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Last update: May 2021

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Cognitive resources to promote exploration in agroecological systems design

2022 - Maude Quinio, Laurence Guichard, Paola Salazar, Françoise Détienne, Marie-Hélène Jeuffroy


  • Guidelines are proposed to structure cognitive resources fostering exploration in agroecological system design.
  • Resources capitalize on both science-based and experience-based knowledge
  • The knowledge capitalization is facilitated by collective workshops attended by knowledge owners.
  • The progressive elaboration of the resources was informed by feedback from users in design situations.
  • The proposed cognitive resources enhance convergent and divergent thinking in design workshops.

Graphical abstract

Quinio al 2022


To support agroecological transition aimed at sharply reducing the use of synthetic inputs, agricultural systems must undergo in-depth change in which biological processes are enhanced with a view to providing ecosystem services. This transformation of the cropping systems requires design processes which should rely on the exploration of science-based and expert-based knowledge and of alternative solutions (divergence thinking), and on the tailoring of the solution to the situation at hand (convergent thinking).

Our objective is to build, together with end users, cognitive resources structuring knowledge. These resources will then serve to guide users in the exploration of agroecological solutions that are both disruptive and tailored to the situation in which they will be implemented.

Based on theoretical insights from Design Studies, we first proposed guidelines for building cognitive resources to support divergent and convergent thinking. Based on these guidelines, we built prototypes of cognitive resources, with specific knowledge structures adapted to design reasoning in agriculture: the function-based resource and the biology-based resource, to stimulate divergent thinking in the exploration process; and the experience-based resource to support both convergent and divergent thinking. We then conducted 12 user tests of these prototypes, with various targeted users (advisors, farmers, teachers, researchers) who were either designers of agroecological systems or contributors, eager to use actionable resources to share what they had learnt about innovative systems or their knowledge on ecological processes. We received feedback from the designers who had used the resources in context, and from the contributors who had developed cognitive resources using the suggested guidelines.

Our findings highlight how the resources support agronomist-designers and facilitators in their activities during the exploration part of a design process, from the preparation of design workshops to the stimulation within workshops and the ex-post documentation of a collective exploration for its reuse by other designers. Contributors recognized that the suggested guidelines and prototypes would both help to build on existing knowledge and enable future reuse by designers. They also noted the completeness, the evidence and the value-laden nature of the content. We finally discussed how these cognitive resources could be collectively enriched by a community of practitioners with diverse expectations and values, sharing the common goal of designing agroecosystems conducive to agroecology.

Our research contributes to a critical shift in knowledge capitalization (mixing science-based and experience-based knowledge) to support the design process of agroecosystems, involving various actors, including practitioners.