Louisa Knocker – IFSTAL Alumni 2017/18, LSHTM

Thursday 27th September 2018 saw the IFSTAL showcase event at the Town Hall in Oxford, celebrating the first 3 years of the IFSTAL programme. The event promised to share insights from the first three years of the programme and to help shape IFSTAL’s future with input from its stakeholders. The hot topic of the day was interdisciplinary collaboration. The programme was a compelling mix of guest speakers from higher education, government, food industry and NGOs, with workshops covering food systems thinking; innovative teaching and learning; and graduate attributes and employability.

Tim Lang gives us his reflections

Tim Lang opened the meeting with a reflection on IFSTAL from its inception, highlighting seven features: complexity; interdisciplinarity; teamwork; food crisis; encouraging imagination; change; and fun!

John Ingram, the programme’s lead, then outlined the rationale for IFSTAL and the achievements seen since launch.

The IFSTAL programme has created the foundation for collaboration with 1100+ participating students and PhD students from over 45 departments. And with a further 20 workplace partners, the groundwork is prepared to create food systems change, rather than merely food systems studies.

Slides from Lucy Foster (defra – the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) noted how IFSTAL helps provide people with the right knowledge skills and expertise defra needs, supporting career development of policy and evidence makers of the future.

Alan Hayes (Institute of Grocery Distribution) suggested the most important Sustainable Development Goal is #17 – Partnerships; without them, it’s difficult to create lasting change in any development goal. He encouraged us to not only foster change but also be the change, highlighting the fact that all of us were there to discuss sustainable food systems …. Yet, he noted, only a handful of us had brought their reusable coffee cups!

As an academic ‘employer’, Mike Rayner (University of Oxford) values IFSTAL’s multi-disciplinary participants because of their experience in systems thinking, as well as their perspectives from different disciplines.

John Ingram said “food systems are already in crisis. It is hard to make change because the system is so complex and there are so many differing vested interests…There are dozens of Government agencies working on some element of food systems – and that is just in the UK!” …. Hence the underlying importance of IFSTAL’s focus and drive towards partnerships and collaboration. The model of IFSTAL is to be close-knit so students from participating Universities are able to meet and freely engage at workshops and events.

Discussion following the presentation by Bruce Linter (PepsiCo) confirmed the value of food systems thinking even when reformulating products, and Owen Gower (UK Council for Graduate Education) emphasised that the IFSTAL food systems thinking model is as important as ever to support interdisciplinary working.

The ‘IFSTAL Wall of Fame’ – some of our alumni now working in the food system.

The day also included a series of interactive workshops designed to offer participants a feel of IFSTAL ‘in action’. These were very well received and ranged in subject matter from cross institutional collaboration and curriculum development to innovative teaching methods and workplace engagement – and of course a session on food systems thinking.

Rebecca Wells delivers her workshop on technology in learning, in very grand surroundings!


John Ingram also spoke about the opportunities and ideas for “IFSTAL Phase Two”. After the successful first three years, we are now transitioning into exciting proofs of concept: offering IFSTAL to undergraduates; obtaining professional accreditation to incentivise students to join the programme and stay engaged; developing interactive and innovative learning; and a reach to the Global South. The recent IFSTAL intensive 1-week course in Ghana was hugely successful, with heavy demand in Australia, funding already in place for Indonesia, as well as more demand from Ghana.

Meanwhile, businesses are showing interest in inviting their junior staff to join the IFSTAL programme. This is currently unavailable but opens another angle for IFSTAL to extend its reach, and IFSTAL is currently developing Continuing Professional Development courses which we will launch in 2019.

John closed the meeting by affirming IFSTAL’s 5-10 year vision of having an ‘army’ of professionals across all sectors, all with an understanding of the big picture and with contacts in other sectors through the IFSTAL community.

All in all, the day was highly interesting and enjoyable, and made me excited to be part of such an important and growing community.