How responsible innovation is transforming digital agriculture technologies – podcast 

October 5th, 2023

DR CARA STITZLEIN and DR SIMON FIELKE join a diverse panel on The Digital Village Show to discuss responsible innovation in the AgTech space.
A composite image of Simon, who is on the left wearing a plaid shirt and speaking into a microphone, and Cara, who is on the right, wearing a white shirt and a scarf and holding a microphone while smiling.

Dr Simon Fielke (left) and Dr Cara Stitzlein (right).

The Responsible Innovation FSP’s Dr Simon Fielke, together with Data61’s Dr Cara Stitzlein, recently featured on The Digital Village Show – a podcast about latest technology trends impacting business, people and the planet.  

Cara and Simon joined Digital Village hosts Jason Hardie and Luke Fabish, on a panel with acclaimed data scientist Professor Graham Williams of ANU, as well as Nikki and Peter Thompson – tech-savvy land stewards from Queensland with a passion for innovation in agriculture.  

Across three episodes, the panellists unpacked what responsible innovation is, what it looks like in practice, and how it’s helping scientists and farmers alike navigate issues of data privacy, reliability, and big data applications now and into the future.  

What is RI? 

Asked what responsible innovation is, Simon explained: “Responsible Innovation is defined as taking care of the future through science and technology development in the present.”  

“As the national science agency, [CSIRO] has an obligation to conduct research and innovation in ways that recognise and lean into the complexity of the times, in an effort to obtain the greatest benefit for Australians, and Australian industries,” he added.  

A key focus of responsible innovation is engagement with the people who will be impacted most by new technologies – including stakeholders, end users, industries and communities – to help them understand and engage with future science, and shape it for the better, right at the start of the innovation pipeline.  

Recipe for success 

Cara and Simon brought two case studies in responsible AgTech innovation to the table: landscape opportunity calculators LOOC-B (for biodiversity) and LOOC-C (for carbon abatement). Both researchers worked on delivering these tools for farmers in a collaborative and responsible way, drawing on a shared passion for human-centred design. 

The recipe for these tools’ success has been a combination of large amounts of data, the knowhow to pull it together in meaningful ways, and significant stakeholder engagement. “Within R&D sometimes the social sciences are kept on a short leash, or we’re brought in a little late,” said Cara.  

“That combination of the data, knowhow and engagement meant we could deliver first-of-its-kind solutions to stakeholders, farmers, their advisors, as well as folks in the broader industry.” 

A challenge, accepted 

But responsible innovation isn’t always easy to pull off, especially in Australia’s vast agricultural sector, the researchers explained: “We’ve learned that the factors of time, geography and economies can make it quite difficult to do things in agriculture differently, and to innovate in a responsible manner.” 

Yet developing new tools and tech without the guardrails of responsible innovation risks serious consequences.  

“Things can kind of unravel,” said Cara. “Or, they’ll just resort back to business as usual: what we’re comfortable with and what we know. I think that prevents us from ever taking a step forward to better outcomes, to be more inclusive, it also prevents us from looking far into the future, which we need to do given some of the wicked challenges we’re facing today, in agriculture or more broadly.” 

Connecting for good 

The wide-ranging conversation expanded into how science for the public good is a core component of sustainability transitions, which Cara and Simon work on as part of CSIRO’s Valuing Sustainability FSP. It also included candid farmer feedback on the LOOC-C and LOOC-B tools.  

“It’s by participating in conversations like this that we hope to raise awareness of what CSIRO is doing, in a personal way, which creates meaningful relationships so we can work together for a better future,” Simon concluded.   

This was just the first in a series of three episodes focussed on Responsible Innovation in AgTech, so be sure to catch parts two and three over at The Digital Village Show