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Sharon Flanigan

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Staff picture: Sharon Flanigan
Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences
+44 (0)844 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK

My academic background combines tourism studies (BA Hons, Abertay) and sustainable rural development (MSc, Aberdeen) and I completed my PhD ‘Developing and applying a framework for agritourism’ at the Macaulay Institute and University of Aberdeen in 2011. 

I have been based at The James Hutton Institute (and formerly Macaulay Institute) since 2006, including time spent as a visiting researcher, PhD student, and employee (since 2010).  I am now a member of the Social, Economic, and Geographical Sciences (SEGS) Groupworking in the area of Society, Institutions and Governance.  In terms of methodology, I favour qualitative approaches, stakeholder interaction, and enjoy working in interdisciplinary teams.  I am currently working at the Institute part-time, since having my son in 2013.  


Current research interests 

My research background relates to a variety of topics, including agriculture, tourism, and deer management.  Building on my PhD work looking at agritourism, I am particularly interested in aspects of rural tourism, diversification in farming, and exploring innovative ways for people to develop themselves and their businesses to the wider benefit of the areas that they live and work.  My current research focus is primarily on social capital, collaboration, and communities of practice in relation to networks and groups in rural areas, based on two key projects:

  • One is exploring the development of social capital among a group of agritourism providers participating in the Scottish Enterprise ‘Planning to Succeed’ (P2S) Programme;
  • The other has involved an investigation of ‘machinery rings’ as a means of formal collaboration (agricultural co-operative), involving farmers and other suppliers and demanders of products and services. 

I also take an active interest in current initiatives and organisations promoting and developing collaboration in agriculture and agritourism in Scotland, including SAOS, Monitor Farms, and Go Rural.      


Social capital development in Planning to Succeed (P2S)

This project explores various aspects of social capital development, capital conversion and adaptive capacity with a group of agritourism providers participating in Scottish Enterprise’s ‘Planning to Succeed’ (P2S) Programme.  The research is being conducted as part of the RESAS ‘Environmental Change: Economic Adaptation’ research theme (2011-2016).

An important aspect of this research is to investigate the role of policy in developing communities of practice to support small businesses and the people behind them.  P2S is a three year Programme of facilitated group-based sessions, which aim to ‘stimulate investment in business development: particularly leadership, collaboration, and innovation, through a group based approach.’  Long-term interaction with the group, facilitators, and Scottish Enterprise in this research offers important qualitative insights to the benefits of P2S and allows recommendations to be made for future Programme cycles. 


Collaboration in machinery rings

This project explores machinery rings as form of agricultural co-operative, which have emerged and evolved into large collaborative institutions since they were introduced in Scotland in the late 1980s.  The research formed part of a wider investigation of transitions in agriculture being undertaken in the ‘FarmPath’project and RESAS ‘Environmental Change: Land Use’ research theme (2011-2016).  

Key findings from this investigation relate to the uniqueness of machinery rings, to act as service provider underpinned by a collaborative network of farmers and other rural actors.  Modern machinery rings perform a range of functions in addition to the original purpose that that instigated inception (i.e. machinery sharing).  As a resource, machinery rings represent increased efficiency and significant potential for the future in the context of changes affecting agriculture and other rural industries.

Sharon Flanigan (nee Phillip)



Recent publications

  • Email:
  • Phone: +44 (0)844 928 5428
  • Craigiebuckler Aberdeen AB15 8QH Scotland
  • Invergowrie Dundee DD2 5DA Scotland
A Scottish charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Scotland No SC374831.
Registered office: The James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie Dundee DD2 5DA. Charity No SCO41796

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.