Social Science Team

Observation

Information ecology (IE) refers to “a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment” (Nardi & O’Day, 1999). Viewing our network of growers, educators, and scientists through this “ecosystem” lens will help researchers develop strategies to more effectively support cover crop adoption and management.

Approach

As agriculture increasingly relies on technology to improve its sustainability and efficiency, it is more urgent than ever to bridge the gap between the complex data produced by researchers and the clear, trustworthy information that growers need. Our social science team seeks to understand how information flows throughout our research network, and to measure change over time as a means to understand the effectiveness of our communication and outreach. We are using a dynamic, mixed-methods approach to data collection that includes surveys, card sorts, interviews, and network analysis. Our social science team is made up of  three key teams looking at different aspects of the agricultural information ecosystem.

Data Collection

Dr. Marilyn E. Swisher at the University of Florida will lead grower think-tank sessions to understand how our science is relevant to what growers are seeing in their operations. Information gathered in these sessions will also provide feedback, which can help to inform future cover crop research projects.

Dr. Jennifer Jo Thompson at the University of Georgia leads the team conducting in-depth mixed-methods research (e.g., forced-rank card sort, semi-structured interviews, and participant observation) with growers and other cover crop stakeholders to characterize the attitudes, values, and priorities that impact cover crop adoption. This work will support the development of outreach strategies tailored to address growers’ priorities.  

Dr. Meredith Niles at the University of Vermont will survey growers who have participated in our on-farm project, as well as random non-participant farmers in PSA states, to understand what trusted sources growers rely on to get information to improve their operations. Determining where growers are getting their information from will help the entire PSA team develop effective communication strategies to make sure growers are getting the most up-to-date and relevant information of interest.

Diagram depicting the social science team objective.
Photo credit: PSA social science team.