Methods for Analysing Food Systems: Unit 3 Preview


The online units available through IFSTAL help you to better understand the food system through food systems thinking.  In Unit 2 we looked at the nature of complex ‘wicked’ problems and how systems thinking can help us to analyse and intervene in them.


In this Unit we introduce you to the key principles that you can apply to research design, choosing methods, and researching aspects of the food system. Because we see many of the problems facing the food system as ‘wicked’ and involving differing viewpoints, we approach this from a mixed social-natural science perspective.


The Unit is divided into several sections that address:

  • The importance of concepts such as framings, narratives, and boundaries, and why they are important for thinking about systems and research methods.
  • Seven key principles that we think are essential for carrying out systemic research.
  • Different research and systems methods, and their relative strengths and weaknesses depending on the context and ways in which they are used.
  • How different methods can be synthesised to apply the food system research principles through three different case studies.


You should allow 60-90 minutes of time to work through the unit, and there are more resources available on the portal to help you continue on your systems thinking journey.


Upon completion of the Unit, students should be able to:

  • Reflect on your own research interests and ethics given what we propose as ‘principles for food system research’.
  • Be familiar with the main considerations that form the basis of analysing a system.
  • Begin formulating a strategy for recruiting your research stakeholders.
  • Have an overview of different research and systems methods and the contexts they can be used in.
  • Drawing on research case studies, have an appreciation for how methods can be used together.


Blog by Dr. Harley Pope, Education Coordinator, University of Reading


Find out ways to get involved with IFSTAL, join our Food Systems Community, or contact us for further information.

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