What is the Diversity by Design Project?

The Diversity by Design project aims to better understand if, how and which digital tools in agriculture are useful for farmers that have been historically marginalized in technology development and policy-making. We ask: How could emergent technologies in the agri-food sector be of use in a diverse agricultural landscape, and what technical and policy adaptions would be needed to facilitate uptake of these technologies? Likewise, what are the concerns over this supposed digital ‘revolution’ among small-scale producers, and what are reasons for not participating in digitalization? Last, we ask, how our research can inform policy and agribusiness decision-making.

What is the issue?

Innovation in big data, artificial intelligence, sensor technologies or drones are often argued to help address the grand challenges, such as contribute to global food security and mitigate climate change. Despite these promises, the development and use of many digital tools in agriculture raise challenges of their own. Indeed, digital agricultural innovation tends to further a trend of privatization of agricultural technology and information transfer. Other concerns relate to questions about who owns the collected farm data, who can afford the often expensive machinery and technologies, what network infrastructure is required, and what digital skillsets are needed by farmers to operate such system.

Why should we care?

These issues raise the question what kind of agriculture is fostered through the digitalization of the agricultural sector. Most current technologies are designed and developed with large-scale / monoculture / commodity crop agriculture in mind. This has added to a perception that such tools are only of interest to farmers identifying with these forms of agriculture. Meanwhile, small and diverse farmers in agroecological, organic, or regenerative agriculture and market gardening are usually not (or less) considered by technology developers. Yet, it is small-scale farmers that contribute most to food security, to the social fabric of rural life, and to climate resilience.Given that governments invest significant public money in digital agriculture, this raises the issue what farms are getting served by public investment in digital agriculture.

What do we do?

The project follows a participatory research approach, and uses qualitative research methods in the form of design workshops, webinars, qualitative interviews, as well as farm visits. Through these various formats,we aim to offer a space for engagement between farmers and technology developers, policymakers, and researchers. These engagements have the potential for various interest groups to better understand if, how, and what kind of (digital) technologies can best serve small-scale farmers in their agricultural practices.

Who can participate?

…then you should not hesitate to contact us!

And who are we?

The Diversity by Design project is made up of a team of social science researchers with various backgrounds and extensive experiences in applied and analytical work on food and agriculture (below in alphabetic order).

Dr. Kelly Bronson: Kelly is a social scientist studying and helping to mitigate science-society tensions around controversial technologies and their governance, such as big data. Her research aims to bring community values and non-technical knowledge into conversation with technical knowledge for evidence-based decision-making. She is a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Science and Society at University of Ottawa, and co-leader of the Diversity by Design Project.

Dr. Mascha Gugganig: Mascha is an anthropologist who researches emergent, often contested technologies, including agricultural biotechnology, indoor vertical farming, and digital agriculture in EU policy. Through her work she aims to foster dialogue on the differences and overlaps between “high-tech” and “(s)low-tech” in sustainable agriculture, both to understand what is at stake (economics, environmental, socio-cultural, political), and to develop practical, place-based approaches. Through arts-based research and communication methods, her work engages various interest groups, not least to highlight the need for a diversity of expertise.

Dr. Irena Knezevic: Irena is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, and the director of CU Food and Media Hub. Her work spans a range of food systems inquiries, including community-based research, food policy, and digital technologies. She is the co-editor of Nourishing Communities: From Fractured Food Systems to Transformative Pathways (Springer, 2017) and has published her work in various journals, including Canadian Food Studies, Canadian Journal of Communication, Critical Policy Studies, Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, and Food, Culture and Society.

Sarah Marquis: Sarah began her PhD at the Institute of the Environment at uOttawa in September 2020 under the supervision of Dr. Kelly Bronson. She just finished her Master’s degree at the University of Guelph where she focused on technology use in agriculture. Her work focuses in particular on the impacts of ‘digital farming’ or ‘smart farming’ and how the emergence of agricultural Big Data is helping to reshape the politics and practices of farming. Her PhD research will continue to explore the social and environmental impacts of ag-tech in Canada, and she is particularly interested in the role of artificial intelligence in agriculture.

Dr. Jason Millar: Jason holds the Canada Research Chair in the Ethical Engineering of Robotics and AI, and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with a cross-appointment in the Department of Philosophy. His research interests include developing tools and methodologies engineers can use to integrate ethical thinking into their daily engineering workflow, and has focused on applications in automated vehicles, natural language processing, healthcare robotics, social and military robotics.

Dr. David Szanto: David is a teacher, consultant, and artist taking an experimental approach to food systems research. Past projects include meal performances, immersive sensory installations, and interventions involving food, microbes, and robots. David has taught at several universities in Canada and Europe and has written extensively on food, art, and performance. He is an associate editor of the open-access journal, Canadian Food Studies, and co-editor of the textbook, Food Studies: Matter, Meaning & Movement.

This project is funded by: