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A Conceptual Framework for Guiding the Participatory Development of Agricultural Decision Support Systems

  • Emma Jakku
  • Peter Thorburn

    ()

    (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia)

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    Scientists develop decision support systems (DSSs) to make agricultural science more accessible for farmers and extension officers. Despite the growing use of participatory approaches in agricultural DSS development, reflection on this endeavour is largely focused on the ‘doing’ of participation or the ‘problem of implementation’, with little reference to relevant theoretical approaches within the field of science and technology studies (STS). However, if DSS development is to reach its full potential, a more conceptually informed understanding of how stakeholders collaborate in the participatory development of DSSs is required. To contribute to this gap, we developed a conceptual framework based on three concepts drawn from STS that can add value to understanding agricultural DSSs: interpretative flexibility, technological frames, and boundary objects. A DSS becomes a boundary object when it enables the various parties involved in its development to collaborate and learn together despite diverse perceptions of the DSS or the issues that the DSS is being used to address. When combined, these three concepts highlight the importance of social learning for participatory DSS development, particularly the need to begin by exploring the parties’ different perspectives and facilitating co-learning. Our framework leads to a re-definition of success for participatory DSS development, by identifying social learning as a valuable outcome that can occur when farmers, extension officers and scientists collaborate. A case study of stakeholder collaboration to develop an irrigation scheduling DSS for the Australian sugarcane industry is used to illustrate the analytical strength of this conceptual framework.

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    Paper provided by CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in its series Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED) Working Paper Series with number 2009-12.

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    Length: 30 pages
    Date of creation: Oct 2009
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:cse:wpaper:2009-12
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    1. Cornwall, Andrea & Jewkes, Rachel, 1995. "What is participatory research?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 41(12), pages 1667-1676, December.
    2. Walker, Daniel H., 2002. "Decision support, learning and rural resource management," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 113-127, July.
    3. M. Muro & P. Jeffrey, 2008. "A critical review of the theory and application of social learning in participatory natural resource management processes," Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 51(3), pages 325-344.
    4. Hearn, A. B. & Bange, M. P., 2002. "SIRATAC and CottonLOGIC: persevering with DSSs in the Australian cotton industry," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 27-56, October.
    5. Gibbons, James M. & Sparkes, Debbie L. & Wilson, Paul & Ramsden, Stephen J., 2005. "Modelling optimal strategies for decreasing nitrate loss with variation in weather - a farm-level approach," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 113-134, February.
    6. McCown, R. L., 2002. "Changing systems for supporting farmers' decisions: problems, paradigms, and prospects," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 179-220, October.
    7. Murray Bruges & Willie Smith, 2008. "Participatory approaches for sustainable agriculture: A contradiction in terms?," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 25(1), pages 13-23, January.
    8. Nelson, R. A. & Holzworth, D. P. & Hammer, G. L. & Hayman, P. T., 2002. "Infusing the use of seasonal climate forecasting into crop management practice in North East Australia using discussion support software," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 74(3), pages 393-414, December.
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