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Farmer Dashboard Design Charrette

Topic Type: 
Event

Imagine you had convenient, affordable and up-to-date access to a variety of information and expertise, when and where you needed it, presented in a ready to use format supporting informed decision making and innovation throughout the day or season, year after year... Whether its connecting with suppliers and buyers, researching market opportunities, finding land, preparing a business plan to secure funding, or sending out updates to your customers via social networks, many of today's successful farmers are more connected than ever to their value chains and the financial and expertise networks which support them. Managing this stream of information and communication can be a challenge on top of all the other things you need to keep track of. In many cases you simply don't have the time or resources to do a lot of research before a decision must be made.

A number of tech companies have begun to cater to these needs, many with their own proprietary software and lingo. Traditional sources of public support, including Land Grant institutions and Extension, still provide some useful assistance, but much of this is scattered and disconnected, underfunded, and not always focused on the day-to-day needs of small or medium scale growers. A growing number of public servants and social entrepreneurs are beginning to evaluate a more open, collaborative approach to development of these tools, and the underlying networks which can support their open evolution. One of the key ideas being considered is a "knowledge ecosystem" approach, creating information and communications infrastructure that allow a broad range of people to freely and easily come together to share expertise and resources around a particular topic (farming in this case), each teaching, sharing, copying, adapting, and innovating. For such a network to be relevant and usable to farmers, we need to know: - What kinds of information and communication are most helpful? Financial, business, crop, pest, customer communications... - Where do (or would) you access that information (e.g. field, vehicle, home, market)? - When do you need it -do you need answers at a moments notice, in real time, or months in advance as you make plans for the season ahead?

A design charrette session is proposed for getting feedback from growers on these questions. As we work through these, we hope to develop several mock-ups illustrating what the ultimate "farmer dashboard" might be for participants, accessible from a variety of devices, including dumb and smart phones, tablets or other mobile devices, laptops, desktop computers, and print-outs. Its hoped that we can draw a wide range of participants, including not only farmers but folks from Extension, Cornell, local businesses, tech entrepreneurs and developers. See the attached PDF for ideas/definitions related to dashboards, and here http://guides.library.cornell.edu/content.php?pid=84833&sid=639443#2071950 for ideas related to how information & communication technology tools can be used to support farmers, food systems and sustainable communities.

Please add your ideas/ comments below, including images/links of existing dashboards you have found useful!

DeanK's picture

Interesting idea Jeff. As a beginning farmer running a diversified farm (pigs, chickens, orchard, vegetables (field and high tunnel production), and plant/flower sales) our needs vary depending on the crop and whether its communicating with a wholesale or retail customer, and of course there is seasonal variation. I would speculate that FarmHack participants will have an equally wide range of needs as well...and should make for a very interesting conversation.

R.J. Steinert's picture

Bravo to Jeff for brainstorming this. I've taken a stab at his 3 questions. But before I do, I just wanted to paraphrase what he wrote to make sure we're all on the same page.

Problem: Managing information as a farmer is a big job and having the right info at the right time is difficult.

Solution: We could develop a tool that provides convenient, affordable and up-to-date access to a variety of information and expertise, when and where you needed it, presented in a ready to use format supporting informed decision making and innovation throughout the day or season, year after year.

What

What kinds of information and communication are most helpful? Financial, business, crop, pest, customer communications...

To get data from many sources and make sense of that data, two factors need to be considered when evaluating a potential data source.

  1. data availability - The Internet has done a great job of making a lot of data available. If the data is on the Internet, it's generally considered to have high availability.
  2. data accessibility - Accessibility describes how usable a piece of data data for the sake of making sense of it. For example, a table of data in a PDF document is not easily usable by a computer program where as a table of data in a comma delimited text document is very easily usable by a computer program that may be used to visualize the data for the end user.

Here are three sets of data that I think we could focus on.

Opening existing data sets (The Open Data Movement)

The Open Data movement, which the Obama administration has championed from a federal level (http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2012/07/06/open-data-creates-accountability/) while it still has a strong DIY movement at events like International Open Data Day, seeks to solve help solve these issues. The hope is that any data that has been collected for the pulic will be published as a "consumable" data format, AKA in a format that computer programmers like myself can easily import into any program I might be writing. With a consumable data format of say, listings of available farming land for sale, I could create an HTML map widget that you could copy and paste onto your own HTML homepage/dashboard that would pull the land data from that consumable data source's feed.

Opening real time data

So far I've talked about making existing data sets open, we are now entering a new realm of possibility with the emerging "Internet of Things". This is a concept where the objects around us are collecting data for us and saving that data on the Internet in a consumable data format. The Fido project (http://www.farmhack.net/tools/fido-greenhouse-monitoring-text-message-alerts) that Louis Thiery is still working on is one example of a device that could be used to publish your greenhouse data to an Internet service like CoSM.org which would then give you an HTML graph widget that you could copy and paste onto your own HTML homepage/dashboard that would pull the sensor data from your Fido's data feed. These are exciting times!

Opening up the crowd

The third set of data to focus on is data that we generate by collaborating with each other. Jeff's description of "knowledge ecosystem" is a decent description of what we do in open source communities such as Farm Hack. I think it's important to also point out the economic incentive of participating in this collabaritive process, the incentive being that the value you give up for the community (your time) is a good investment because the advice you get back is even more valuable than your investment. I'm simplifying the value of Open Source immensely here, if you are interested in reading more about the economics of it check out the essay that changed everything in the 90s, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/homesteading/).

Where

Where do (or would) you access that information (e.g. field, vehicle, home, market)?

Ideally.. everywhere! Up until recently the idea of a Web App has been tied to devices only when they have an Internet connection. If your Internet connection goes down in the field, you lose access to your Web App. In the example of doing documentation on FarmHack.net, it's perhaps much more convenient for a farmer to document a problem with a tool in the field while they are actually experiencing that problem. If they do not have a reliable Internet connection on their smart phone while out in the field, then they lose that opportunity and others miss out on hearing about a problem that they also might be suffering from. The good news is that recent advances in browsers now make it possible to take a Web App offline if that Web App takes advantage of the new browser features. Did you know you can use Google Docs and Gmail offline? Check out my demonstration http://youtu.be/bB515UsfnFA That's all thanks to the fancy new data storage features in your web browser. Next year the company that I'm CTO for will be launching an Offline Web App for sharing educational resources in 20 schools in Ghana (http://www.ole.org/ole-ghana-receives-usaid-“all-children-reading”-grant-award). I'm hoping to take what I learn from developing and deploying that Web App to the Farm Hack Web App someday.

When

When do you need it -do you need answers at a moments notice, in real time, or months in advance as you make plans for the season ahead?

This goes back to the data accessibility issue. Just because the data is available does not mean you can find it or make sense of it easily. I like this idea of giving farmers their own dashboard that they can use to arrange HTML widgets to their liking. Having a dense display of information that a person tailors to their own interest has obvious benefits.

Now what?

I would be interested to hear more about the outcome of this design charette. I'm imaging the following was discussed:

  1. What are some examples of useful widgets for farmers? Any low hanging fruit?
  2. Where can we implement a dashboard feature so people can start collecting these widgets?

My own RSS Reader (http://reader.rjsteinert.com) is a similar to the Dashboard concept we are talking about except that each widget is just consuming an RSS feed from a third party and does not have HTML widgets from other third parties. We could enable dashboards for users on FarmHack.net, we could also build a seperate Web App just for Farmer Dashboards. I'm open to both options. I could probably prototype this in a weekend if anyone wants to get together for a Hackathon. We might be able to roll it into a larger event for programmers looking to build apps for farmers...

R.J. Steinert's picture

Haha, woops, I thought I had missed the Ithaca event but apparently it has not happened yet. Perhaps I will be there for this design charrette after all. :)

Jeff Piestrak's picture

Great stuff R.J. -thanks so much for your thoughtful and enthusiastic comments. Yes, there is indeed an opportunity to join us in Ithaca! Would you like to co-lead this with me?

I'm not a programmer, but do work closely with our IT staff here at Cornell's Mann Library in leveraging ITC tools and platforms to connect people with each other, and the data and information resources they need to be successful. In fact our library has done a lot of work with Drupal and open data. Check out http://aims.fao.org/tools/agridrupal, vivoweb.org, and more recently AgriVIVO, to learn more about some of this work. We've been developing ways to use Drupal as an interface for ingesting and publishing open data, including our http://impact.cals.cornell.edu/ site, which is kind of like a dashboard, that interacts dynamically with VIVO data. Though a bit out of date, this poster describes how: http://www.vivoweb.org/files/MilesWorthington_VIVO_conference_poster-web.pdf.

Perhaps, as you suggested, we could structure the design charrette in a way to generate specific ideas for use of the farmhack site as a farmer dashboard host, possibly leading to some new shared Drupal modules?

I'm currently working with several others on a proposal for a Northeast regional food knowledge ecosystem that could build on/incorporate this work. We're hoping to use Drupal and VIVO as part of this, and work with state, regional and federal data providers to make their data more accessible/usable (Mann Library works directly with some of these agencies, including the USDA, and serves as a repository/distributor for some data).

Our ultimate goal with the regional knowledge ecosystem is to create an open platform based on open standards, that supports further work and innovations from people like you (including paid work). Ideally this would include occasional hackathons.

I'll be meeting with Severine and a few other folks during the Ithaca Farm Hack, and hope to see you there as well! I'll follow up by email shortly to discuss. Cheers, Jeff