Participatory Food Systems Governance Project

This research project aims to identify effective, innovative and collaborative approaches to food governance for building healthy, equitable, and sustainable food systems. Moreover, it will develop a deeper understanding of the possible trade-offs, limitations and paradoxes associated with civil society organizations’ (CSO) active participation in multi-stakeholder and collaborative governance arrangements. We ask: How do food movement actors and organizations engage in food systems governance, while also modeling alternative food futures? With a focus at the national level in Canada, and in relation to similar efforts in Australia and the UK, the research team will critically analyze the social history, current context and future possibilities for building healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems.

Objectives

  1. To advance our understanding of how civil society organizations engagement in place-based initiatives has evolved to address food systems governance at the national scale (1977-2018)
  2. To contribute to the development of innovative strategies led by food movements that facilitate more democratic and integrated food systems governance
  3. To work alongside efforts in Australia and the UK to develop a comparative analysis of food movements’ engagement in national level food systems governance
  4. To advance academic-community engagement in food systems work through community-based, participatory research

Defining Participatory Food Systems Governance

Governance includes, but is not limited to, policy, laws, and regulations  that shape and influence the nature and orientation of our food system (actors, activities and relationships). Governance involves both explicit rules (as noted above), as well as implicit practices, customs and assumptions related to who and what are considered part of the food system, who should be included in governance, and in what ways. This might involve working directly to change or create policies and decision-making structures, as well as capacity-building activities for those involved in, or affected by, governance initiatives.

Food systems governance goes beyond singular issues to engage with food as relational, that is, as an aspect of life that connects us deeply as individuals, communities and cultures. Rather than focusing on one element or aspect of the food system (for example, agricultural policy, food safety regulations or emergency food access), a food systems approach to governance seeks an integrated understanding of how individual issues and elements are connected, and shape one another. This includes not only how food is produced/harvested, processed, distributed and consumed but also urban-rural linkages, food security and nutrition, producer and harvester livelihoods, labour rights, Indigenous self-determination, economic development, equity and social inclusion, and environmental and ecosystem services. The key component, here, is a desire to break down the silos that typically isolate these issues from another, to understand the functioning of the food system as a whole.  

Finally, this project is particularly interested in exploring and cultivating participatory forms of food systems governance. By participatory, we mean relational approaches to governance that include deliberative democracy, collaboration and/or inclusivity, that seek to include a diversity of voices in decision-making processes, particularly those directly implicated in, and affected by, the outcome. Food systems governance, like other forms of governance, is commonly experienced as something that is imposed by governments, and in many cases, as something that is unduly influenced by a small group of actors who hold a dipropionate amount of power in the food system. This could include, but is not limited to, forms of multi-stakeholder governance, co-governance[MG3]  and community or self-governance models.

The Politics of Researching Participatory Food Governance in Canada – Naming our Assumptions and their Methodological Implications

We recognize that all research is inherently political, through what it reveals and what it keeps hidden. We understand that it is important to name our political assumptions so that organizations asked to participate in our work can decide if and how they wish to share information with us and through us.

The primary assumptions we bring to this work are:

1)    That open and inclusive engagement among all actors involved in Canada’s food system has the potential to encourage them to better understand and engage with one another’s perspectives.

2)    That such engagement can and will contribute to more deliberative[MG1]  food system governance processes.

3)    That such deliberation is key to achieving more just and sustainable food system outcomes for all.

This is also a participatory action research project, in which we are working closely with the leadership of Food Secure Canada, Sustain Ontario, Plenty Canada and Food Communities Network  to define and execute a research agenda that support the governance-engagement goals of these groups and others working in the movement for sustainable and just food systems in Canada. Being participatory action researchers entails another key political assumption:

4)    This project seeks to raise the profile of those societal groups (and the organizations who represent them) that have historically been under-represented in decision-making processes, such as those of Indigenous people, those living with food insecurity, community-based non-profit organizations, food system workers, and smallholder farmers, seeing this as a much-needed corrective to decision-making processes that excluded them.

Consistent with the initial three assumptions above, we believe that amplifying these voices in governance processes can and will entail more just and ecological food system outcomes.

Finally, we recognize that our research participants may share strategic information with us about how they are working to influence others. In keeping with our participatory action research orientation, we commit to working with our core partners to decide how to treat such information sensitively, recognizing that sharing tactical information indiscriminately through the dissemination of research findings, whether to research participants or academic audiences, could actually undermine the efforts of those groups this research is most committed to.

Project Team

  • Charles Levkoe (Lakehead University)
  • Trudi Zundel (Carleton University)
  • Peter Andrée (Carleton University)
  • Trish Ballamingie (Carleton University)
  • Amanda Wilson (Saint Paul University)
  • Nathalie McSween (Saint Paul University, Food Communities Network)
  • Phil Mount (Sustain Ontario)
  • Larry McDermott (Plenty Canada)
  • Gisèle Yasmeen (Food Secure Canada)
  • Moe Garahan (Food Communities Network)
  • Ana Moragues Faus (Cardiff)
  • Nick Rose (William Angliss)