Associate Professor of Computer Science, Hakim Weatherspoon, and Associate Professor of Information Science, Phoebe Sengers have received a major National Science Foundation (NSF) Award to explore the social impact of networked farms. In a project entitled "Understanding and Improving the Social Impact of High-Bandwidth Farm Networking Infrastructure," the investigators explain:
The goals of this project are to (1) investigate the potential social impact of ubiquitous, low-cost, high-bandwidth communication infrastructure on America's farms, and (2) develop options for improving the social impact of these technologies. New networking solutions to support high-bandwidth on-farm data communication will enable the collection of massive amounts of sensor data, its transmission to the cloud or other servers, and its processing and use for agricultural decision- making. These shifts stand poised to transform agricultural production and economic organization. This project will pursue values in design research into next generation network solutions for agriculture, as well as empirical research with agricultural stakeholders currently engaging information-rich approaches to farm management. The project will integrate concerns of agribusiness stakeholders into the early stages of on-farm networking development; foster informed discussion among technical, agricultural, and policy stakeholders about the potential social impact of this technology; and develop and disseminate practical policy and design options to improve the social impact of on-farm networking. It will support the training of students from underrepresented groups in research through summer research workshops in networking, design for social impact, and the futures of digital agriculture.
The research adapts techniques to integrate societal considerations in the early stages of technology design, in order to manage the specific challenges that come up in addressing the social impact of infrastructure. The project will (1) use ethnographic participant-observation in the development of farm networking technology and collaboration with technical partners to identify moments where technical decisions could be associated with social impact challenges; (2) conduct fieldwork with agricultural stakeholders to analyze how existing infrastructures incorporating analogous technologies are shaping and shaped by emerging social practices to create specific impacts; (3) develop future design scenarios that flesh out and concretize potential relationships between technological decisions, future policies and organizational practices, and the resulting benefits and drawbacks; and (4) use these scenarios to collaboratively identify specific technical, organizational, and policy options that could improve the benefits or reduce the drawbacks of on-farm high-bandwidth communication technologies.