Large-N Trials

Lead Organization:

Bioversity International






This project builds on Bioversity’s existing work on applying new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and insights from citizen science projects developed in other domains, especially ecology and environmental science, to participatory agricultural research. Citizen science involves (large-scale) public participation in scientific research and has shown success in providing important scientific insights and facilitating citizen education and awareness (Cooper, 2015). In this area, Bioversity’s work has led to the development of the triadic comparison of technologies (tricot) approach (van Etten et al., ms), which has been applied mainly to crop variety selection. In this approach, a large number of farmers individually evaluate a different combination of three crop varieties. Feedback on these varieties is pooled and the results are shared back with farmers on paper and through group discussions. The tricot approach precludes free-riding (cf. Misiko 2013), and requires less on-site supervision from trained professionals throughout the process, which contributes to the cost-effectiveness and scalability of the approach. The tricot approach is used by a growing number of organizations across three continents (see below), supported by a continually improved online digital platform, However, two important limitations are becoming evident. Firstly, the tricot approach is insufficiently participatory in its expression: identifying needs and setting targets, developing ideas for new technologies, selecting which technologies to evaluate, and which questions to ask in evaluation. Citizen science is lacking established, scalable methods for engaging citizens in the targeting of projects in a way that (a) accurately represents diverse citizen needs and views, including needs beyond the financial aspects of their livelihoods, (b) is procedurally legitimate from a political perspective, addressing social inclusion and gender equity issues, and (c) achieves perceived legitimacy, trust, and buy-in by citizens.A second main challenge of citizen science is motivating participation. In response, as games are systems purpose-built for engagement, citizen science researchers and practitioners have been increasingly taking to engagement design and gamification — infusing their platforms with game design elements — to make them more engaging (Deterding, 2015; Seaborn & Fels, 2015). In the tricot approach, participation depends on farmers’ motivation to stay engaged in the process and even take up more responsibility, including recruiting others, data entry, data quality control, and interpretation of results in the local context. Field research is needed on the motivational drivers and hurdles of participants and differences in motivation between groups differentiated by gender, age and other social and economic factors, and to establish what design strategies might best address these factors in this context.Insights from addressing these knowledge gaps can be directly used in ongoing work with the tricot approach in the McKnight-supported CCRP, as well as work by Bioversity partners who are using the tricot approach, such as ICAR (India), CATIE (Central America). Also, insights emerging from this research can benefit important related initiatives such as PlantVillage, an interactive digital platform, and PhotosynQ a photometric sensor linked to an open data platform. Bioversity is in conversation with both these initiatives about collaboration.

Grant Aims:

The overall goal is to improve the democratizing power of citizen science with triadic choices for data collection on agricultural options through involving farmer participants in the goal definition (targeting) of projects and increasing engagement in both targeting and data collection. The work will build on citizen science methods developed by Bioversity International in collaboration with a large number of partners, expanding, revising, and refining these methods.Sub-goals:(a)    Chart design space of possible forms of citizen participation in targeting and executing large-N citizen science trials(b)    Identify drivers and hurdles for (i) accuracy and representativeness of targeting, (ii) legitimacy, trust, buy-in by participants(c)    Identify motivational, ability-related, and contextual drivers and hurdles for participation in (i) citizen science goal-setting and (ii) triadic choices data collection(d)    Develop and refine validated prototypes for engaging targeting and data collection methods(e)    Translate learnings and prototypes into validated materials and methodological guidelines(f)    Disseminate results and inspire others to incorporate learnings into the design of future citizen science initiativesAlignment with CCRP Theory of ChangeThis research provides a methodological basis to enable agricultural researchers, farmers and others to realize several elements of the CCRP Theory of Change on Farmer Research Networks (FRN):1.    More farmers and organizations participating in multiple parts of the research process2.    Large, networked datasets that reveal useful patterns of performance3.    Farmers can derive and understand principles and learning which would not be possible by working alone or receiving extensionThe contribution of this project to element 1 is through a large-N trial approach (= “more farmers”) and the design of an explicit goal-setting approach (= “multiple parts of the research process”). The large-N citizen science will lead to large, networked datasets (element 2). The increased engagement of farmers in the whole research process (which involves farm comparisons and a pooling of test results from individual farmers) should lead to increased understanding and learning (element 3)Also, the project aligns with the CCRP Leadership ToC which emphasizes capacity building on participatory methods, systems approaches and gender. Also, the citizen science methodology resulting from this project should be an important contribution to the principle “Treat everyone as a knowledge worker with shared responsibility and mutual accountability”.The goal-setting processes will take into account the agroecological and systems approaches that are inherent in the overall CCRP ToC through a farm-level design methodology.