A creative hub to catalyse new systems science approaches that integrate across the major research themes



Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 15:30


The risks facing agriculture in the next 20 years are unprecedented in magnitude and number. More significantly, however, is the unprecedented rapidity with which the risk landscape is changing together with the extent to which the risks are interconnected (including climate change, soil degradation, water shortage, changes in demand, accessibility of food, economic instability and inequity, and biodiversity loss). This means that reductionist scientific approaches that tend to find solutions in isolation no longer apply: we cannot optimise the agrifood system by optimising parts of the system in isolation. 

To address this, Rothamsted will invest in new scientific, social and technological approaches that can simultaneously address the whole system of risks and seek synergistic interventions that deliver more from less and eliminate unintended consequences. We will ensure that the resulting solutions can be quickly implemented to impact at the appropriate scale. This new ‘agricultural systems science’ for integrated and sustainable solutions will embrace previously inaccessible levels of complexity and be undertaken in partnership with government, business and NGOs to ensure simultaneous engagement with all stakeholders and timely delivery with self-sustaining impact. The result must be faster delivery of more inclusive solutions that are resilient to future uncertainties.


The ISL will deliver its outcomes through the following 5 activities:

1. Delivering Grand Challenge Science. Develop, fund and deliver large-scale integrative science projects that cut across the institute themes to deliver against the Institute Grand Challenges, and include appropriate engagement with strategic partners and stakeholders

2. Creating New Systems Modelling Platforms. A new generation of predictive models to synthsise our research, forecast scenarios, backcast pathways, and to seek optimal and synergystic interventions. Starting with lipid metabolism, soils (RothC2.0), plants (Sirius2.0) and populations (integrated pest management).

3. Envisioning. Linking prediction with visualisation tools to provide a platform for interactive consensus building, scenario exploration and evidence-based policy development. This will be used to create analyzable maps of our own science programme to facilitate identification of gaps and research priorities. The tools will also be used to facilitate collective problem-solving with multiple stakholders. The potential to exploit social network tools for mass engagement.

4. Advocacy. Build a platform for dialogue and information flow to help engage scientists, society and government in the development of more integrative approaches to priority and policy setting.

5. Education and Enterprise. Working with Agrimetrics and the University of Reading to train a new tribe of researchers, industry technologists and policymakers to operate in a world of interconnected risks and big data.

Appropriate links to industry and NGOs will be developed through Agrimetrics and will ensure relevance and rapid delivery of solutions. These links will, in turn, enable Rothamsted and Agrimetrics to provide thought leadership to those organisations on the new agricultural science that is required. Finally, through the development of visualisation tools and underpinning predictive modeling, we will simultaneously engage policy-makers, public and other stakeholders in ‘wisdom-of-the-crowd’ level decision- and policy-making, which underlying complexity has until now made impossible.



University of Reading