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Last update: May 2021

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A theoretical framework for tracking farmers’ innovations to support farming system design

2021 - Chloé Salembier, Blanche Segrestin, Benoît Weil, Marie-Hélène Jeuffroy, Stéphane Cadoux, Claire Cros, Elise Favrelière, Laurence Fontaine, Marine Gimaret, Camille Noilhan, Audrey Petit, Marie-Sophie Petit, Jean-Yves Porhiel, Hélène Sicard, Raymond Reau, Aïcha Ronceux, Jean-Marc Meynard


Over the last few years, an increasing number of agricultural R&D actors have sought to discover and get to know farmers’ practices that they consider as innovative, unconventional, or promising. We refer to these approaches, all of which aim to support the design of farming systems, as ‘farmer innovation tracking’. There is still a lack of knowledge, however, about the specificities of the approaches adopted to track innovations and how they contribute to design processes. To explore these questions, we studied 14 initiatives in France led by actors from different R&D networks. We analysed the data collected using agronomy and design science concepts.

Three outcomes emerge from this work. (1) We shed light on the common features of innovation tracking. We outline five stages that structure all the approaches: formulating an innovation tracking project, unearthing innovations, learning about them, analysing them, and generating agronomic content. (2) We characterize six contributions of farmer innovation tracking to design processes: giving rise to creative anomalies, shedding light on systemic mechanisms to fuel design processes on other farms, uncovering research questions, stimulating design in orphan fields of innovation, circulating innovation concepts, and connecting farmer-designers with each other. (3) Finally, we highlight three tracking strategies: the targeted tracking of proven practices, the targeted tracking of innovations under development, and the exploratory tracking of proven practices.

This article is the first to propose a theorization of the farmer innovation tracking approaches, thus enriching the agronomic foundations supporting farming system design. The purpose of our paper is not to provide a turnkey method, but to highlight concepts, mechanisms, and points of reference for actors who might wish to develop farmer innovation tracking in different contexts in the future. By revealing their contributions to design processes, this article seeks to contribute to the institutionalization of innovation tracking.