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Natural Resource Governance around the World

AGTER’s Study Tours. Definitions, objectives and methods

Written by: Clara Jamart

Writing date:

Organizations: Association pour contribuer à l’Amélioration de la Gouvernance de la Terre, de l’Eau et des Ressources naturelles (AGTER)

Type of document: Paper / Document for wide distribution

Documents of reference

French and Spanish versions, 2017. Translation to English by Niels Zwarteveen, 2021

1. What is a study tour?

A Study tour, or itinerant workshop, is a series of ‘field trips’ linked to a specific and general theme (for example: land use policies, local natural resource management, etc…).

The idea is to bring together a large group of people under the guidance of a coordinator who organises various field trips. Each visit is also accompanied by at least one “resource person”, generally a local who holds an important position in one of the organisations that are to be visited during the field trip (for example: a farmer if the group visits a farm, a union leader, or a factory director, etc…).

By the end of the trip, the different visits should all have explained a different aspect of the main theme of the study tour, allowing the participants to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

The different trips may also be supplemented with more theoretical presentations, which aim to place the trip in its historical, political, economic, social or cultural context. These presentations are generally made by local specialists.

2. What is the purpose of a study tour?

A. Forcing one to think about their reality, by confronting them with another

The main objective of a study tour is to make the participants discuss and think about the tour’s central theme. This discussion takes place in the group, and is enriched by the successive trips and presentations. The direction of this collective reflection is guided by the coordinators, who steer the general direction of the conversation without ever drawing conclusions for the participants, nor rushing their thought processes.

Having a critical view of one’s own life, society, or personal modus operandi, can be difficult. For this reason the participants should be from a different region to the one that is being visited, enabling them to reflect on their own reality by being confronted with another. By taking the participants out of their own community, and confronting them with a reality in which they have no known references to which they may anchor themselves, they are forced to open both their eyes and mind to how their own societies function.

Michel Merlet and Clara Jamart participated as coordinators in this tour organised as part of the Cuba Inter-associative Program (PIA) by CCFD, GRET, IRAM, and CERAI. A group of about 10 Cubans (farmers, academics, union members…), spent 3 weeks in Europe (France and Spain) in October 2005.

The tour’s central theme was broad, covering European political structures, a presentation of different types of agriculture, and the training and education of farmers, etc… The idea was to give an all encompassing view of how the rural world in France and in Spain was organised.

The group visited different types of farms, chambers of agriculture, SAFER’s, agricultural schools, and a food processing plant…. They also met members of a famer’s union, producers, and distributors, etc…

The goal of this tour was to present to the Cuban delegation an accurate picture of the rural landscape in Europe, which up until then was unknown to them, but also to make them think about how farming and rural areas in their own country are organised. By the end of the trip, we observed that, without guiding their thoughts in any particular direction, the participants were able to think of concepts that were highly controversial in Cuba, such as the question of private property for example. This example was especially interesting because it revealed the exact reason why organising these tours is so interesting. It was by being confronted by the unknown that allowed the Cubans to even discuss the very idea of private property, and to analyse with hindsight their own country’s position on this idea, seen by them as subversive. If the study tour had been replaced by a formal seminar or a series of visits to Cuba, the debate on private property would most likely never have taken place.

Box 1. An example of a study tour; a delegation of Cuban technicians and academics visit France and Spain (see the folder here [in Spanish])

B. Passing on knowledge, and maintaining debate after the tour

At the end of the trip, the study tours’ participants return home with a number of documents (texts, films, photos, etc…), which will allow them to pass on the accumulated knowledge in their home country. The idea is that acquiring knowledge doesn’t end with the trip, but continues to be disseminated by the participants among the members of their organisations, their colleagues, their students, their employees, members of their union, etc. and enriching discussions with them.

C. Helping to enrich new areas of thought workshops

In AGTER’s case, the study tours will often be linked to an area of thought. These areas of thought will then provide content for the online knowledge base. In other words, the knowledge that is produced during these tours will enable the creation of summary sheets, conceptual analysis, and comparison sheets that will enrich the AGTER knowledge base.

Two methods are being planned for producing the sheets at each workshop: a bibliographical summary method, and a secondary method that aims to deepen collective thinking and collaboration. The study tours represent a particularly interesting and stimulating opportunity to apply this second method. The study tours play a crucial role in these workshops, and will enable the enrichment of the AGTER knowledge base.

3 – How is a study tour organised?

A – Choosing the participants

The participants can come from the same country, as was the case for the PIA Cuba trip, or from different countries, as was the case for the study tour organised by the FPH in 2005 to Brazil (Rio Grande Do Sul) and which covered peasant farming in preparation for the World Social Forum.

Establishing a good group dynamic is easier when the participants are from the same country, or at the very least, speak the same language. However, when the participants come from different regions of the world, even if this makes discussions more difficult, it also has the potential to make them even more enriching, as conflicting views and different life experiences and references allow the debate to evolve in interesting ways.

Whatever the case may be, it is important that all the participants show an interest for the study tour’s central theme, as it is their willingness to invest their time and energy that will enrich the debate. It is also important that the participants commit themselves to disseminating the information and knowledge acquired during the tour once they return home.

B- Pre-tour Logistical and theoretical preparations

If a study tour is to take place in optimal conditions, it goes without saying that the logistics of the operation must be perfectly prepared. Reservations and bookings (planes, trains, hotels, restaurants, etc.) should all be made ahead of the tour, and we recommend that only one person be designated for organising the tour’s logistics and supporting the group during the actual trip.

Wherever possible the visits should be organised in a manner as to create a logical coherence throughout the trip. They must have a link (even if this link is not necessarily obvious to the participants) to the central theme of the study tour. The coordinators must define the issues and reasons for each visit beforehand: why are we visiting this structure? What will this visit bring to the group’s discussions on the topic? What do we want to show by choosing this speaker? How will this visit enrich and guide the debate? These are all questions that the organisers must ask themselves beforehand to prepare the study tour.

The various people the group will meet with on site, should be made aware of the purpose of the trip and the nature of the presentation they will be making. If possible, the coordinators and/or the logistics manager should visit the facilities that the group will visit beforehand and meet with the various resource people who will be involved in the visits.

But logistical organization by itself is not enough. It is also important to work on the theoretical preparation of the study tour. The coordinators and the future participants must start working together from a distance a few weeks, or even a few months before the beginning of the trip, especially if the participants do not know each other. This is of course to launch the group dynamic, but also to introduce the participants to the study tour’s central theme and to include the tour in a larger common project.

If this step is not followed, the study tour is likely to turn into a « tourist visit », as the participants will feel less concerned, less involved and less empowered. They must understand even before the departure date that the discussions will be built around them, and because of to them. The trip is not an end in itself, there is a « before » (the preparation and theoretical exchange phase) and an « after » (the disseminating the group’s knowledge and thoughts phase).

However, a preparatory document may be prepared by the coordinators before the trip begins and distributed to participants upon their arrival. In addition to a detailed schedule of visits, this document may contain a brief historical, economic and socio-cultural presentation of the area to be visited. It can also present more theoretical points related to the central theme of the trip. This document must, of course, be written in the native language of each participant.

C – Coordinating visits and daily review meetings

The group should make no more than one or two visits per day. The goal is not to see as much as possible, but to visit structures that best represent the central theme of the tour. If the days are too busy, the visits may end up becoming counterproductive. It should never be forgotten that a study tour is a physically and psychologically demanding experience for the participants, who are cut off from the world and usual reference points they know. Free time between visits (e.g., at meal times) is therefore essential: it allows participants to assimilate the information received during the visits or presentations and to freely exchange their impressions in an informal manner.

In addition to the visits and presentations, a daily debriefing session during which participants take turns to give their impressions of the day and explain what they learned from the visits can also be useful. During this time they will also have the opportunity to ask the coordinators any questions they may have. The coordinators are in charge of moderating the debate and providing ideas for further thought and discussion.

These debriefs provide the material needed to prepare the final summary, and so it is essential to keep a record of these discussions. The meetings must therefore be recorded, taped or filmed. These meetings may get longer and richer as the trip nears its end.

D – Preparing the final summary

The final summary is the document which the participants will return home with and the end of the tour. It should reflect the content of the visits and presentations, the evolution of the participants’ thinking, and be as clear and educational as possible. It is this document that will allow participants to pass on the knowledge they have acquired once they return home. Even if the objective of the different visits was not necessarily clear to the participants at the beginning, it must make sense at the end of the trip when preparing the final document.

The final summary should contain precise accounts of the various visits and presentations. Using recordings of the daily debriefings, the document should also describe how the group’s thinking evolved over the course of the tour. Finally, it should also report the group’s conclusions concerning the central theme’s initial question. It is essential that the participants themselves prepare this final summary, as it is the document that will enable them to pass on and disseminate their newly acquired knowledge. Therefore one or two days of debriefings should be scheduled at the end of the tour, during which the participants can decide on the structure and form of the final synthesis.

Even if it is not always feasible (particularly for budgetary reasons), it seems important to us to note that video is a particularly interesting pedagogical tool to use for the final summary document. Firstly, because it allows the group to transcribe the content of the trip with much more accuracy and ease, and secondly because video is an easier medium to use during the subsequent training and knowledge dissemination phase that follows the study tour.