Bridging the gap : user centred design and support methods for decision support systems in crop production
This thesis suggests that there is a problem with technology transfer in crop production. The nature of the problem and the mechanisms available to the agricultural research sector for solving it are examined. As a consequence it is argued that Decision Support Systems (DSS) technology is an extremely useful mechanism for encapsulating and delivering scientific knowledge to the industry. The thesis then poses the question of why this technology is not currently being taken up by farmers and farm consultants, hypothesising that the current lack of user involvement in design is a major contributing factor. The hypothesis is supported by a survey of DSS development and use in agriculture and it is concluded that a user-centred design (UCD) approach is important to the successful adoption of these systems by the industry. The thesis then asks what methods the agricultural DSS developers should employ to ensure a user-centred design approach. It is suggested that it is not sufficient merely to point DSS producers in the direction of user centred design but to furnish them with adequate methods and tools to achieve this goal, bearing in mind their specific requirements and limitations and the nature of the decision support task. A review of currently available methods reveals that none of the standard methods meets this requirement and that a new approach is therefore needed. An approach supported by work from management science is introduced. This approach identifies the user's questions to the system as a means of defining its function and features. Its use in the context of workshops is developed into a user centred design method to meet all of the requirements for the designer stakeholders. The question approach is also used as the basis of ä method for identifying DSS interface requirements and collating design solutions. Both methods are presented as mechanisms for improving the acceptance of DSS in the sector. The document concludes by discussing the contribution made by the thesis to its originating disciplines and looks forward to the future of DSS technology in crop production.