Inventory of digital tools and their potential socio-economic impacts

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One of the purposes of DESIRA is to analyse the potential of digital technologies to improve conditions in 20 European regions, by establishing 'Living Labs', or networks of stakeholders selected to represent a variety of agricultural, rural and forestry areas in these regions. These Living Labs analyse their existing Social-Cyber-Physical-System (SCPS) by means of a ‘focal question’ that aims to explain why and how the process of digital transformation of these SCPS may have socio-economic impacts. A focal question for instance can be ‘how to reduce the risk of forest fires?’.

To support the Living Labs, a toolkit has been developed, composed of several parts.

  • First, an inventory of digital tools, namely Gnomee (Knowledge Base of Potential Digital Game Changers in Rural Areas) was developed The objective of the inventory was to collect a number of digital tools: software applications, adverse sensors, etc. Whatever can be used for agriculture, forestry, rural areas, in order to get an overview, a picture of the digital tools available and that can be used. The development of the GNOMEE interface was based on an online survey on digital tools which provided 700 responses, each of which describes a digital tool with a specific function (i.e. it operates in a specific way to fulfil a given task). 
  • Second, an online survey on the current impacts of digital tools and their expectation about the next year was carried out.
  • Third, each digital tool can be useful in one or more application scenarios in the domains of agriculture, forestry and rural areas.

Digital technologies (or digital paradigms) with the potential of being digital game changers are  web-based tools, data analytics, a local data collection tool, a remote data collection tool, cloud/edge computing, robotics or other autonomous solutions, artificial intelligence-based techniques, and social networks. These digital technologies are potential digital game changers (DGC) in a given context.

This Inventory also provides a map of plausible socio-economic impacts associated with the selected potential DGCs.

The map of impacts is composed of three layers: domain, area of impact, outcome and each outcome is then linked to potential digital game changers.

Literature review, an online survey and several experts’ interviews have been performed to enrich and support the Inventory.

Relevance for monitoring and evaluation of the CAP

Potential provision of monitoring data. The Inventory has been developed to help the work of the Living Labs and has contributed to identifying at least 50 practice abstracts, each of which describes a digital tool or project, its application scenario and potential socio-economic impacts. The operation of these digital tools has created data that may be suitable for monitoring purposes. For instance, environmental quality monitoring, air quality monitoring, tree monitoring technologies for forest resources to support climate adaptation and mitigation, using satellite data for monitoring CAP compliance, crop satellite monitoring, a satellite monitoring system that generates a ‘green index’, a monitoring tool providing meteo-climatic data, monitoring of forest health and detection of forest threats. Authorities charged with monitoring should examine the appropriateness of this data and if found adequate, seek ways to integrate them into their monitoring framework.

Potential to evaluate innovation. For evaluators, it is interesting to understand the criteria that are used to select the tools. Before developing the survey and the technical questionnaire to identify the tools, a study reaching more than 1000 people was conducted. This is interesting for evaluators because it also shows the broad scope of innovations which could be possible to happen in rural areas and in agriculture thanks to such digital tools and game changers. It can therefore be used to evaluate innovation.

Data collection from the farmer. The digital tools included in the Inventory provide data from farmers and for farmers. In many cases, the tool is used to collect data from the farmer thanks to sensors, smartphones or computers. Then raw data are sent to a distant server which will treat them, make calculations, cartographies and recommendations. Those results are sent back to farmers’ terminals to help them make decisions (e.g. on irrigation, fertilisation, crops). Therefore, these digital tools can be examined on a case-by-case basis as concerns their ability to supply evaluation data. Their value added is that they contain data that is open, accessible and available by the users thanks to solutions offered by digital technologies.

In addition, the Inventory can be useful for understanding the effects of measures related to the digitalisation of agriculture, forestry and rural areas, pertinent for the horizontal objective of the CAP.

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