The famous line delivered by Paul Newman in the movie Cool Hand Luke could summarize David Wright’s last three years of cattle industry research: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Wright, a professor of English and technical communication, developed a communications model after analyzing the effects of a new cattle-tagging system, called the National Animal Identification System. Introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the system would work much like the barcode, scanner, and database at the supermarket. The tags could track animals from their place of origin to their final destination, and also provide other information like sales and veterinary information to be collected.
Wright saw that the USDA failed to communicate the technology well enough to livestock market owners and the small producers who would have been among the system’s proposed users.
Based on interactions with approximately 50 Midwest livestock auctions, the model can test the effectiveness of the communication and the diffusion of information through communication networks. As Wright found with the beef industry, most information does not travel directly from the company with the data to the audience. He hopes his model can be used as a tool for other industries to test their communication chains and make them stronger.
“Where this is most interesting is in industries that are not typically technologically advanced,” says Wright. “This is why I chose the beef industry.”