Responsible Research and Innovation: Considering the issue of Data and Ethics in Digital Agriculture

By Aine Regan (Teagasc)

Significant social and cultural changes are expected with the emergence of Digital Agriculture and the widespread application of smart technologies in farming. Although offering many benefits and opportunities for agriculture, new technologies can also bring unpredictable or unforeseen negative impacts and social changes. Responsible Research and Innovation, a cornerstone of the EU H2020 programme, is a governance framework which supports the development of technologies in a way that harnesses the benefits whilst managing the risks – it aims to ensure the trajectory of innovation is responsive to the concerns, needs and expectations of society. Dr. Áine Regan, a Social Scientist with Teagasc and FAIRshare project member, recently presented on the important role of RRI in Digital Agriculture at a symposium on the implications of digitalisation in agriculture organised by ETH Zurich Agricultural Economics and Policy Group and the World Food System Center in September 2019. You can read about the event and view the presentations here.

FAIRshare is committed to the principles of RRI. A series of ‘RRI workshops’ (WP7) will focus on cross-cutting ‘hot topics’ which reflect the unforeseen impacts and social changes technology can bring. The first cross-cutting hot topic for reflection in the FAIRshare project is that of data and ethics in digital agriculture which has raised many questions. What are the issues surrounding data ownership and data sharing that farm advisory services should be cognisant of as more and more digital technologies are introduced to farming communities? What are the ethical and legal issues that farm advisory services may encounter, and how can they be supported to recognise and respond to these issues? What are the ‘new skills’ that farm advisory services may need to acquire to deal with ethical issues related to data in digital agriculture?

In FAIRshare, we are exploring the issue of data and ethics in digital agriculture and what it means for our project and for farm advisory services. Through the work of Dr. Simone van der Burg (WUR) as part of the H2020 IOF2020 project, a series of workshops in Italy, The Netherlands, and Poland have been carried out with farmers, policy-makers, scientists and the agtech industry asking these actors to reflect on data ownership and sharing in digital agriculture and indicate their preferences for future data governance scenarios. Through collaboration with the FAIRshare project, these workshops have been extended to Ireland. These workshops will highlight some of the broader concerns and preferred solutions for data governance in digital agriculture. As part of the FAIRshare project, we have also committed to holding participatory workshops at our annual event – in November, the FAIRshare consortium will discuss the issue of data and ethics specifically in the area of Digital Advisory Tools and Services, and reflect on the issues which may arise in this context and what actions the FAIRshare project can take to mitigate against unexpected consequences.