Systems thinking and team work were in the spotlight for Workshop Three, which took place on 16 February at The University of Warwick’s impressive Occulus Building. We were honoured to welcome food journalist Sheila Dillon, from BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, who came for a taste of the IFSTAL experience.
Warwick Education Co-ordinator Michael Heasman welcomed the students and set the scene for the day with a brief history of food systems thinking. He explained how academia has long embraced the concept however the wider world took longer to adopt the approach. After taking us on a whistlestop tour of food systems milestones, Michael summed up the topic succinctly: food systems are about people and how we connect with what we eat. He also echoed the wise words of Buddhist monk and author Haemin Sunim: The whole universe is contained in an apple wedge in a lunch box. Apple tree, sunlight, cloud, rain, earth, air, farmer’s sweat are all in it. Delivery truck, gas, market, money, cashier’s smile are all in it. Refrigerator, knife, cutting board, mother’s love are all in it. Everything in the whole universe depends on one another.
Role with it
Giving our students skills for employability is one of IFSTAL’s key aims and, with this in mind, Workplace Engagement Lead Rosina Borrelli led the energy-infused How teams work and why differences matter session. The group reflected on different roles within teams, including Belbin roles, and had their skills in communication and groupwork challenged in different ways throughout the session. Working in teams, the students were given an exercise based on illustrations from the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. Each group was tasked with sorting the pictures into a narrative sequence, which revealed different organisational and even physical approaches as students sorted themselves into linear formations and group huddles.
Complex issues bring with them a range of interested parties – not all sharing the same points of view – so considering multi-stakeholder partnerships was next on the agenda. Guest speaker and IFSTAL alumna Skye Oudemans shared her experiences of working with multi-stakeholders in her role as Corporate Affairs Executive (Policy) at the Food and Drink Federation. Her success in facilitating stakeholders to work together comes down to good communication skills and an understanding of a wide range of viewpoints.
The next group task required student groups to develop the outline of a stakeholder partnership process before breaking for lunch, during which students were able to participate in useful one-to-one sessions with IFSTAL staff and guest speaker Skye.
After lunch, the energy in the room ramped up another notch as Education Co-ordinator Lauren Blake introduced Collaborate, a game which required the students to make the most of their diverse skills and experience. Based on a research project at the University of Cardiff, the challenge required each of four teams to design a region-based UK food system to provide healthy and sustainable diets, and achieve resilience in the food system by strengthening social capital among food system stakeholders. The task built on content covered in the online module around the principles for food systems research and also tested the students team skills.
Points were awarded to teams for both pitching their ideas and presenting valid pitch critiques to other teams. Each project was also rated on its likely impact and its potential to address sustainable food systems in a multidisciplinary way. After several battle rounds with quick-fire feedback and defences, each of the teams delivered a refined pitch. After a closely fought final, team Community Kitchen were declared the winners. While there were no big cash prizes on offer, the teams gained awareness of the road ahead and are better equipped to deal with future food systems challenges.
Read about our previous IFSTAL workshops here.