NPR, pertaining to American’s view on “we feed the world.” I was surprised with the results that came from the story, but I also can see where consumers are coming from. The findings do not necessarily bode well for farmers or the industry. It is vital we get consumers back on board, and make them see the importance of agriculture. I personally feel that this message continues, simply for the fact, that farmers and the industry see it as such an important factor as to why “we do what we do.” While producers see it as a vital message, it does no good for the industry if the consumers no longer connect and resonate with the message.

    I do believe the disregard of the consumers attitudes towards “we feed the world” by producers, to be a form of groupthink. The book gives an example of, John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, which I believe can easily be compared to the situation facing producers. Producers see the strong connection between what they do, and the importance of feeding the world. Just like President JFK was sure that he was doing the right thing by training Cuban exiles to over throw Fidel Castro. I believe producers have the illusion of invulnerability, that is, they believe that the message they are announcing is so significant, that it won’t fail and people will be accepting of it. I also believe, members of the group, find their message to be right and steadfast, so that no one person can question its morality. The group could also be at fault, to a certain extent, through stereotyping opponents negatively. Farmers have a reputation of downplaying individuals who do not share the same beliefs they have. This reputation also falls into direct pressure on dissenters, as well as, illusion of unanimity. Individuals in the group are afraid to speak out on behalf of the other side, in fear that they will be ridiculed or thought down upon.

    Since the message is no long effective, it is vital that the industry come up with a new message to get the consumers back on board and working with the industry, rather than against them. In this week’s readings, I learned about the functional theory of decision making. I think this theory could play a substantial role in getting the industry moving in the right direction to help reach individuals with a new message. The theory consists of four steps to help a group make better, educated, and evolved decisions through finding the problem, coming up with goals and objectives, identifying alternative proposals, and evaluating the positive and negative choices. This process can help eliminate groupthink, and lead the way for a more effective way to get consumers on board.

    I believe, if there is person to person communication there will always be interpersonal communication at play. While I think every theory could some way, shape, or form fit in this situation, the one I found to be most compatible and useful is the relation and dialectics theory. According to the book, this theory explores how close relationships are characterized by ongoing, contradictory tensions and how they are reflected in and by interaction within the relationship. Due to the dynamics of the agricultural industries and the gap between individuals directly involved and the consumers, this theory would be beneficial in combating the tension between the groups. Another theory that \ could be beneficial, is the communication boundary management theory. This theory, according to the book, explains that we deal with the tension of revelation/concealment and of private information about ourselves through our use and management of boundary structures. I think this theory could help the agricultural industry build trust with consumers who have concerns about the industry. CBM could help the industry appear to be more transparent, through setting boundaries that were beneficial to both parties.

    Although I am not currently involved in any groups, I can draw on past experiences to help answer this question. In my undergrad, I was the treasurer of our Block and Bridle club. Block and Bridle was an organization that allowed students interested in the animal sciences to have different opportunities to further their educations and interests. One “symbol” that was very unique to the club was a “B” that included a meat cleaver and cutting board in the top portion of the “B” pertaining to the meat sciences and in the lover portion of the “B” had a show halter, pertaining to livestock showing. This symbol incorporates both sides of animal sciences that students might be interested in. To my knowledge, I do not believe, nor can I come up with any ideas, as to why this symbol would hold another message to individuals outside of the club. For the fact that I have graduated and handed over my position as treasurer, I would have to say, for the cohort of individuals I was in Block and Bridle with and myself, are in the adjourning stage. While the club its self has not shut down, all the members in my class have graduated and moved on. Our group was fairly efficient at decision making. We definitely were more effective at understanding the problem and establishing goals for the group. When it came to identifying alternative realistic proposals and evaluation of the positive and negative qualities of the alternative choices, I think we could have done a better job. The group did not always see eye to eye on certain things like, what community service project we should work on, our biggest event of the year Little International, and club activities. We always came to a conclusion, however sometimes it could have been handled better. While I think our group was extremely respectful of the rules, knowing more about resources could have been extremely beneficial for us. We had many different majors in our group ranging from agricultural animal science to agricultural business students. We could have reaped the benefits of different members knowledge, on different subjects, to broaden our opportunities and education.

    For the most part I agree with the book, that group communication is better than individual. It is always better to have the input of others when working on a common goal. The more knowledge and background you have combined, the more you will be able to get accomplished and the more ideas you can incorporate into your overall goal. The only drawback to this would be if the group could not agree or got side tracked, then individual decisions might be best. I also agree that some form of conflict is beneficial to the movement of discussion and creation. It keeps the process moving forward and rerouting it to include possible mishaps or flaws in the plan.

    1. Kelsey,

      Great post! I really enjoyed learning from you! I can relate in many ways to your thoughts. I was also a part of the Block and Bridle during my undergraduate career. It was an organization that was constantly changing in terms of what fundraising we were doing and what aspects of the club we were advertising within the community. Another big point was always recruitment within the College of Agriculture. The club spend a lot of time in Tuckman’s storming and norming stage. In constant to the organization that I shared which has been in existence for many years. It is interesting to compare the two because the Block and Bridle has also been formed many years ago but with new students always coming in and out it was always going through reforming where as the American Angus Association is composed of families and breeders that have raised Angus cattle for hundreds of years and already know how the organization should be constructed. In addition, I also agree with the book in regards to group communication being better than a sole individual. Keep up the good work and good luck in the remainder of the course!

      Thanks,

      Ashlyn Richardson

    2. Hi Kelsey,

      I agree the message of “feed the world” is no longer beneficial or effective. In fact, I almost think the message can have a negative effect on the agricultural industry because of the somewhat arrogant or praiseful tone many people find about it. As a whole, the industry could very much benefit from a better, strategic group effort to eliminate the groupthink. This creates a daunting task for the future because of the size of the whole industry, its many constituents, and much of the unknown, even as an agriculturalist.

      It’s interesting to me to hear about the Block and Bridle logo, as it would seem that could have been misconstrued to an unknowing person about some of the images used. However, I’m glad that was never an issue. It seems as though your group was successful in all areas of group work. Additionally, I find it great that your group could work together because of the many different majors encompassing the group. Even within the agricultural industry, I think we find there to be difficulties seeing eye to eye from one sector to another.

      In your last point of working in a group versus alone, I realized I forgot something in my initial post – both parties must be willing to compromise. When you mentioned the group not ever reaching an agreement, that could potentially be a drawback.

      -Anissa Z.

  2. Class,

    I really appreciate the reading as well as topics of this week’s discussion. Growing up on my family farm where we particular raise cattle that are not only registered Angus but also in the feedlot sector of the industry. Therefore, my family income is virtually based on the buying and selling of cattle that go into the food chain and trying our best to judge the market in terms of when to sell. It is vital to our operation that we continue to do our part in feeding the world. Although, in today’s society many individuals have zero interest in recognizing the important role that agriculture plays in our world. For example, with the organic and even vegetarian ways of some individuals today it is very difficult to convince that agriculture makes the world go around. In the blog, it stated that it is hard for most farmers to understand that the “feed the world” message is no longer prominent. My father and grandfather would have a much harder time reasoning with the fact that people no longer appreciate or believe that agriculture feeds the world. Many individuals do not associate the grocery store or restaurants etc. with agriculture. They do not realize that if agriculture was no longer in play that food would not be provided. Therefore, producers like myself find the message to be extremely important but many in the world have a much different outlook, and a lot of times they just have not had the opportunity to be educated.

    The specific group that comes to mind that I am heavily involved with is the American Angus Association. The association is for those that raise Angus cattle throughout the country. Due to agriculture being such a large part of my life I had to select an organization that is in fact involved in agriculture. The logo for our organization is a cow with an american flag. It symbolized Angus breeders from all states coming together to promote the breed as well as the entire cattle industry. Our organization is primarily in the performing stage because the association has been in existence for many years. The previous stages were probably completed years ago and currently the association is keeping up with the same aspects that were set several years back. Now as members we are all focused on preforming. I have been a part of other organizations that were in the beginning stages of being organized and the storming and norming stage were much more vital, in the stages where the settling in is occurring.

    Next, I agree with the book being more prominent than in an individual. It seems as though when several aspects of conversation come together that more decisions can be made and further conclusions can be reached. Not that one individual cannot determine an answer but when several minds and opinions come together many successful things can happen.

    I look forward to learning from each of you! Thanks!

    Ashlyn Richardson

    1. Ashlyn,

      I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this week’s discussion. I cannot even begin to imagine how frustrating and disheartening it is to farmers, who have dedicated their life to the daunting task of feeding the world, and not having consumers realize or acknowledge that work. Farmers definitely get the “short end of the stick” on a lot of issues, and I believe it is our job, as communicators, to help consumers make the connection and realize the importance of agriculture. I find it somewhat scary that individuals do not associate the grocery store with agriculture. This goes to show how far the gap has become with the industry and the consumers. Communication is needed more now than ever.

      I think it would be so interesting to be a part of such a well-established organization. The history of groups like the American Angus Association, goes to show this organization has done things right. I think it would be interesting to look at the different aspects of groups of individuals associated to a group that has been around for some time vs those of a group that maybe did not have as much success. You mentioned the logo for the group being a cow within an American flag. I think this was great branding for the association as it draws upon individuals to take pride in an industry that helped “build” such a great country.

      I agree with you and the book, that individuals in a group can be more affective at reaching a particular goal with more variables and possibly better outcome verse individuals working alone. I do have one disclaimer to this however, I have been in both good and bad groups. Sometimes it is better to assess the overall goal and come to a conclusion if it would be more effective to have one induvial work on something than have multiple people get involved and slow down the process.

      Thanks for your insights!
      Kelsey Tully

  3. Ashlyn,

    I admire your family’s operation and continuance to feed the world! It is kind of disheartening that we now have to use the word “convince” when we talk about agriculture’s importance in the world. Automatically, I feel defensive and a need to “convince” consumers that “agriculture makes the world go around.” As members of the agriculture community, we really need to find a different approach rather than convincing. Through this class and the rest of my studies, I hope to find a better approach to communicate more effectively with consumers.

    Another word in your post stuck out to me and that is “appreciate.” We expect consumers to appreciate what agriculture provides, but in today’s society, this may make some one a bit defensive. I compare this to my relationship with my significant other or his relationship with his kids, or my relationship with his kids. I love being selfless and offering acts of service to others, but am frustrated and hurt when no appreciation is shown. When I don’t feel appreciated, my attitude turns sour and I explain this to my significant other. While he feels remorse, he also explains that I can’t always EXPECT appreciation, sometimes people do things for the greater good of the household/group/community with no reward. Growing up, my parents raised me to appreciate everything they did for me – driving to practice, cooking, providing, etc. To me, the expectation was not absurd, but in today’s changing society, when you share that expectation, you may receive push back in return. With that being said, we have adjust our mindset because we can’t change the consumers.

    I apologize for bringing personal experiences into school, but I find actual experiences are sometimes the best way to relate. And Ashlyn, I loved your post! There was nothing negative about it!

  4. This weekend, my neighbors were over and asking about my career and if I enjoyed work. In return, our discussion led to the growing population and farmers “feeding the world.” So it is ironic that the NPR story was similar to our discussion. A couple of other points that were brought up was wasting food. How is it that parts of the world are in poverty and starving, but others have an abundance of food. Instead of focusing on increasing yields and production, why don’t we focus on distribution of food and not wasting. The conversation we had really resonated in my mind because I know he is correct, but I also know that food supply and yields must increase.

    At times, I feel that I am in a groupthink mindset and fail to engage in discussion, mainly because I am not confident. Instead of sitting back and listening to others converse, I took part in a conversation that I have passion for, agriculture. My neighbors aren’t part of the agriculture industry, but it helps that they are similar in their consuming habits and not “against agriculture.”

    Like I stated in my reply to Ashlyn’s post, we need to change our mindset on how we communicate with consumers. At times, we can’t “convince” in an agressive or defensive way. Instead, we must engage in conversation and learn about their concerns. There are some consumers that are in the groupthink mentality because they don’t agree with agriculture, but they are unsure why they feel that way. This is where agriculture communicators can survey, interview, question these consumers to discover and address their concerns and where there concerns started.

    Instead of focusing so much on “we feed the world” why don’t we focus more on different sectors of agriculture, or at least combine different topics. For example clothing, fibers, materials and other items in our daily life are produced from agriculture. But we can’t take the approach of “did you know that a farmer produced the materials for the shirt you are wearing..?” I would be interested in others ideas of how to communicate with consumers instead of convincing them of what agriculture does.

    Like my peers, I am not in a specific group right now, but was part of the Wheat State Agronomy Club all through college.When I first joined this club, all of the new members and the interactions with the new members were in a forming period until we made friends and felt comfortable around each other. For me I didn’t feel in the norming stage until I became an officer my Sophomore year. Until then, I sat back and listened to conversations and didn’t really participate, but we continually phased through storming, norming, and performing. Being a club the parks cars at the Agronomy Farm, we typically raised quite a bit of money. What we did with the money typically raised conflict. Most of the time, this conflict was resolved by looking at past experiences and how situations were handled. The club has a logo of The Wheat State Agronomy Club” with a few wheat heads through the lettering. I’m not sure that people outside the club would mistake our logo for anything else, but the name of our club and our state name is not completely accurate. Kansas may be named the Wheat State, but our biggest commodity is actually beef.

    I do agree that a group is better when accomplishing a task or goal, but there are always instances where individuals excel. Group member provide more input varying experiences, and different communication styles. I typically prefer to work alone, but usually appreciate group work when required and the diversity of the members.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      I enjoyed reading your post this week. According to Christopher Barrett’s quote in the NPR article, it seems that both your neighbors and yourself have valid points. However, what is an even more important take away from your interaction, is that the “feeding the world message” didn’t seem to resonate with your neighbor. The NPR article was published in 2013, yet many of us, myself included, are still guilty of using this as our “go to” message. To me, it makes sense that groupthink is at play here, especially when you consider the propositions of unquestioned morality and collective rationalization.

      I completely agree that we need to alter the way that we communicate with consumers. Persuasion by means of aggression seems to be ineffective. I think people in agriculture, are guilty of stereotyping our opponents negatively. By doing this, I think that our messages often come across aggressive because we (agriculturalists) are in a state of defensiveness. By inviting people to play devil’s advocates, we might be able to listen with to opponents with open-mindedness. This could allow us to craft strategic messages more effectively and prevent groupthink.

      You mentioned that we should focus on individual messages that pertain to specific sectors of agriculture, rather than messages that pertain to the industry, as a whole. I disagree with this statement. I believe that the different sectors of agriculture need to form a united front and craft strategic messages that apply to all sectors. Being involved in both the livestock industry and the almond industry, it makes me sick seeing these different groups attack one another. The dairy groups have attacked the almond groups by trying to pass legislation to prevent the almond groups from using the word “milk” in almond milk. To me, this is not doing the agricultural industry any favors. With so many different groups attacking agriculture, we don’t need the various segments within the larger industry doing the same. All sectors within the agricultural industry have more in common than they think. Why not capitalize on this and work to create strategic messaging that applies to the agricultural industry, as whole, and resonates with the general public? We are all fighting the good fight; why not fight the good fight together?

      After reading about your experience with the Wheat State Agronomy Club, I’m curious; did your club have any rules or resources that helped support good decision-making? You mentioned that your group relied on past experiences to help decide what your club did with the money earned. Were there other resources that you used to inform your decisions?

      Finally, I agree that working alone can be easier that working with a group. Typically, decisions can be made much quicker because conflict from other group members is not at play. However, after reading Chapter 8, I would argue that conflict is important to making good decisions. It allows decisions and alternative decisions to be reviewed for positive and negative qualities.

      Thanks again for your insights! I really appreciate the value that you bring to these discussions.

      Best,
      Alyssa

    2. Hi Jessica,

      I enjoyed reading your post this week. According to Christopher Barrett’s quote in the NPR article, it seems that both your neighbors and yourself have valid points. However, what is an even more important take away from your interaction, is that the “feeding the world message” didn’t seem to resonate with your neighbor. The NPR article was published in 2013, yet many of us, myself included, are still guilty of using this as our “go to” message. To me, it makes sense that groupthink is at play here, especially when you consider the propositions of unquestioned morality and collective rationalization.

      I completely agree that we need to alter the way that we communicate with consumers. Persuasion by means of aggression seems to be ineffective. I think people in agriculture, are guilty of stereotyping our opponents negatively. By doing this, I think that our messages often come across aggressive because we (agriculturalists) are in a state of defensiveness. By inviting people to play devil’s advocates, we might be able to listen with to opponents with open-mindedness. This could allow us to craft strategic messages more effectively and prevent groupthink.

      You mentioned that we should focus on individual messages that pertain to specific sectors of agriculture, rather than messages that pertain to the industry, as a whole. I disagree with this statement. I believe that the different sectors of agriculture need to form a united front and craft strategic messages that apply to all sectors. Being involved in both the livestock industry and the almond industry, it makes me sick seeing these different groups attack one another. The dairy groups have attacked the almond groups by trying to pass legislation to prevent the almond groups from using the word “milk” in almond milk. To me, this is not doing the agricultural industry any favors. With so many different groups attacking agriculture, we don’t need the various segments within the larger industry doing the same. All sectors within the agricultural industry have more in common than they think. Why not capitalize on this and work to create strategic messaging that applies to the agricultural industry, as whole, and resonates with the general public? We are all fighting the good fight; why not fight the good fight together?

      After reading about your experience with the Wheat State Agronomy Club, I’m curious; did your club have any rules or resources that helped support good decision-making? You mentioned that your group relied on past experiences to help decide what your club did with the money earned. Were there other resources that you used to inform your decisions?

      Finally, I agree that working alone can be easier that working with a group. Typically, decisions can be made much quicker because conflict from other group members is not at play. However, after reading Chapter 8, I would argue that conflict is important to making good decisions. It allows decisions and alternative decisions to be reviewed for positive and negative qualities.

      Thanks again for your insights! I really appreciate the value that you bring to these discussions.

      Best,
      Alyssa

  5. The topic of feeding the world is always a hot button issue outside of the agricultural community. Consumers are far removed from agriculture and often are not thinking of the food shortage. When I think about the message and consumers today, my mind thinks about how some consumers may not feel that the United States’ is responsible for feeding the world. This idea is selfish, but with the ongoing wars that the U.S. has become involved in, many citizens feel that we should focus on our own country before rushing to the aid of other countries. The American public wants to refocus its energy on bettering our own country before focusing on the world. I also agree with what most of my classmates have stated regarding the agricultural industry’s push to share their values and mindset about the importance of feeding the world, and how it is crucial to our industry and livelihood. Despite consumers not relating to this message, we are constantly trying to help the world understand why we do what we do in agriculture, which often circles back to the drive to feed the world.
    I do think this message is a form of groupthink. Kelsey relates this perfectly to the text and the example of, John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs. The agricultural industry is experiencing the illusion of invulnerability. This message is so important to the producers and those passionate about the industry that they believe everyone should just accept the message. This message to those involved in agriculture is backed up by science and facts that their generations have engrained into their minds. They have had many mind guards in their life that keep them from hearing contradicting information. It is just recently that producers and agricultural experts are starting to reach out and make sure they understand consumers beliefs and values.

    I think this message could be shifted to help the consumers understand the urgency and benefit the United States’ agricultural industry will reap from being involved in helping feed the world. The constant dialogue about just growing more food on the land could be shifted to focus on technology and its place in feeding the world. The agricultural industry is much more than just the land and its animals, we have food scientists in laboratories, agricultural engineers designing vertical farming layouts, and hydroponicist working on water shortage solutions.

    Communication boundary management theory is an interpersonal theory of communication that I think affects the consumer and producers’ mindset about feeding the world. Both groups have for a long time kept a border up around each other and had an underlying rule not to communicate with each other. The stereotype of “he is just a farmer, or he is just a city folk” often plague the younger generation when they are faced with lack of knowledge about agriculture. For example, when I married my husband, I did not understand the reasoning behind some agriculture decisions that his family made. In conversation with my friends, I would just defend them by saying “Oh they are city folk”. I would shut down having to discuss why they are not aware of common things that are like second nature to my friends. My mother in law called a kangaroo a goat, and her first response was “I am from the city, I didn’t know any different”. The underlying rules that I grew up with was to not defend the lack of awareness the city dwellers had compared to those who are engaged in agriculture daily. This boundary is one that needs to be torn down to move forward with having all consumers feel comfortable and transparent with those involved in agriculture.

    One group that I am involved with currently is Project YES! through North Carolina State University and the cooperative extension service. A little background, we are interns spread throughout the country who travel one weekend per month to facilitate leadership, resiliency, and youth development workshops to youth age 8-18 whose parents are preparing, have, or recently finished a deployment with the National Guard or U.S. Military Reserves. While we do not have a symbol, we have a mascot: Sheldon the turtle. Sheldon represents hard work and dedication. Sheldon is awarded to various people throughout the year and continues to rotate through, never staying with one person for too long. Sheldon, a turtle, could mean many different things for others in different organizations. A turtle in some organizations could represent the slow member of the team. My group or newest cohort to the organization is at the Norming stage. We have experienced the forming and storming stage during our orientation this summer where we had conflict arise. This conflict was settled, and we are now are settling into our new roles as interns. We have not all been together in one place since orientation in June but will be for mid-year training in October. I cannot say that we are performing yet because we are still asking for help and needing feedback on our facilitation’s and debriefs.

    I feel that my group does have the four requisite functions of effective decision making. One requisite that I think we do very well is evaluation of positive and negative qualities with alternative choices. After every workshop at the end of the day, we come up with a list of positives and deltas for the day. Once we have compiled a list, we always talk about how we could make the deltas better for the next day.

    I agree with the book’s assumptions that group decisions are better than individual decisions. A group brings diverse backgrounds to a topic that can help the process of deciding easier. While many people may focus on the conflict that can arise when more people are added to a group, I agree with Tuckman’s model that storming is a healthy and necessary part of decision making. If conflict is avoided at all cost then we open our groups up to group think and the various illusions that are associated with groupthink.

    Christina P.

  6. I found this week’s post to be very interesting. I wish that I could say that I was surprised when I read the NPR article that stated that only 13 percent of consumers agreed that the United States has a responsibility in helping to feed the world, but I wasn’t. Many of the people in their focus groups were not comfortable with the message because of its connection to industrial-scale farming. This made me think of Goffman’s theory of face. Is this message is no longer resonating because people are trying to avoid face loss? It seems like the more agriculture is criticized, the more support the anti-agriculture movement garners. I think that the theory of face is applicable to this scenario because people in the general public are engaging in preventative facework so that they aren’t seen in a negative light by their peers.

    Even though this article was published four years ago, the use of the “farmers feed the world” message is still a common practice in the agricultural community. Admittedly, I am also guilty of using this phrase on a regular basis. I think that the reason that the agricultural industry clings to this phrase is because it resonates with those of us directly involved in the industry. After reading about groupthink, I would agree that the use of this message could be a result of groupthink. Chapter 8 outlines several propositions of this theory that are applicable to this scenario. The propositions that I found most applicable include:
    • Illusion of invulnerability- In my opinion, many agriculturalists believe that this message resonates. To sustain human existence, an adequate supply of food must be produced and readily available. For this reason, I feel that the agricultural industry believes that the “farmers feed the world” message will result in victory.
    • Unquestioned morality- In general, the agriculture industry believes that agriculture is the most important cause. By spreading the “farmers feed the world” message, agriculturalists believe they are doing what is best for the industry.
    • Collective rationalization- In general, agriculturalists all preach the “farmers feed the world” message, regardless of any contrary information. Essentially, agriculturalists have convinced each other that this is the best message.
    • Stereotyping opponents negatively- I believe that the agricultural industry, as whole, is guilty of negatively stereotyping those who don’t share their same views. In my post from Blog 1, I mentioned the “My Job Depends on Ag” Facebook group. The people in this group often resort to name-calling when people with anti-animal agriculture or anti-GMO sentiments chime in. These actions are evidence to support the negative stereotyping of opponents by the agricultural community.

    While there are other propositions, such as self-censorship, direct pressure on dissenters, mindguards, and illusion of unanimity, I believe the propositions mentioned in the bullet points above have had a greater contribution towards groupthink in this case.

    While agriculturalists like the “farmers feed the world” message, it is critical that we work to craft more strategic messages that will better resonate with members of the general public. After this week’s reading, I learned that there are several preventative measures to avoid groupthink which include: having a critical evaluator, having an impartial group leader, setting up subgroups, consulting with trusted associates, inviting outside experts, and allowing a group member to play “devil’s advocate”. In my opinion, I think that the presence of outside experts and “devil’s advocates” would be extremely beneficial towards preventing groupthink within the agricultural industry, as it pertains to strategic communications. Additionally, perhaps the application of the functional theory of decision making would be effective in this situation. By following the four functional requisites, the group may be able to create and agree upon an appropriate message that has impact. The functional requisites that should be met include: understanding the problem, establishing of goals and objectives, identifying alternative realistic proposals, and the evaluating positive and negative qualities associated with alternative choices.

    I am currently involved with the University of California 4-H Youth Development Program as a volunteer leader. I have volunteered with this organization for the past 5 years, and I serve on the Colusa County 4-H Council. The council is made up of a core group of 12 volunteers. In addition to volunteering with 4-H, I also worked as a 4-H Program Representative (also referred to as an extension agent in other states) in the State 4-H Office for two years.

    In my opinion the use of the 4-H clover as a symbol of the organization does not resonate with people outside of the organization. Internally, the 4-H clover represents head, heart, hands and health. However, I know first-hand that many people do not know what the four Hs within the green clover symbolize. In addition to that, the 4-H program is nationwide and has a 100-year history in agricultural education and extension. However, the 4-H program offers much more than just agricultural programing. Yet, because of the long history of the organization, there are many people who think that 4-H consists entirely of “cows and plows”. As the gap between farmers and the general public has grown, California 4-H’s membership numbers have dropped. One of the big reasons for this is because people in more urbanized areas are simply unaware of the variety of projects offered through 4-H. In California, there hasn’t been any real effort towards strategic messaging. The lack of creating new symbols and messaging that resonate with the general public, seems to have hurt our enrollment numbers.

    In terms of my involvement on the Colusa County 4-H Council, I would say that my group is at the forming stage of Tuckman’s model. The 4-H program in Colusa County has seen a lot of staff turnover within the last three years, and we have a lot of new leaders who are becoming more involved in the council. The 4-H program just hired a new Program Representative, and the council is still in the process of seeking more information about each other and the program. We just had our first meeting of the year, and I could tell that members of the council were very careful about what information they disclosed to the group.

    At this point, I do not believe that the council has the four requisites functions of effective decision-making. Since the council is still in the forming stage, I don’t think the group truly understands the program or the problems of the program. Before the council establishes its goals and objectives for the year, it needs to have a solid understanding of the problem. Once the problems are understood and the goals and objectives are set, I’m hopeful that the group will be able to identify alternative realistic proposals to solve the problems and evaluate the positive and negative qualities associated with the alternative choices.

    To meet these four requisites, I think that an understanding of the rules and resources is important for the group. During our last meeting, we went over the 4-H policies and Robert’s Rules of Order, which are used to govern the meetings. We also went around the room and invited everyone to share a bit about themselves. This allowed the group to learn more about the strengths and experiences of the various members of the council. I suspect this knowledge will be beneficial to open discussions down the road. When it comes time to make decisions, we won’t need to revisit the structure because the members of the group will already be familiar with the rules and resources. I anticipate this will allow the group to make decisions more efficiently and effectively.

    I agree with the underlying assumptions of group decisions being better than individual decisions when some form of conflict arises. In the United States, we have a system of check and balances for a reason. I believe that decisions made by multiple people, rather than by a single individual are generally more effective, when groupthink is avoided. The storming phase of Tuckman’s model is critical to good decisions. Conflict allows the group to examine all sides and weigh the pros and cons of each decision. In my opinion, this allows the group to make the best decision.

    All in all, I really enjoyed learning about the various theories of interpersonal communications and group communications. I look forward to applying these theories to my life, both personally and professionally.

    Best,
    Alyssa S.

    1. Alyssa,

      I wish I was surprised by the articles numbers but like you, I think agriculturalist are becoming more aware of the concerns consumers have with feeding the world and industrial farming. One aspect of face theory that I have seen the industry focus on is as the severity of threat, the degree of politeness increases. As we have seen an increase of nonsatisfaction, the industry addresses the increasing concerns head on in a respectful manner. The concerns are not met with defensive statements but rather well thought out responses that are tailored to the multiple methods of learning.

      I appreciate you connecting collective rationalization to the agriculturalists message of “farmers feed the world”. This is something I agree about as a theory that is very evident in the industry. We have studies like the one we read in the blog and consumers telling us directly that they have an issue with our message yet we have not tried to change our message. This is something that the agricultural industry needs to evaluate because we are losing face when we ignore our consumers complaints repeatedly.

      I can relate to the organization you chose to talk about in your post, but I would like to add how the symbol can resonate with others outside of the 4-H youth organization. I was involved in a sorority named 4-H house where the clover and the H’s represented other things to us. There is another sorority named Clovia that has the clover as their symbol as well. Other people may view the clover as good luck or a reminder that Saint Patrick’s Day is approaching. The clover reminds us of 4-H and sometimes I think we are quick to dismiss other messages it may have because we zone in on our experiences.

      Thanks for helping me think of some other theories that our ongoing agricultural message is connected to.

      Christina P.

  7. Alyssa, (in your response to my initial post)

    You mentioned that you disagree with my initial response of focusing on different sectors of agriculture, and I was a bit confused as I didn’t remember posting that. So I reviewed my initial comments and understand that what I said and what I meant may be interpreted differently. I don’t believe agriculture should focus on different sectors of agriculture – alone. I believe maybe we should work to bring to the consumers attention the different sectors of agriculture and how they impact everyday life. In the consumers eye, agriculture is mainly made up of the food they consume and livestock, but do they realize how much more agriculture affects their daily life – such as ethanol, fibers and wool for clothing, etc.? I do agree that it is important to make this approach without aggressive persuasion.

    I was unaware of the certain industries attacking each other and I do agree that we need to be united!

    As far as the decisions in the Wheat State Agronomy Club, we typically based decisions off of past and what the club did “last year.” But when something was questionable, we typically looked at the clubs by-laws to confirm.

  8. As many have already said in this week’s blog posts, I also really enjoyed these chapters as well. It’s interesting to hear concepts and theories that can apply to your life in many different facets. Looking at these ideas on a larger scale, I think groupthink is similar to some of the problems we face as today’s agriculturalists. Some key parts that stuck out to me as similarities to our industry were the “cohesive in-group” and “fails to engage in conflict”. I think of how sometimes agriculture can be viewed as an “us versus them” group and how outsiders of the group can seem less than because of a lack of certain knowledge. I also think the “fails to engage” part is relevant to the agricultural industry not just within our group, but also among others, such as consumers and constituents. I believe there are a few indicators that could be relevant to the agricultural industry’s situation, like mindguards, the direct pressure on dissenters, and self-censorship (illusion on unanimity). I think what I can take from the readings this week is to always be present and active in groups you are a part of – whether that be small organizations groups or as a member of the agricultural community.

    As many of you have already mentioned (again), I’m currently not a part of a group, but can definitely draw from previous experiences. I think being a successful group is a process that needs time to make progress. I believe this and think of my past experience with an organization called ACT (Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow). Serving as the treasurer and secretary, I was a part of the planning and organizing of the group, as well as being a voting member. Although we didn’t have a specific logo or symbol that could hold different meaning to outsiders, I think the name in and of itself can sometimes turn people away due to preconceived notions. I believe we, 2016-17 officers, are in the adjourning stage. However, many of the officers from last year are still actively participating and holding officer positions within the group, so I think it almost helps them during the forming and storming stages with other new members. I believe we had all four requisites of a functional group established into our year and were strategic, which is why I mentioned earlier that it takes time to see maximum results from a change. Although the organization probably isn’t a whole world different than last year, it is toward something better and becoming the best version of the organization. We had a positive year and took many small steps in the right direction, and time is needed for an overhaul of an organization, image, or brand – similar to the “feed the world” message. I feel as though we had plenty of knowledge of rules and resources available to use, which was an advantage to us. It’s helpful to have those rules set in place for voting, money distribution, organization structure, etc. I also think we benefited from having a parent, or national, organization that we looked to for some of those resources.

    When considering group decisions versus individual decisions, I try to think back on experiences in my life, in both personal and professional settings. Without a doubt, I believe it’s better have all of the aspects of a group instead of just one person. I definitely find it beneficial to hear others’ opinions on matters and their methods of carrying out tasks.

    1. Hi Anissa,

      The examples you gave for agriculturalists being a cohesive group and taking an “us versus them” approach on some issues are great. I think you are right, too, when you say that all of us “fail to engage.” I think that many people think they are engaging but, perhaps, they are not talking to the right people.

      I think that we, as agriculturalists and humans, tend to be more comfortable talking to our peers, those who we can relate to and vice versa. I think that this is something that we need to overcome as a group in order to communicate well and effectively to those outside of our group. You said that we need to be active in any size group that we’re part of and I agree!

      I enjoyed reading about the ACT club and your experience in it. I hadn’t thought about members, instead of the whole club, being in different stages before reading your post but that makes sense. I can identify with that in my club/group experience as I have moved out of state and can no longer physically be a part of the groups that I was in. Thanks for that perspective!

      -Deanna

  9. Agricultural communication campaigns announcing that farmers feed the world are everywhere. I have even been part of agricultural groups that have aggressively promoted such campaigns. I don’t think that they are wrong, but I can see how the general public is tired of hearing about how, without farmers, there would be no food and the like. Even though I have been and remain connected to agriculture and have been a part of production agriculture, I find that those slogans don’t excite me anymore. I think that this is a great example of groupthink because agriculturalists are a tight knit community and we don’t always want to change what we are doing. Agriculturalists believe in that message so much that maybe they don’t think about finding an alternative campaign to fit what the public wants. I believe that there is some collective rationalization going on and even stereotyping opponents negatively. Much opposition has come from agriculturalists when new ideas are brought up. For example, the conventional versus organic debate is still raging and both sides are guilty of negatively stereotyping and even of self-censorship. In order to change the message, someone or some group is going to have to break the illusion of unanimity. To do this, it might work best to have an impartial critical evaluator come up with a new message and stand behind it firmly, because farmers are a stubborn bunch. Reflexive monitoring should be used to make sure that past mistakes are not made again, or to implement previous programs that worked well. I think that the relational dialectics theory can be applied because there are tensions that the group feels and, though not always in large ways, they change to adapt to those. Agriculturalists want to connect with the general public, and they try, but they also want to remain a little bit separated and be recognized for the work that they do, it seems. I don’t mean this in a negative way; farmers work hard and should be appreciated. However, there is a degree of openness/closedness in the agriculture world. Farmers want people to know what they are doing but, sometimes, it’s easier to not be transparent because of all of the questions and scrutiny that could occur.

    I was a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers. Farm Bureau has a specific logo and the Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) do too. In the past few years, they have started a few successful campaigns on social media. Their “I Farm, I Vote” photo frame has been very popular and has been a way for members to connect and to promote the importance of voting. I think that this campaign can be somewhat exclusive to outsiders because the frame has a picture of a barn and using it implies that you are connected to agriculture. I have not seen any of my non-farming friends use it. Since it is funded by both national and county governments and has been around for a long time, I think that the Virginia Farm Bureau YF&R is in the performing stage of Tuckman’s model. They are a cohesive group with common goals and they are getting things done. They understand the problems that they are facing, they have clear goals and objectives, they have realistic alternate solutions, and they carefully evaluate both positive and negative qualities associated with those choices. Members of the group are exposed to the rules and objectives of Farm Bureau upon joining, and they use that knowledge to help educate the public about agriculture and help in the community.

    I think that, while it usually takes longer and requires more thought, group decisions can be advantageous over individual decisions. When addressing an issue in a group, different views about the topic are brought up. Since people all have differing viewpoints on life, this helps the group think about all of the possibilities or consequences a decision can have. I think that, though it can be painful, conflict can show issues with a potential decision that helps the group change and make an even better decision.

    1. Deanna,
      I really enjoyed reading your blog, like you I am also connected to production agriculture and have been surrounded a majority of my life around similar slogans. My family’s farm is the last running farm in our county and I am starting to realize we are no longer a necessity for our communities food supply with a local Walmart being built very close by. Even though I understand this concept I know that “we supply the food” is something that my family has long lived by and promoted throughout our community. I think the reason behind this continued belied is that the fact that farming brings a long a very strong sense of pride. This pride is built upon the very soil that for years has been one of the main sources of food for the world, though now that it no longer the case it is the principle that I believe farmers still hold onto. Similarly I mentioned in my blog that I do think this is an example of groupthink because the farmers are sticking to the concept that “they feed the world” when in reality they are being blind to the fact that times have changed and the rest of the world no longer relies on them for food. Farmers are believing they are feeding the world by producing and selling their corn when at the end of the day that corn is going towards ethanol and not for human consumption. I think in order to change this message farmers need to accept that they no longer need to feed the world and what they are doing may not be feeding the world, they need to learn to change with the times. Thanks for sharing!
      -Leah D.

  10. I found this week’s blog and readings very interesting, and I have enjoyed reading about my classmate’s viewpoints about the message “feeding the world”. After studying agriculture as an undergraduate student and now working in cooperative extension, this is a message that I have heard quite often. Mostly, I have heard it as a quick response to questions or concerns about agriculture production practices. By tossing out the “we are feeding the world” card, it seems to me that producers feel that their work has been clearly explained and that consumers should be able to see the importance of what they do.

    As we read in the NPR article, the “because we are feeding the world” message does not answer the concerns that people have about modern agriculture, and I can agree with that. I do think that this message is a form of groupthink from the agricultural community. Producers seem to have the belief in the group’s unquestioned morality, in that they believe there is no need for people to question their practices. The group seems to believe that their strive to “feed the world” should speak to their morality, but people still have questions. When I think about the times that I have personally defaulted to using this broad message, it is clear that interpersonal communication plays a role. A theory that could be beneficial in improving this message is the Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT). This theory, according to the book, explains the initial communication between strangers works to reduce uncertainty and unpredictability between each other. This theory could be helpful in creating a more comfortable and trusting face for agriculture.

    In Extension, a large part of my job involves working with groups. I work with community groups, coalitions, boards, volunteers and 4-H groups. I found Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development very interesting and helpful as I thought through the stages that each of the groups I work with might be on. For example, a local coalition for drug free youth was recently established in our community. At the group’s first meeting last week, about twenty community stakeholders gathered for an orientation of the coaltion’s vision. This meeting convened many people with much knowledge and experience about the community and the problems at hand, yet the presenter struggled to get much contribution to the questions she asked of the group. No one committed themselves to certain responsibilities or committees because they were still getting comfortable and familiar with the other members and general goals of the coalition. This group is still in the “forming” stage. I also thought of our fair board, a group of volunteers who help to plan the county fair and events that happen there. The stage that seemed most fitting for the fair board was the “storming stage”, because this group seems to be constantly disagreeing about issues and new conflicts are always emerging. Many of the groups gat I work with, the fair board included, have a yearly election period. So with this constant turnover in members, I wonder if these groups are cycling through Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, or if they are continually stuck on one stage.

    Hannah A.

  11. “100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress” is the quote that comes to mind in response to this blog. Even though farms are dwindling across our country it does not mean that the farmer’s sense of pride is disappearing. For years American farmers have been praised and relied on by the people for their ability to not only feed their own country but also to feed people around the world. It is this sense of accomplishment that has kept these farmers going and committed to their work and I feel it is what fuels their fires to this day. Although it is no longer necessary that American farms feed people around the world I think it is the mere concept that these farms once did that continually fuels this message. To me I feel that is very easy for anyone to relate to this message regardless of if they come from a farm background or not, because in the end every single person needs food to survive. I do think this is an example of groupthink because the farmers are sticking to the concept that “they feed the world” when in reality they are being blind to the fact that times have changed and the rest of the world no longer relies on them for food. Farmers are believing they are feeding the world by selling their corn when at the end of the day that corn is going towards ethanol and not for human consumption. I think in order to change this message farmers need to accept that they do not need to feed the world and what they are doing may not be feeding the world, they need to learn to change with the times. For example the slogan that coca cola had 50 years ago isn’t applicable now, farms need to change their slogan from “we feed the world” to something more appropriate with the time. First and foremost nothing will begin to change until they decide to accept this concept.
    The biggest thing that I learned in this week’s readings is that conflict is a good thing among group communication. I know whenever there is a group discussion I always take it so personally and so directly to the heart whenever a conflict arises. I think that in order to be a more successful coach and teacher I need to adjust my thinking to acknowledge that conflict will help influence people’s perceptions so that we can better work towards a common goal.
    A group that I am actively involved in is the local farmers market where we raise animals are raised and sold locally for human consumption. The symbol behind this group is to support farm fresh locally grown food, our group stands behind this message and we think it is extremely important to support local farms and much healthier to eat locally grown products. To outsiders this does carry a different message, there are a lot of people in the community who do not wish to support people who raise their own animals for food. They think this is extremely cruel and would much rather buy their meat from the store.
    This group has been around and been very successful in our community for years. I would have to say that this group is at the performing stage of Tuckman’s model. The team has a clear vision “promoting locally grown products,” and this group continues to remain successful in the community and continues to grow and garner support daily.
    I do not think that this group has all four stages simply because there is not a sole leader that takes charge actively, at this point it seems to be more every man for himself.
    I think that transitioning these stages into this group will help us become bigger and better than we already are. I think one of the main things we need to work on is educating the people in our community why supporting local is so beneficial. The only way that we can successful educate the public is if we stick together and organize as a group rather than maintaining the every man for himself mentality.
    Yes I do agree. I think that group decisions are beneficial in the instance that it allows for a

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