Foresighting Australian digital agricultural futures: Applying responsible innovation thinking to anticipate research and development impact under different scenarios
CONTEXT: Public and private research institutions are grappling with the challenges and opportunities of embedding dimensions of responsible innovation within their research and development programs, including those seeking to transform agricultural productivity and sustainability through digital technologies. Central to meeting this challenge is building institutional, organisational and professional capacity for anticipation and reflexiveness within multidisciplinary research communities. Foresighting methodologies provide a means by which this might be usefully and practically enabled, whilst also shedding light on the broader social and ethical implications of alternative agricultural technology development pathways under uncertain environmental and industry futures.
OBJECTIVE: This paper presents the results of a participatory foresighting exercise undertaken as part of a large, publicly funded multi-disciplinary research initiative designed to build a common big data infrastructure to harness the benefits of the digital revolution for the Australian agricultural and land sectors. We seek to explore what role digital technology will play in the future of Australian agriculture and to consider the social and ethical implications.
METHODS: We ran a one-day foresighting workshop comprised of four steps – 1) horizon scanning to identify trends 2) selecting two drivers of change 3) producing a matrix to generate scenarios 4) building and refining scenarios. Participants explored different possible futures of farming in Australia, with a focus on scenarios involving socio-technical dimensions of digital agriculture to consider the implications of these futures for research practice and for farming communities.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Four scenarios were developed, distinguished by the interplay of two critical but uncertain drivers of change identified by participants, namely: the degree of resource security or insecurity that future agricultural enterprises are likely to experience; and the degree to which farming sectors maintain traditional farm business models and associated value chains or transition to more diverse or innovative business models. The process highlighted the need to increase the capacity and opportunity for more reflexivity in research and development, if positive outcomes were to be achieved.
SIGNIFICANCE: The scenarios we produced provide a catalyst for conversation about the implications of digital technology development in Australia and globally, for industry, policy and research and development. In particular, the scenarios highlight potential changes in farm business models, decision making, and beneficiaries and inequities of new technologies and other components of food value chains. The paper also serves as a guide and prompt for others, by demonstrating one way reflexivity can be achieved in organisations attempting innovation.
Publication titleAgricultural Systems
Department/SchoolTasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)
Place of publicationNetherlands
Rights statementCopyright 2021 The Author(s) Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/