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  • Vikas Birhma

8 Principles to Radically Approach Digital Agri-Information Services

At Gramhal, we believe that existing systems of digital agriculture information services are lacking in transformative impact that improves farm livelihoods and challenges the status quo. We strongly believe that there is an urgent need for a new approach to provide the agency in the hands of currently underserved and unserved farming households. We need innovation in designing the digital product and the business model. Together as a community, we can successfully create a digital agricultural advisory system that is not shy of countering deep-rooted power structures.


Based on existing literature and our past work, we have identified eight principles to design an improved digital agri-information service model. They are as follows-


1. ECOSYSTEM-CENTEREDNESS


Currently, digital products are designed by putting users at their centre – a design approach known as “user-centred.” This approach has shown limited impact while developing digital tools for marginalized populations bounded by socio-political factors. While they adopt the digital product, it is also responded to by the non-users (i.e., other stakeholders) in the ecosystem with their own countermoves. For instance, when providing crop quality information to farmers, buyers are likely to counteract this increased agency, and the solution must account for and adapt to it.


Thus, while designing digital agri-information products for farmers, maintaining ecosystem-centeredness is essential. We believe that bringing users & non-users from the ecosystem to the design table is necessary to build a product with a transformational impact.


2. CONTEXT RESPONSIVE


We acknowledge that the farmer is a dynamic individual situated in a dynamic socio-political status quo. Farmers' challenges are diverse and are driven by their intersectionality. Factors at the intersection of gender, landholding, literacy level, caste, relationship with buyers, ability to interpret information and use it in negotiation, etc., affect how a farmer gains (or loses) from a solution.


These factors respond to external solutions and keep changing their nature to maintain the status quo. Thus, a constant focus should remain on the changing context, and the solution must keep evolving in response to it.


3. CONTINUOUS AND RAPID PRODUCT ITERATION

When we design at the ecosystem level and remain responsive to the context, constant and rapid product iteration becomes paramount. Once the product is launched, the non-users start planning and executing their countermoves. Given the ambiguity and cost involved in product development, deciding on the next iteration becomes challenging. The ideal approach should be to test different ideas without building them. Developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and running A/B tests with a small subset of user bases can bring agility and provide data to make a better decision about the next step.


4. COMMUNITY AS THE SOURCE OF INFORMATION


There is big data, all open-source, available around agricultural practices and market prices. But this big data has big holes. Information that is hyperlocal and most relevant for a farmer doesn’t exist yet. Crowdsourcing information from the community can fill these gaps. It is easy to build a two-way communication system with new technology, where the users can signal about the onset of a pest attack or raise collective grievances. Adoption of the information and its conversion to behaviour change will be higher if the source of information is the community itself.


5. OPEN SOURCE


We believe that no one organization can reach all the farmers. Open-sourcing technology and content can amplify collective efforts. In the last half-century, governments, businesses and non-profits have invested a lot in developing content for farmers, and the majority of it is already available as open-source. We use this open-source data, and we commit to open-source all the content created by our community or by us.


6. BUNDLING AND INTEGRATING SERVICES IS THE GOAL


Farmers look at information as information. Experts look at information as crop advisory, weather, market information, etc. Digital solutions have the capability to bundle everything together under one roof. It is challenging to start with the bundle – as we might end up designing a completely wrong product. The easy and correct way is to start with one service and then run pilots for new services with a small set of users. When the fit is found, open the service for all the users. The eventual goal shall be to provide an ecosystem base layer on which other stakeholders in the Indian agricultural landscape can build upon and serve farmers.


7. FRUGALITY


In a challenging scenario where there are no easy answers for payers at scale, designing with frugality becomes critical. It is without a doubt that we need to constantly find new pathways to generate revenue to ensure financial sustainability at scale. But restricting cost per farmer to a minimum can put us in a better position to not endlessly chase economic sustainability.


8. PRODUCT-IMPACT FIT AND PRODUCT-MARKET FIT IS THE FOUNDATION OF A SCALABLE MODEL


Every iteration of a product should take us one step closer to transformative impact (impact fit) and financial sustainability (market fit). Both product-impact fit and the product-market fit is crucial to a scalable model.



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