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Participatory design of digital innovation in agricultural research-for-development: insights from practice
Agricultural Systems  (IF5.37),  Pub Date : 2021-11-11, DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2021.103313
Jonathan Steinke, Berta Ortiz-Crespo, Jacob van Etten, Anna Müller


Innovation based on information and communication technology (ICT) plays an increasingly important role in agricultural research-for-development efforts. It has been recognized, however, that the weak adoption and low impact of many ICT-for-agriculture (ICT4Ag) efforts are partly due to poor design. Often, design was driven more by technological feasibility than by a thorough analysis of the target group's needs and capacities. For more user-centered ICT4Ag development, there is now growing interest in the use of systematic, participatory design methodologies.


Numerous methodologies for participatory design exist, but applying any of them in smallholder farming context can create specific challenges that digital development researchers need to deal with. This article aims to support future digital development efforts by contributing practical insights to recent discussions on the use of participatory design methodologies for ICT4Ag development.


We present lessons learned from practical experiences within participatory design projects that developed ICT4Ag solutions in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Based on these experiences and supported by literature, we describe common challenges and limitations that digital designers may face in practice, and discuss possible opportunities for dealing with them.


The outcomes of digital design projects within research-for-development efforts can be affected by tensions between design ideals and project realities. These tensions may relate to, among others, mismatching expectations among project stakeholders, top-down hierarchies at design partners, insufficient attention to the wider digital ecosystem, and disincentives to re-use ideas and software. Depending on project context, these challenges may need to be addressed by researchers during planning and implementation of digital design projects.


The insights in this article may support agricultural development researchers in facilitating more effective participatory design processes. Even though good design is not the only precondition for a successful ICT4Ag service, this can help create more meaningful digital innovation for agricultural development.