Putting virtual worlds to work to support improved climate risk decision-making on real world farms

Reardon-Smith, Kate and Mushtaq, Shahbaz and Stone, Roger and Cliffe, Neil and Farley, Helen and Ostini, Jenny and Doyle, Joanne and Martin, Neil and Loch, Adam (2015) Putting virtual worlds to work to support improved climate risk decision-making on real world farms. In: 2nd International Conference on Global Food Security , 11-14 Oct 2015, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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Abstract

Climate variability represents a significant risk to farming enterprises. Effective communication and extension of climate information may improve climate risk decision making and adaptive management responses to climate variability on farms. However, extension services are under strain worldwide due to cost and time constraints. Innovative applications of emerging digital technologies are likely to play an increasingly important role in this space.

Evaluation of stakeholder responses to new web-based virtual world ‘discussion-support’ tools (short scripted video clips or machinima filmed in Second Life) indicate that they may provide a potentially revolutionary way to present and cost-effectively disseminate consistent and highly targeted information about climate, climate risk and climate risk adaptation to large numbers of farmers. Leveraging the social and observational learning aspects of farming, these tools also incorporate and apply recent advances in the use of digital technologies in education. With contextualised settings and relevant and engaging storylines, the tools model discussions between farmers about climate information, risk and on-farm practices. Follow up discussion among real life farming groups and farming families, stimulated by the tools, will potentially assist farmers to make better on-farm decisions to manage climate risk which, in turn, will support sustainable food and fibre production systems and reduce environmental harm.

Prototype machinimas were developed for and trialled in the Australian sugar cane farming industry (Fig. 1). This industry is located in coastal regions of north-eastern Australia (Queensland and northern New South Wales) which experience high levels of climatic variability ranging from drought to intense rainfall events associated with tropical lows and cyclones. Improved access to targeted climate information, better understanding of climate risk and adaptation through adoption of recommended farm management best practice have been a key focus of sugar industry extension programs, In the sugar industry, as in other agricultural sectors, farmer participation in conventional face-to-face workshops, though effective in influencing adoption rates, is limited and likely to become more so as resources supporting extension services diminish. At the same time, online dissemination of technical information, though far-reaching, is often ineffective. Even the development of high-level decision support tools has seen only limited uptake among farmers. It is generally recognised within extension circles that the key to farmer engagement is through participatory processes and relevant discussion.
The discussion support machinimas developed in this project deal with specific scenarios within the sugar cane farming calendar: specifically, irrigation; fertiliser application; harvesting; and planning. Evaluation of the machinimas was conducted, firstly, through a series of climate workshops where the tools were used to generate discussion of climate risk associated with each of these situations. These workshops were followed up with a phenomenographic study in which selected participants were interviewed about their response to the machinimas and transcripts were then analysed thematically. This study was designed to investigate the value of these tools in stimulating discussion about climate risk and adaptation within a farmer group and, subsequently, farming families. Secondly, the machinimas and an on-line survey questionnaire were posted to the website of the sugar cane farming peak body, CANEGROWERS Australia, whose membership numbers approximately 4,000 cane farmers. This survey was designed to investigate both farmer responses to the tools and the effectiveness of the tools, when disseminated electronically, in stimulating discussion and potentially influencing on farm decision making. Results suggest that these virtual world tools positively engage farmers and, while not replacing face-to-face extension, provide cost-effective support for climate risk decision making on Australian sugar cane farms.

Future development of the machinimas will enable rapid updates of relevant seasonal climate information to farmer groups to ensure access to the best available information as a basis for discussion and decision making. Increasing capacity to deliver such tools online, given expanding access to the internet and uptake of mobile technologies, also suggests potential to digitally engage large numbers of farmers globally. The virtual world platform in which the machinimas are made allows ready contextualisation of climate risk information for a target audience through customised representations of landscapes, farming systems, characters (avatars) and scripted dialogues that reflect the real life experiences of farmers, wherever they are. Discussion is a key element of social learning. By modelling conversations and stimulating further discussion, these tools may assist in providing cost-effective targeted support for learning and on-farm decision making, thereby enhancing the adaptive capacity of farmers and the development of more sustainable food production systems.


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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Other)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: No evidence of copyright restrictions preventing deposits. Power-point presentation.
Faculty / Department / School: No Faculty
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2015 02:18
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2017 02:07
Uncontrolled Keywords: virtual world machinimas, climate risk management, discussion support, agricultural extension
Fields of Research : 07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences > 0701 Agriculture, Land and Farm Management > 070199 Agriculture, Land and Farm Management not elsewhere classified
13 Education > 1399 Other Education > 139999 Education not elsewhere classified
10 Technology > 1005 Communications Technologies > 100599 Communications Technologies not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objective: D Environment > 96 Environment > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960301 Climate Change Adaptation Measures
D Environment > 96 Environment > 9609 Land and Water Management > 960904 Farmland, Arable Cropland and Permanent Cropland Land Management
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/27944

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