Social dimensions

two peopleIdentifying and responding to social conditions and risks so that next generation decision tools contribute to a fair, sustainable and productive land sector in Australia

Why is it important to include social dimensions when developing agtech?

The development and implementation of new technologies is shaped by social factors such as who is involved in the design process and how and why people use them. These social dimensions are in many ways just as important as the underlying technical aspects. As new areas of science and technology are pursued it is important to understand and include different people’s views about the social and ethical impacts of new technologies.

Digiscape is one example of significant efforts internationally to realise the transformative potential of digital agriculture. However, there are many social and ethical challenges associated with the digital transformation of agriculture.

Understanding and responding to the needs and concerns of stakeholders in the land sector is a vital part of developing new agricultural technologies. Science can help ensure that these technologies are relevant and useful as well as avoid potentially negative, unintended consequences for rural and agricultural communities. And that they’re sensitive to impacts on farming practice, labour as well as issues of data access, ownership and privacy.

What did we do to understand social dimensions in developing agtech?

Four potential scenarios for different possible futures of farming in Australia

The Digiscape Social Dimensions project focused on improving our understanding of the social, ethical and trust dimensions of digital technologies that are seeking to transform agriculture. It aimed to help identify and respond to the social conditions and risks relevant to the digital tools being developed within Digiscape.

Our research shared insights into how to include stakeholder perspectives in the development of digital tools to ensure socially responsible benefits and improved uptake.

Watch team member Aysha Fleming present on our work on foresighting for responsible agtech innovation.

‘Foresighting for responsible agtech innovation’ by Aysha Fleming (8:38 minutes)

For example, the team worked closely with the Digiscape Carbon project to identify co-benefits (i.e. non-financial benefits of a land use change) as an important part of the broad decision-making context for landholders.

Within the Digiscape Great Barrier Reef project, our team co-developed a framework for understanding and tracking the digital experience that helps to explain the process of digital technology acceptance (or non-acceptance). Watch team member Simon Fielke present on this work, below.

‘Grasping at digitalisation: turning imagination into fact in the sugarcane farming community’ by Simon Fielke (9:39 minutes)

We also examined the broader context of digital technologies in the land sector, including the implications of new technologies for agricultural knowledge and advice networks, the current state of Australia’s policy networks relevant to digital agriculture and potential scenarios for different futures of farming in Australia.

We also collaborated with the Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform to develop two short courses that translate CSIRO’s cutting-edge science on Responsible Innovation into work-based learning in the digital agriculture domain. More information on the courses will be available soon.

Watch Emma Jakku and Simon Fielke present what they’ve learned about how to implement responsible innovation in digital agriculture.

‘What have we learned about how to implement responsible innovation in digital agriculture?’ by Emma Jakku and Simon Fielke (9:09 minutes)

Read more about our work

Digitalisation and agricultural knowledge, advice and policy networks:

Edwards P, Fleming A, Kelly R (2021) Responsible research and innovation and social licence to operate: aligning concepts for advancing marine innovation and development governance. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 49, 12-17.

Fielke S, Taylor BM, Jakku E, Mooij M, Stitzlein C, Fleming A, Thorburn PJ, Webster T, Davis A, Vilas M (2021) Grasping at digitalisation: turning imagination into fact in the sugarcane farming community. Sustainability Science 16, 677-690.

Fleming A, Jakku E, Fielke S, Taylor BM, Lacey J, Terhorst A, Stitzlein C (2021) Foresighting Australian digital agricultural futures: applying responsible innovation thinking to anticipate research and development impact under different scenarios. Agricultural Systems 190, 103120.

Klerkx L, Jakku E, Labarthe P (2019) A review of social science on digital agriculture, smart farming and agriculture 4.0: new contributions and a future research agenda. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 90-91, 100315.

Fielke S, Garrard R, Jakku E, Fleming A, Wiseman L, Taylor B (2019) Conceptualising the DAIS: Implications of the “Digitalisation of Agricultural Innovation Systems” on technology and policy at multiple levels. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences.

Fielke S, Taylor B, Jakku E (2020) Digitalisation of agricultural knowledge and advice networks: a state-of-the-art review. Agricultural Systems 180, 102763.


Case studies of the social dimensions of industry-based digital tools:

Garrard R, Fielke S (2020) Blockchain for trustworthy provenances: a case study in the Australian aquaculture industry. Technology in Society 62, 101298. doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2020.101298

Jakku E, Taylor B, Fleming A, Mason C, Fielke S, Sounness C, Thorburn PJ (2019) If they don’t tell us what they do with it, why would we trust them? Trust, transparency and benefit-sharing in smart farming. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 90-91, 100285. doi:10.1016/j.njas.2018.11.002

Fleming A, Jakku E, Lim-Camacho L, Taylor B and Thorburn P (2018) Is Big Data for big farming or for everyone? Perceptions in the Australian grains industry. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 38, 24. doi:10.1007/s13593-018-0501-y

Missed opportunity?  Framing actions around co-benefits for carbon mitigation in Australian agriculture

Stitzlein C, Fielke S Fleming A, Jakku E, Mooij M (2020) Participatory design of digital agriculture technologies: bridging gaps between science and practice. Rural Extension and Innovation Systems Journal 16, 14-23.

1622WQ: A web-based application to increase farmer awareness of the impact of agriculture on water quality

Some of the team

A woman smiling at the camera
  • Emma's expertise is in the sociology of science and technology to help improve understanding of technology development, implementation and adoption processes in the digital transformation of Australian agriculture. Emma led Digiscape's social dimensions project.
  • Simon is a Research Scientist in Agricultural & Digital Innovation. He conducts applied human geographical research into the implications of the digitalisation of agricultural innovation systems.
  • Aysha is a Senior Research Scientist in Agricultural & Digital Innovation. is an environmental social scientist (sociologist) based in Hobart, Tasmania. Her background is in adult education, social research in agriculture, communication of climate change and rural sociology.