Sharon Flanigan

Researcher in Rural Social Science
Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences
T: +44 (0)1224 395301

I am a qualitative social scientist with a background in rural topics, primarily focussing on aspects of agriculture, tourism, and networking in rural areas. I completed my PhD ‘Developing and applying a framework for agritourism’ at The Macaulay Institute and University of Aberdeen in 2011. Since returning to the Institute’s Social Economic and Geographical Sciences (SEGS) Department in 2018, following a career break with my kids, my research has focussed on a variety of topics including on-farm demonstration, new entrants to farming, landscape scale agri-environmental collaboration, and agricultural cooperatives. More information on my current projects is provided below.

I have continued to be involved in networking and project development focussing on agritourism, at a time when the sector has begun to develop at pace in Scotland (see Scottish Agritourism, Agritourism Monitor Farms,Go Rural). I approach this subject with both personal and professional interest in public interactions with farming in ways that support improved understanding of processes and wider issues connecting society with the environment. My research in this area also connects me with colleagues in Europe and the USA, with the aim of advancing international agritourism research and network development.

I have been involved with the James Hutton Institute (and formerly the Macaulay Institute) for almost 15 years as a research assistant, PhD student, and post-doctoral researcher. I am currently working at the Institute part-time (60% FTE), mostly based at the Aberdeen site.

 Learning and Change Through Monitor Farms

This research explores principles underlying learning and change in relation to facilitated peer-to-peer learning opportunities, such as Monitor Farms. In this work we reflect on features associated with successful on-farm demonstration events by focussing on three key areas, which allow us to look in detail at how and why farmers might implement new innovations and practices. These are: conducting soil assessment as an example of best practice; working together in innovative ways; and opportunities associated with different host farms and farmers. This research has being undertaken as part of EU H2020 ‘PLAID’ project (Peer-to-peer Learning: Accessing Innovation through Demonstration) (2017-2019), the Scottish Government Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme (2016-21), and in association with EU H2020‘NEFERTITI’ project (Networking European Farms to Enhance Cross Fertilisation and Innovation Uptake Through demonstration) (2018-21).


Co-operation and Co-operatives in Scottish Agriculture

Co-operative enterprises are not well understood in Scotland or the wider UK, despite their long history as a business model founded in principles of co-operation and shared economic benefits. This project was commissioned by SAOS (the Scottish Agriculture Organisation Society) in association with SEFARI Gateway to improve understanding of the value of co-operatives in Scotland in terms of their contribution to the agriculture sector and related supply chains; and their potential to generate economic and social benefits for those involved and the communities they are based. The findings will contribute towards these organisations’ aims to support a more productive, sustainable, competitive, and market-oriented industry. The project is being undertaken as a collaborative fellowship with Caroline Whitfield at SRUC (2020-21).


Adding value through agritourism at Glensaugh Farm

This project is a scoping study (2020-21) which aims to accumulate understanding of what Glensaugh farm has to offer consumers, tourists and other visitors by building on its ‘story’, past, present and future. The aim is to add value to the Climate-Positive Farming Initiative – which itself marks a significant moment in the Glensaugh story – by accumulating knowledge, experiences, and ideas relating to sustainable and sensitive agritourism and other product development. A range of voices representing the farm, research, history, and local area are being included and we envisage that those involved will have ongoing vested interest in the outcomes, in terms of product development and/or collaborative relations.

In a second phase of the project (2021-22), research will be undertaken in the Scottish Government Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme to investigate the consumer perspective, including demand for different types of agritourism across Scotland. This work will support sectoral development in Scottish agritourism though new understanding of the products and markets that make the sector unique, and the ways that agritourism providers can add value through interaction with farmers, farming environments, processes, and produce.


Mountain Valorization through Interconnectedness and Green Growth (MOVING)

MOVING aims to build capacities and co-develop policy frameworks across Europe for the establishment of new or upgraded and upscaled value chains, contributing to resilience and sustainability of mountain areas, valorising local assets, and delivering private and public goods. Working with partners across Europe in this Horizon 2020-funded project, I am part of the Hutton team responsible for delivery of Work Package 4 (Participatory appraisal of vulnerability and performance of value chains).


Past research

Collaboration in machinery rings

This project explored machinery rings as a form of agricultural cooperative, which have emerged and evolved into large collaborative institutions since they were introduced in Scotland in the late 1980s. This formed part of a wider investigation of transitions in agriculture being undertaken in the EU FP7 FarmPath (Farming Transitions: Pathways towards regional sustainability of agriculture in Europe) project (2011-2014) and RESAS Environmental Change: Land Use research theme (2011-2016).

Developing social capital and reciprocity in agritourism communities

This project explored various aspects of social capital development and capital conversion towards understanding the role of social learning groups in supporting small businesses and the people behind them. This formed part of the RESAS Environmental Change: Economic Adaptation research theme (2011-2016).

Developing and applying a framework for agritourism

My PhD project first sought to enhance conceptual understanding of agritourism through development of a theoretical typology, which I then applied in Scotland to explore what drives different types of agritourism and how that can help to understand the public and private benefits generated. This project was funded by The Macaulay Development Trust (2008-2011).

Exploring economic and legislative aspects of deer management

This project included investigation of collaborative practices, venison production, and legislation to better understand the drivers and barriers affecting deer management in the UK. This research was undertaken as part of the RELU Collaborative frameworks in land management project (2006-2009).


Books / chapters

Technical / contract reports

Conference papers

  • Creaney, R.; Blackstock, K.; Flanigan, S.; Miller, D.; Matthews, K. (2022) Engaging young people in mountain areas and value chains, ODT Forum 2022, 19-21 October 2022, Jura, Switzerland.
  • Creaney, R.; Blackstock, K.; Flanigan, S.; Hopkins, J.; Miller, D.; Matthews, K. (2022) Idealising the Rural: The Role of Scottish Mountains in Promoting the Scottish Whisky Brand, Rural Imaginations Conference, 24-26 August 2022, Amsterdam.
  • Flanigan, S.; Blackstock, K.; Creaney, R.; Hopkins, J.; Matthews, K.; Miller, D. (2022) Assembling whisky production and consumption for rural resilinece A value chains case study in Speyside, Scotland, ODT Forum, 19-21 October 2022, Jura, Switzerland
  • Flanigan, S.; Blackstock, K.; Creaney, R.; Hopkins, J.; Matthews, K.; Miller, D. (2022) Assembling whisky production and consumption for rural resilience A value chains case study in Speyside, Scotland, ESRS Scottish Satellite Event, 20-23 June 2022, Birnam
  • Flanigan, S. (2021) Working together towards good farming, RGS-IBG International Conference (Beyond the Borderlands – exploring sustainable rural futures session)
  • Kuhfuss, L.; Piras, S.; Flanigan, S.; Hawes, C.; Begg, G. (2021) How to promote the collective uptake of agri-environmental schemes by farmers? A literature review., Landscape 2021 Conference: Diversity for Sustainable and Resilient Agriculture, 20-22 September 2021, online presentation.
  • Flanigan, S.; Whitfield, C. (2021) Co-operation and co-operatives in Scottish agriculture: Research overview and interim observations., SAOS Conference 2021, “SAOS’s A-Z for a Bright Future”, 28 January 2021. (Online).
  • Flanigan, S. (2020) Adding value to climate-positive farming through interaction with consumers, tourists and other visitors., James Hutton Institute Annual Research Symposium, 25-27 November 2020. (Online).
  • Flanigan, S; Matthews, K.B. (2015) Reciprocity in an agritourism community of practice., Trans-Atlantic Rural Research Network (TARRN) Annual Meeting, Penn State University, USA, 18-19 May 2015.
  • Sutherland, L.A.; Flanigan, S.; McKee, A.; Holstead, K.L. (2013) FarmPath Consortium Meeting., Evora, Portugal, 13-16 March 2013.
  • Sutherland, L.A.; Flanigan, S. (2011) Transdisciplinarity in practice: experiences in the FarmPath project., The XXIV European Society for Rural Sociology Congress, “Inequality and Diversity in European Rural Areas”, Chania, Greece, 22-25 August 2011.
  • Flanigan, S.; Blackstock, K.L.; Hunter, C. (2011) Exploring private and public benefits associated with different types of agritourism., The XXIV European Society for Rural Sociology Congress, “Inequality and Diversity in European Rural Areas”, Chania, Greece, 22-25 August 2011.
  • Phillip, S.; Blackstock, K.L.; Hunter, C.J. (2009) What is agritourism? Perspectives from five types of agritourism provider., ESRS Congress, WG 1.6: Tourism in a Rural Setting: Opportunities and Challenges, Vaasa, 17-21 August 2009.
  • Phillip, S.; Blackstock, K.L.; Hunter, C.J. (2008) Developing a conceptual framework for sustainable agritourism in Scotland., Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference, London, 26-29 August 2008.

Conference posters / abstracts