Co-creation: design thinking and human-centered in the AgTech design

Published at: 12 October 2022

Using user-centered design methods to remove barriers to adoption of digital agriculture

By: Daniela Salas Betancourt, Oriana Gómez, Luis A. Sandoval & Luis A. Muñoz.

Agriculture 4.0, (AgTec), allows to increase productive efficiency, optimize quality, minimize the environmental impact of agricultural operations, and minimize operational risks for workers. However, and despite all the benefits that its implementation entails, there are multiple barriers that limit its adoption. Among the main causes that limit the adoption of AgTec are: (1) limited technical knowledge on the part of the producers, (2) designs not adapted for small-scale agriculture, (3) high implementation costs and (4) lack of after-sales service, among others.

To eliminate the barriers to the adoption of AgTec, and bring the revolution of Agriculture 4.0 to small-scale farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean, the technical-scientific team of the project "Digitalization of small-scale agriculture" has made use of innovative methodologies and strategies for the development of the technological solution proposed by the project. This technological solution consists of a robust, low cost, highly usable soil moisture measuring device (it can be used in a wide range of crops and soil types). In other words, transdisciplinary research was carried out for the development of the technological solution, incorporating multiple disciplines and social actors.

Prior to the design of the technological solution prototypes, a co-creation methodology was implemented, specifically a creative visualization exercise. This methodology made it possible to capture the needs, expectations and experiences of small-scale farmers. With the information generated, the aim is to guarantee the adoption of the technological solution. The co-creation exercise made it possible to involve the producers and their ideas in the formulation of the technological solution, thus generating a solution that they were interested in adopting.

The information collected through the creative visualization exercise was used in the design of the technological solution (prototypes and final design), and in the design of the data visualization tool that complements the device. The methodology is described in detail below.

Design thinking and human-centered design

Design thinking is a work methodology that seeks to make the most of the result of the collective creativity of the participants. Human-centered design is a methodology that seeks to develop innovative products centered on people, offering a lens through which their challenges and needs can be observed. Using both concepts, the private technology development company Visualiti, together with Zamorano University and Alianza Bioversity - CIAT, carried out the five stages that characterize "Human-Centered Design" which are explained below. The goal: to meet the needs of people (small-scale farmers) in a way that is technologically feasible and commercially viable (a robust, low-cost, high-usability soil moisture sensor).

The five stages followed were: (1) Empathize, (2) Define, (3) Ideate, (4) Prototype, and (5) Evaluate.

Empathize. It is considered the essential phase of this methodology, and deals with the discovery and understanding of the main needs of the final human. In this case, a process of empathy was carried out with the producers, focusing on deeply analyzing their environment and its characteristics. The environment was analyzed using secondary information and by conversations with the producers.

Define. After knowing the different needs of the producers in stage 1 (empathize), the main ones were defined. These needs were captured by the producers themselves in the creative visualization exercises carried out in each country. Specifically, growers were asked, “If you could design a sensor to measure soil moisture, how would you imagine such a sensor?”

Devise. At this stage, the technical-scientific team of the project creatively thought of more than one idea to solve those problems to measure soil moisture raised by the producers and those that were identified in the review of secondary information. At this stage we also began to think about the materials and the structure that the final product could have.

Prototype. It consists of the materialization of the selected ideas. In this project, three device prototypes were designed that potentially meet the characteristics identified in the definition and ideation phases. The characteristics of the prototypes were tested using criteria defined in conjunction with the people and the project team.

Evaluate. Finally, the prototypes developed in the previous stage (prototyping) were evaluated, and according to the results obtained, the most optimal option was selected.

Co-creation exercise

Part of the information used in the stages of empathizing, defining and ideating was collected through a co-creation exercise that was carried out through face-to-face and virtual activities with producers from Colombia, Honduras and Nicaragua. As explained in the previous section, these stages sought to better understand the needs and expectations of the farmers. By involving them in these stages, it is hoped that their needs and expectations will be met in the design of the technological solution, thus guaranteeing its adoption (Figure 1).

Fig 1. Outcome examples of the creative visualization excersice. 

The specific objectives of the co-creation exercise were:

  1. Identify the needs of the people, who try to satisfy them in subsequent stages, taking into account the characteristics of low cost, high usability and robustness that the proposed solution must meet at a technical and economic level.
  2. Ensure the interest and appropriation of the beneficiaries in relation to the future solution, as they are involved in its creation.
  3. Identify market opportunities for the proposed solution.

The methodology under which the exercise was carried out consists of bringing together groups of people (farmers in this case), providing them with materials that allow them to express themselves, such as stationery, colors, and work tables, and with the support of the "Tutor's Guide ” (Figures 2 and 3 in spanish), lead them in writing and drawing activities of their perspectives in response to the question: “If I had the opportunity to create, develop or manufacture an apparatus, device or technology to know the moisture status of the soil of your cultivation, how do you imagine it?”

Fig 2. Creative Visualization Technique Tutor's Guide.

Fig 3. Problem question and supporting questions of the tutor's guide for the design of a device to measure soil moisture.

To carry out the co-creation exercise, leading farmers were selected in each country, which was carried out as follows: in Colombia, through contact with a local actor, who shared the contacts of the leading farmers in the region of the Cauca; in Honduras, five farmers from the area, who work regularly with Zamorano University projects; in Nicaragua, with leading farmers from the region where the pilots are installed, who carried out the exercise by video call. The farmers imagined and graphically captured what would be a final result for them, which complements the ideas of the technical-scientific team

As a result of the co-creation exercise, the following conclusions were obtained from the teams of each country:

Honduras. The beneficiaries imagined a device that allows to visualize by colors, scales or levels, the humidity of the soil, on a linear scale defined by the levels of low, good and high measure.• Honduras. The beneficiaries imagined a device that allows to visualize by colors, scales or levels, the humidity of the soil, on a linear scale defined by the levels of low, good and high measure.o Important factors: low cost, very resistant, reliable and exact, easy to use.

Colombia. The beneficiaries imagined a device graphically associated with a clock, or speedometer, and a thermometer, which are elements familiar to them, in which the current levels of humidity in the soil can be clearly seen.

Nicaragua. The beneficiaries imagined a mobile system adapted to the plowing tools used, which would allow soil moisture measurements to be recorded while the plowing system moves through the crop areas.Finally, the project development team (mainly from Visualiti), incorporated the conclusions of the co-creation exercise in the design of the prototypes and the pilot tests for their evaluation (stages 4 and 5 of prototyping and evaluation of the design of the technological solution .To learn more about the Digitization of Small-Scale Agriculture project, visit its website by clicking here.

*This publication has been produced with the financial support of FONTAGRO. The opinions expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily
they do not reflect the point of view of FONTAGRO, its Board of Directors, or the countries it represents.

With the support of
Fondo Coreano de Alianza para el Conocimiento en Tecnología e Innovación (KPK)