Coaching, which was first used as a method to create EPI operational groups, is defined as an interactive process aimed at accelerating the pace of development and improving the performance of individuals or organisations. According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), coaching is an interactive process that helps individuals or organisations accelerate growth and improve performance.
Although the coaching approach in the agricutlural, agrifood and agritourism sector plays an important role in the economic and social development of rural areas, there is a dearth or very limited scale of research projects, especially addressed to women entrepreneurs and targeted to their training needs and gaps in the specific traditionally ‘male-dominated’ sector (Parzonko et Krzyżanowska, 2021). Coaching constitutes a collaborative process meticulously crafted to alter an individual’s cognitive perceptions and behavioral patterns, thereby augmenting their efficacy and overall contentment. Within the realm of established social science research, coaching predominantly functions as a pivotal instrument for individual or organizational advancement (Theeboom et al., 2014). In this context, the focus is shifted not on developing hard, technical skills in the agritourism, agrifood, agricutlural sector rather on empowering traineers to understand their strengths, identify areas for improvement, and being able to set a goal for their professional development and growth and the way to accomplish it (Makowska, 2013).
The “Cooperation” initiative, operating under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, focuses on establishing and facilitating operational groups dedicated to innovation within the agricultural sector (Parzonko et Krzyżanowska, 2021). These groups are tasked with implementing innovative solutions encompassing technologies, processes, organizational methods, and marketing strategies. Innovation brokers, employed by agricultural advisory centers, play a pivotal role in forming these operational groups. Their responsibilities include assisting in the creation of European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs), fostering the exchange of expertise, and promoting best practices in innovation across agriculture, food production, forestry, and rural domains. An exemplary endeavor in this realm was the project “E-networking – innovative solutions in agriculture” initiated by brokers from the Pomeranian Agricultural Advisory Centre in Lubań. This pioneering project marked the first instance in Polish agricultural consultancy where a coaching approach utilizing ICT tools was employed. The project aimed to establish operational innovation groups and facilitate their project preparations.
The project “E-networking – innovative solutions in agriculture” involved a series of coaching e-meetings conducted through ICT tools, focusing on thematic areas aligned with participants’ needs and regional specificities. The process comprised four distinct stages:
This structured approach, marked by e-meetings and coaching methodologies, showcased the program’s commitment to fostering innovation and collaboration among agricultural stakeholders, underpinning the broader objectives of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.
This section is based on the evaluation of the programme, which also constitutes the first effort of measuring the impact of a coaching programme in the agricultural sector (Parzonko & Krzyżanowska, 2021).
A critical observation was made regarding the dropout of 51 individuals from the surveyed population. The primary reasons identified were time constraints and a lack of comprehension about the coaching concept. This underscores the lack of agri-preneurs’ awareness on what coaching methods is, as well as the need for flexible scheduling to accommodate participants’ time commitments.
Participants emphasized the significance of a partnership-based relationship between the coach and the entrepreneur. Effective coaching, according to the feedback, involves supporting the entrepreneur in developing their own solutions tailored to their needs, rather than merely providing advice. This highlights the need for coaches to exhibit commitment, establish trust, and possess extensive knowledge, particularly in psychology, to foster a conducive coaching environment.
The feedback from participants withdrawing from the project due to a lack of understanding of coaching concepts highlights the importance of clear communication. Projects employing coaching methodologies should invest in robust orientation and information dissemination to ensure participants comprehend the coaching process, its benefits, and their roles within it.
Time constraints emerged as a significant barrier for participation. Future projects utilizing coaching should consider flexible scheduling options, accommodating participants’ diverse schedules and commitments. This flexibility can enhance engagement and retention rates, ensuring a more inclusive and effective coaching experience.