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Simon Fielke  



[Image of a split circle appears with photos in each half of the circle flashing through of various CSIRO activities and the circle then morphs into the CSIRO logo]


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a photo of a crop surrounded by a road and Simon Fielke can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Grasping at digitalisation, Turning imagination into fact in the Australian sugarcane farming community, Delivering Digital Landscapes, Simon Fielke, 22 March 2021]


Simon Fielke: Today, I’m presenting a talk about grasping at digitalisation. I will also recognise the Social Dimensions Team, the Great Barrier Reef Dimensions, well the Great Barrier Reef Project Team in Digiscape, and colleagues from Queensland Government and JCU, in this.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a Stacy Complexity Matrix diagram on the right, with an inset AI vehicle, a tractor, and an inset from the Australian Agtech and Foodtech webpage, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Overarching problem – The ‘AgTech sector’ is incredibly complex, fragmented and hyped]


The overarching problem in this space is around the AgTech sector as a relatively new nascent industry, being incredibly complex, highly fragmented, and seriously hyped up, to the point that it makes it quite hard for a farmer or an advisor to understand which technology to invest in and when. So the, you’ll see from the two pictures, like the Australian AgTech Food Tech sector is full of players, private, public and otherwise. And as you go from kind of traditional technologies of a generation ago, as in the tractor, which people could kind of understand, and didn’t have too much in the way of data or sending things elsewhere and coming back again, we’ve moved to this kind of highly complex, where people don’t agree, and it’s far from certain.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a MAST table diagram, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: The only way to articulate the value (or lack thereof) of human-digital engagement is to understand them in more detail – eg introducing the Digi-MAST framework, Mystery – can be fluent and effortless or annoying and forced… but use happens without a grasp of the digital infrastructure, systems or influence on individual behaviours, Aware – Becoming aware of the surrounding and permeating digitality – being conscious of digital presence in our everyday lives and interrelation with the digital world, Spark – The ability to grasp digitality enables one to question the relationship with the digital world… What is the interface between physical and digital worlds? Why? Can it be different?, Transform – Intentional creation add aesthetic qualities, beyond moral and political questions… the digital world allows for a more intuitive and sensory experience]


The potential of $20B or whatever the AgTech industry is touted to be worth eventually involves realising that people need to understand both how to use, develop, and exploit or transform the digital technologies that we’re developing. The different modes that a person might have to traverse to get from feeling that feeling of mystery or mystified, where they’re not quite sure how things work, they’re not really understanding the digital infrastructure behind the technology, or the systems, or individual behaviours, or maybe they just don’t care, through becoming aware of that, and how things are talking to each other, and what works and what doesn’t, to being sparked by it, to being really interested and asking questions of how does this interact with my physical world, through transformed, so thinking about how they can use digital technology or a combination of them to kind of move their life forward in a different way.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a map of the Queensland coast around Cairns area, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Regional case study problem, GBR adjacent catchment, Freshwater quality improvement needed, Relationship with sugarcane N fert use – timing/rate]



So this overarching, kind of, AgTech problem was also grounded in a regional case-study problem. So Peter and his Great Barrier Reef Project Team, within the Digiscape Future Science Platform, were kind enough to let me as a social scientist be a, adopted member of their project team. And their project was kind of, well, it was a partnership between a water quality monitoring programme, called Project 25 led by farmers and researchers at JCU, and the GBR Project Team and various other kind of data input people, and the challenge was to try and reduce or get farmers to think about reducing their nitrogen fertiliser application in the sugarcane industry because those sugarcane farms, where we’re looking here, are adjacent the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing an article and photos of a male taking a water sample, a hand using a Smartphone, and a group posing for a photo at a launch, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Regional case study solution, Multi-party and transdisciplinary collaborative R&D efforts…]


This involved a kind of multi-party project/effort and with the Project 25 part being led by farmers, kind of classifies this as a kind of transdisciplinary, collaborative research and development effort. So you’ll see some photos there. The first one is from the Cane Growers Industry Magazine about Project 25, putting the future of water quality back into farmers’ hands, growers’ hands. The second one is a screenshot of the 1622 Water Quality application that was developed. And next door is Peter, Tony, Aaron and some farmers from, yep, some growers from North Queensland at the, at one of the launches.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a flow chart of research methods, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Qualitative and action research methods, Mechanism to evaluate collaboration – 20 interviews with agricultural stakeholders regarding use of digital technology & relevance to their practice (2018), Introduction of Digi-MAST – Via Digiscape GBR project team through co-design workshopping, Re-consideration of theory of change – Increasing the likelihood of getting from A to B]


So, to kind of come up with the basis for this study, we did some interviews with various agricultural stakeholders, so mostly farmers, both involved with Project 25 and not, advisors, and researchers, to talk about how the digital technology was influencing their life and relevant to their practice or not. We then thought about the Digigraphing Paper and developing this Digi-MAST framework, workshopped that with the Digiscape GBR Project Team and kind of reconsidered the theory of change to get farmers or advisors from where they were now to where we wanted them to be and what might be involved in that.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a cardboard box with a question mark on the side of it, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Interview analysis – farmers’ mystery, Well it would be of assistance if I knew how to drive a computer, but I am computer illiterate, I get it all done (by a staff member), I’m lost mate… I’m way beyond my depth, This is my phone, I’ve got three messages and one missed call, That’s all I need to know, I still can’t get my head around why everybody puts everything on the internet]


So, the social analysis of the initial farmer, advisor, research and data revealed a kind of, a pretty stark difference in how those different groups were seeing things and their kind of digital, digital literacy. So, one of the farmers, not involved in the project, mentions that he’s computer illiterate and gets everything done by other staff. Another one, who was involved with the project, admits that he’s lost and he’s way beyond his depth and he’s more comfortable with his flip phone, not sure why everyone puts things on the internet.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a photograph of a small fire, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Interview analysis – farmer being sparked, It’s a nitrogen sensor and it pumps every hour and give you pretty well dirty data… there’s a couple of lessons I learnt… it takes a bloody long time to get accurate data… Everyone thinks it’s instantaneous – it’s not IF2)]


That’s kind of examples of mystery. In terms of being sparked, there was this, by an involved farmer that kind of understood how the different technologies, that nitrogen sensor pumping every hour results in dirty data, and learned some lessons that it takes a long time to figure out how to get accurate data and how those things speak through in certain of these devices to go into the application that is 1622 Water Quality.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a photo of a Transformer figurine, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Interview analysis – researchers transform… We’ve gone from nearly a 100% in bowls (manual sampling) to now real time in situ probes with algorithms running over them and everything in between, I’ve got a bit of a vision… We’re going to wind down our traditional monitoring and ramp up our real time (R5)]


And then in terms of transformation, there are already kind of evidence, from one researcher at least, that they’re thinking about how these digital technologies might dramatically change their day job, so going from nearly 100% manual sampling through to real-time in situ probes with algorithms running over them and everything in between. I’ve got a vision of how the future is going to wind down traditional monitoring and ramp up real-time.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing a diagram of the flow of data or information through three categories and three interactions, from input providing human and technology interacting,  through on-farm humans and technology interacting, through to post-farm gate human and technology interacting, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Interview analysis, Then used the digi-Mast framework to classify interviewee responses based on AgTech value chain interaction (Fielke et al. 2020)]


So, considering these and a number of other statements which you can see in the full paper, the link’s at the end of the talk, we came up with this overlay of, from people providing input, input advice and products, through on-farm humans and technologies interacting, through the post-farm logistics, export etc. interacting, all of those links and each of those categories has an interaction between humans and technologies that are generically at pretty different levels.


[Image shows a broken chain appearing across the slide]


So there’s kind of a disconnect between those that have had the time and effort dealing with and engaging with digital technologies on the one hand prior to the on-farm part and post farm-gate. And so there’s quite a bit of work to be done to help build the kind of capabilities of that whole, well, all the players in the innovation system.


[Image changes to show a new slide, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Co-design workshopping, Disconnection – Disconnect between research, farm technological expectations, Creation – Create digi-MAST framework, Iteration – Through design-led thinking (Marty Mooij D61) incorporated into project team meetings to unpack expectations and realities in remaining project lifetime – tool to map to theory of change progression]


So we’ve workshopped this with the GBR Project Team and were helped by Marty Mooij in doing that and that led to kind of change in how we thought about the theory of change for the project.


[Image changes to show a new slide showing symbols of a head with cogs inside, a glowing light bulb, and a continuous arrow circle, and Simon can be seen inset in the top right talking, and text appears: Lessons learned… Iterative and ongoing digital technological developments will allow for movement from mystification to transformation of ag knowledge and advice networks over time, Some individuals will actively choose to resist the intellectual and technical skill development required to reach such a digitally enlightened state due to their perceptions of risk – that is OK, The Digi-MAST framework is a first of its kind framework to help explain why a transition to digital (AgTech) industry can be different to more generic change processes]


And so the main lessons that we’ve learned: it’s an iterative and ongoing digital technology development space. We need to understand that movement from mystification to transformation of the various players is going to take time. Some individuals might, due to various reasons, choose to resist the kind of skill development that’s involved with understanding and working with digital technologies and that, for them, might be OK. And this Digi-MAST framework provides a first of its kind way of helping explain the transition to digital AgTech which is different to more generic change processes. Thanks.


[Image changes to show a white screen showing the CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s National Science Agency]

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