Digitalisation of Extension; sustainable agri-food systems in the era of digital platforms

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Computer Science


Eliot Jones is a sociologist and economist working with the UoN Horizon CDT, FFB and CIMMYT on the application of digital technologies in farming.

Existing networks which connected farmers with research institutions, governments and private companies are being increasingly mediated by digital platforms. This has opened the door for many new players, drawing influence from the tech industry but also affording farmers the agency to develop their own, grass-roots platforms. This has led to contested narratives on sustainability, with traditional institutions competing with farmer-led groups to define what environmentally-friendly farming looks like and how that information is diffused. Current research is focused on the interface between emerging organisations within the field of digital extension, the digital platforms, the tools and data they use, and the lives of users, unpacking the narratives embedded in digital platforms through their design and the actions by which they are created and experienced.

Planned Impact

We will collaborate with over 40 partners drawn from across FMCG and Food; Creative Industries; Health and Wellbeing; Smart Mobility; Finance; Enabling technologies; and Policy, Law and Society. These will benefit from engagement with our CDT through the following established mechanisms:

- Training multi-disciplinary leaders. Our partners will benefit from being able to recruit highly skilled individuals who are able to work across technologies, methods and sectors and in multi-disciplinary teams. We will deliver at least 65 skilled PhD graduates into the Digital Economy.

- Internships. Each Horizon student undertakes at least one industry internship or exchange at an external partner. These internships have a benefit to the student in developing their appreciation of the relevance of their PhD to the external societal and industrial context, and have a benefit to the external partner through engagement with our students and their multidisciplinary skill sets combined with an ability to help innovate new ideas and approaches with minimal long-term risk. Internships are a compulsory part of our programme, taking place in the summer of the first year. We will deliver at least 65 internships with partners.

- Industry-led challenge projects. Each student participates in an industry-led group project in their second year. Our partners benefit from being able to commission focused research projects to help them answer a challenge that they could not normally fund from their core resources. We will deliver at least 15 such projects (3 a year) throughout the lifetime of the CDT.

- Industry-relevant PhD projects. Each student delivers a PhD thesis project in collaboration with at least one external partner who benefits from being able to engage in longer-term and deeper research that they would not normally be able to undertake, especially for those who do not have their own dedicated R&D labs. We will deliver at least 65 such PhDs over the lifetime of this CDT renewal.

- Public engagement. All students receive training in public engagement and learn to communicate their findings through press releases, media coverage.

This proposal introduces two new impact channels in order to further the impact of our students' work and help widen our network of partners.

- The Horizon Impact Fund. Final year students can apply for support to undertake short impact projects. This benefits industry partners, public and third sector partners, academic partners and the wider public benefit from targeted activities that deepen the impact of individual students' PhD work. This will support activities such as developing plans for spin-outs and commercialization; establishing an IP position; preparing and documenting open-source software or datasets; and developing tourable public experiences.

- ORBIT as an impact partner for RRI. Students will embed findings and methods for Responsible Research Innovation into the national training programme that is delivered by ORBIT, the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT ( Through our direct partnership with ORBIT all Horizon CDT students will be encouraged to write up their experience of RRI as contributions to ORBIT so as to ensure that their PhD research will not only gain visibility but also inform future RRI training and education. PhD projects that are predominantly in the area of RRI are expected to contribute to new training modules, online tools or other ORBIT services.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023305/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2028
2274246 Studentship EP/S023305/1 30/09/2019 08/08/2024 Eliot Jones
Description Two papers have been delivered since the beginning of this award.

The first, regarding the adoption of sustainable farming technologies for maize production in the Global South, systematically reviewed relevant literature between 2007 and 2018. Findings included that:
(1) Limited information access and technologies not suitable for the small landholdings were the major constraints of farmer adoption of technologies.
(2) The criticisms on the conventional adoption analysis concerning oversimplification and decontextualization of the decision-making process are reaffirmed.
(3) Empirical adoption research needs to incorporate the attributes of technologies and the socio-institutional context to develop better research strategies toward inclusive agrarian development.

The second, concerning farmers using online spaces to discuss Brexit, revealed:
(1) The internet forum can reshape traditional notions of the rural; displacing farmer identities from their deep connection with land and context.
(2) Instead, the forum celebrates an imagined 'British farmer identity', which feeds off of the negative tropes of rural people, and leads to a populist and violet political atmosphere.
(3) Brexit rhetoric acted as a catalyst for politics and emotional sentiment became the deciding factor of debate, above truth and reason.
Exploitation Route The first paper, by summarising the literature in this field to date, was able to set a research agenda for other scholars by emphasizing the need to incorporate the attributes of technologies and the socio-institutional context for inclusive agrarian development.

The second paper presents a novel methodology in a new area and a significant area for future study. The paper goes into detail about how to conduct a 'netnography'; doing research in online environments. Then, it shows that the online is not an unquestionably superior place for agricultural politics, and there is a continued demand for research into progressive spaces for farmers to voice their concerns.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink