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Call for MSc Students: What, if anything, does Information and Communication Technology (ICT) do for agricultural extension?

ICT attracts a lot of funding and it is being used in agricultural extension services. However, we know very little about its effectiveness in extension services and we know even less about its effectiveness compared to traditional, face-to-face extension services. Yet, knowing and understanding the factors determining impact of ICT innovations on crop pests and diseases is essential to develop tools that that can make a real and lasting change. A great deal of faith has been placed in the use of ICT in international social and economic development. That said, there are strong critiques of the use of ICT and there are good reasons to question the evidence that is used to support continued investment.

We believe that this is the right time determine what is actually known about digital and non-digital extension services for pest and disease management. The aim of this project is to determine what the literature says about digital interventions in agronomy and what we know about the effectiveness of interventions.

We are looking for highly motivated students to help us with our project. MSc students can take part in this project for their thesis.


The project will conduct a systematic review of peer-reviewed and grey literature with the objective to answer the following main research question: What is known about the effectiveness of information and communication technologies (ICT) in supporting pest and disease management interventions and agricultural extension in roots, tubers, bananas, rice, grains and cereal crops in Africa?

We can support two MSc (thesis) students. For our research project, we seek to find answers to a number of questions around the two themes below. As MSc student, you can identify research questions that are of interest to you and shape your own research within one of the themes. You will work with the literature, but also collect primary data e.g. by interviewing experts or practitioners.

Theme 1: What is out there?/What do people write about digital agronomy?

  • What theories of change are used to support the integration of ICT into agricultural extension services?
  • What results are claimed?
  • What is claimed to cause these results?
• How do reports on interventions that do use ICT compare to those that do not? 
  • How sensitive is research to unanticipated effects?

Theme 2: Does it hold water?/What is evidentially known about impact of digital agronomy?

  • To what extent are the theories of change used validated?
  • To what extent are the results claimed valid?
  • To what extent are causal claims valid?
  • What is actually known about unanticipated effects?
  • What predicts differences between what is claimed and what is valid?

Student benefits

The student will:

  • Learn how interventions are framed and justified
  • Learn how primary research is and should be done in the real world
  • Learn how primary research methods work and fail
  • Learn how to do and publish a literature review
  • Provide input for one or more publications (with potential co-authorship)
  • Get the chance to be first author on a real publication (if nothing bad happens along the way)
  • Build a professional network with experts in the field
  • Contribute to a project that matters
  • Have supervisors who are, themselves, very interested in and working with them on the study.

Expected output

Students will be expected to prepare an independent report consistent with the expectations of an MSc thesis. This thesis will be accompanied by a technical report that fully details the research process. Preparation of the technical report will habituate students to good academic practice.