We love trust – but we prefer certainty of evidence

Why I should put agreements around field experiments in writing.

I am standing on a field with the farmer. The rain is pouring down, it’s freezing cold. I explained to him, what kind of measurements I want to collect in the soil of his field and why. I also explained, that the results will be published in a repository and that he will receive compensation for his troubles in the amount of 100 Euros. He nods his head – grunting in agreement. No problem. Sealed with a handshake.

No problem, I say to myself, as I set up my instruments on his field. No problem, as I gather my results for months in an excel sheet. No problem, as I return to the field one day and the farmer now tells me, he had second thoughts about our agreement and now does not want me on his field anymore. After all, it is his field and he also wasn’t aware of what exactly my experiment means for him and his business. I should delete my results and kick rocks.

Is he allowed to do that?

If you look at the case above from a legal perspective, you can reasonably interpret the agreement as the conclusion of a contract. Because outside of the legal categorization, all of the essential parts necessary for a contract (essentialia negotii) are present: the contractual object – the use of his property during a set time frame, the contractual parties (him and I) and finally also the financial offset in the form of the compensation.

The freedom of contract that is written in the civil code does generally also not obligate me to put a contract in writing. It is sufficient to create an offer for the other party, which includes the minimum requirements listed above, which they then can accept with a simple “yes” (or a nod of their head). That’s it. That’s how quickly one can enter into a contract (generally).

If I now had a witness (or even better: the civil judge himself) standing with us on the field, seeing our agreement with his own eyes, he could then – also in court – tell the farmer that he cannot simply withdraw from that contract without a good reason. But this is where the problem lies: I don’t have a civil judge in my pocket to summon upon concluding a contract wherever I go. Furthermore, witnesses do not bare the guarantee of winning a court battle in case of a legal dispute.

How do I solve this problem?

The solution is literally writing itself: I put my concerns in writing and let the farmer sign it. This does not only provide security for me in the worst case.
It also heightens the trust of the farmer in the parameters of the contract and that I stay within the written agreement and honor his interests. It increases transparency, which ultimately increases the motivation of the farmer to participate in future experiments as well.

And that is how I get to my happy ending.