Learn about the Tricot approach

Citizen science is scientific research conducted by non-professional (or amateur) scientists, so-called citizen scientists. Citizen Science projects aim to advance research, as well as further the public’s understanding of science and scientific problems.

In a tricot project, the citizen scientists are the participating farmers or consumers. They are not professional scientists, but they also innovate agricultural technology. And of course, they are experts in their fields (e.g. farming).

Citizen science for on farm testing

Tricot is a research methodology that involves many participants as citizen scientists in the testing of agricultural technologies, such as new crop varieties or promising fertilizer regimes. Tricot stands for ‘triadic comparisons of technology options’. Participants compare technology options in randomized sub-sets of three, or ‘triads’, and in incomplete blocks. They collect field observations on their own land and in the form of simple comparison data, ranking the technology options for different traits of interest. The observations of all participants then get aggregated for analysis, producing a large and meaningful set of observations. This simple experimental format makes it possible to involve many participants and to easily collect and communicate the resulting data.

Tricot: the technical details

Tricot: planning and partnerships

Climate change severely affects growers worldwide. Droughts, floods, altered temperatures and changed pest and disease pressures reduce crop yields. Particularly small-scale growers struggle to cultivate nutritious, safe and sufficient food and fodder.
To adapt agriculture to the changing climate, it is crucial to identify the most suitable technologies for each region. There is no ‘one fits all’ answer. That’s why first, a diversified portfolio of technologies needs to be identified to respond to the new challenges brought by changing climatic conditions.

In a second step, it must be ensured that these new technologies can be accessed and adopted. Farm households in remote rural areas often have the greatest need for improved crop varieties that grow in their local microclimate, but are often last in line to benefit from agricultural innovation. So why not place research where it faces real-life conditions, directly on the farm? And why not empower the experts of every-day plant cultivation – farmers and gardeners – to innovate technologies according to their needs – and to immediately put them into practice?

The tricot approach is a ready-made methodology, serving the needs of both researchers and participants (as farmers). It offers a cost- and time-efficient way to testing and disseminating new technologies in highly variable environments.

Research centers or private sector companies get the opportunity to validate and disseminate new technologies ‘massively’ and in a participatory way, collaborating with a large number of growers in diverse environments. The tricot approach generates a large data set from many small, decentralized trials. Important criteria for adoption into practice, which are easily overlooked at researcher-managed trials, are accounted for by the growers. Therefore, higher technology adoption rates and a stronger impact of the research on farming can be expected.

Participating citizen scientists benefit from discovering new technologies that are suited to their environmental and socio-economic conditions, and have a high probability of improving their yields. Especially in regions where environmental conditions or socio-cultural preferences to crops vary strongly in the landscape, tricot can help farming households to identify the technology that satisfies their needs best.

Read about the Tricot approach and how to set trials

The tricot approach puts the idea of tricot into practice and onto participants´ fields. Project design and later data collection and analysis are supported by the custom-built online software ClimMob. A tricot project can last one cropping season only, or be iterated over several seasons. Below we have summarized the ten steps of a tricot project.

1. Prepare project. Before the trials begin, the different technology options that will be tested need to be available in sufficient amounts. For example, if bean varieties are to be tested, bean seeds need to be multiplied to be handed out to participating growers. If fertilizer regimes are to be trialed, enough fertilizer needs to be in stock.

2. Design project. Using the free online software ClimMob, the project implementer creates a short profile of the project, adds the technology options to be tested, registers the names of the field agents, defines which plant characteristics should be evaluated, and prepares the participants registration.

3. Recruit participants. The implementer and field agents reach out to dedicated farmers or consumers who are interested in improving their farming by getting to know new technologies, such as new crop varieties or fertilizer regimes. A way way of finding participants is to invite them to a fair or an informative workshop. Both female and male participants should be encouraged to participate.

4. Prepare test packages. ClimMob computes a randomized and easy-to-follow list of different triads (‘sets of threes’), for each tricot project. Three technology options (for example, three different bean varieties) make up one trial package. Depending on how many participants are, an according number of trial packages must be prepared. The field agents then distribute the trial packages to the participants during an initial workshop. During this workshop, participants learn about the tricot process and can ask questions.

5. Start on-farm trial. Each participant now cultivates her/his three technology options on three small plots on their land, otherwise treating these trial plots exactly as they would treat their main plots. Every participant is responsible for her or his own plots. The participants do not know the names of their three technology options (this way, they are not biased), but only know them as ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’.

6. Participants record observations. During the growing period, participants observe the trial plots and write down their observations by pen on the observation cards. What to observe, and when to observe, was defined in step 2 using ClimMob software.

7. Field agents collect data. Once the growing season is over, and all questions on the observation cards have been filled, the field agents collect all data. This can be done by visiting participants and collecting their observation cards, or by telephone call.

8. Data is compiled and analyzed. The field agents upload all data to ClimMob, using the free Android smartphone app ODK Collect. Once all data is uploaded into ClimMob, ClimMob will analyze the data and automatically prepare result sheets – of the overall results of the whole tricot project, as well as an individual result sheet for every participant who took part.

9. Communicate results. The field agents communicate the results of the tricot project to the participants. During the trial, the participants did not know the names of their technology options. Instead, each participant only knew her or his three technology options as ‘A’, ’B’ and ‘C’, to avoid biased evaluations. During the result feedback, the participants learn the names of the three crop varieties or composition of fertilizer regimes etc. they tested. Participants can use this information now independently to improve their cultivation practices.

10. Repeat process. Gaining knowledge through tricot can be an iterative process. Multiple tricot projects can lead to larger and more powerful data sets. Participants and field agents who take part multiple times require even less training in later years. The first tricot project in line can also inform subsequent tricot projects. For example, in the first cycle a larger number of bean varieties might be tested, in the second cycle the tested bean varieties can be narrowed down to the most promising ones.

1 – Improve your farming with tricot: Triadic comparisons of technologies

2 – Making observations in tricot trials

3 – The initial workshops in a tricot project

4 – With the final workshops, the tricot research cycle ends

Access key terms and definitions