PhD Project – Identifying novel approaches for socio-environmental technology assessments and their implications for managing complex agricultural systems

Digitization in agriculture encompasses the entire spectrum of novel technologies (AI, DT, PLF, IoT, etc.) and approaches to modernize traditional agricultural systems. Due to the many needs and challenges in the agricultural sector, the requirements (efficiency, resilience, sustainability, etc.) for such enabling technologies are diverse. To evaluate the individual impacts of technology use in agriculture, different technology assessment methods can be used, depending on the objectives. In the last decade, the development of agriculture-friendly systems mostly focused on meeting sustainability goals (e.g., in the context of SDGs). Here, methods such as life cycle assessments could be used to evaluate the various inputs and outputs of technologies. Since such methods were not developed to assess the systemic interrelationships of real systems, alternative assessment approaches can increase understanding about human-environment interdependencies that are necessary for the long-term management of our ecosystem.

In addition to the multiple interactions that occur naturally in any ecological setting (food webs, material cycles, etc.), the implementation of technologies into ecological systems adds another layer of complexity and creates even more intertwined feedback mechanisms. To create a holistic understanding of the intersections between new technologies and their impacts on agricultural systems, a deep understanding of both system variables (artificial and natural) is required. Because the perspectives, technologies, and influences for assessing these interrelationships vary widely, different methods and approaches promise to have diverse applicability. This dissertation therefore explores different methods for assessing the complexity of technologies and their impacts on socio-ecological systems. In light of climate change and its associated catastrophic impacts (heavy rains, droughts, pests, etc.), this work specifically examines the identification of methods capable of assessing technological impacts on the resilience of agricultural systems. Using theoretical concepts from different research areas dealing with complex adaptive systems, but also incorporating practical applications from complexity sciences, a variety of novel technology assessment methods and frameworks will be investigated for their applicability to the management of complex environmental systems.