Workshop 4 roundup: A continuously changing world

On a grey morning on 7 March, the final IFSTAL workshop of 2019/20 took place at the beautifully renovated Camden Campus of the Royal Veterinary College in London. IFSTAL students Lauren Bauer, Paula Almiron-Chamadoira and Louis Williams outline how the day wrapped up IFSTAL’s exciting workshop series.

Our group of 22 was in a bright and reflective mood as we contemplated this, the last of four Saturday workshops. It would draw to a close our study of system thinking, which has brought together students and academics from such diverse subject areas as nature, marketing, society and environmental governance; veterinary epidemiology and sustainable crop production.

The Theory of Change Model

The workshop theme was ‘Interventions for Food Systems Transformation’, leading on from the previous session’s focus on the importance of stakeholders. The Theory of Change (TOC) was explored by Dr Louise Whatford and Dr Niko Dadios, who deftly described ways of approaching change, as well as the importance of considering assumptions and intermediate consequences on the way to an outcome. We learned that the four forms of change are: incremental, transitional, transformational and systemic. Their applications were explained and ways of ascertaining outcomes were explored.

Food systems operate as complex phenomena and require the omni-approach of system thinking. TOC assesses this complexity and the active dynamics of the actors involved. To start applying TOC, Dr Louise Whatford posed the following questions:

  • What is the problem you are trying to solve? What is the overall change you want to achieve?
  • What are the preconditions for achieving that change? What are your assumptions?
  • What is your role?
  • What is your key audience? What is your entry point to reaching your audience?
  • What are your indicators? How would you know if you are making progress? What does it look like over time?
  • What steps are needed to bring about change? What activities, goals, and indicators are you going to undertake to get there? What are the wider benefits?

These questions serve to provide a critical reflection towards a problem in the food system, such as food security, the future of food, food ethics or the circular economy. They highlight how our construction and framing of a problem draws a perimeter of action and implicitly describes a current situation. Moreover, they focus on the importance of indicators and evaluation through the implementation of a plan, and how the design has to address the target from the start.

The eagerness of those present as well as their breadth of experience was evident during a pause for tea. Around the room, conversations could be heard linking the content of Louise and Niko’s talks to students’ own fields of interest. The topics ranged from malaria control to the financial boundaries of change and even the cultural impacts of Britain’s EU departure. Laughter and enthusiastic replies signalled the discovery of shared interests. The meeting and sharing ideas in this way is one of the highly valuable elements of the IFSTAL workshops.

Careers explored

After refuelling with a delicious lunch by Eco Cuisine, the group was ready for the Workplace Presentations. Guest speakers from diverse backgrounds and career paths shared their experiences with the group: Amali Bunter (Lidl) discussed topics related to plastic reduction, deforestation, investment in sustainability, supply chains, and the implications of Brexit. Yana Doncheva (Proforest) further discussed supply chains, international consultancy work, responsible sourcing of agricultural commodities (especially in tropical countries), the Bread Houses Network.

Claire White (University of Bristol) discussed her role as a specialist veterinary manager, veterinary public health, the supply chain, food safety and quality, and animal welfare. Lucas Daglish (Whitbread) encouraged us to enrich our careers experience through international experiences, and by working in diverse points in the food system.

After the individual presentations, roundtable discussions gave students the chance to explore specific topics of interest with the speakers. Following this, Rosina Borrelli – IFSTAL Workplace Engagement Lead – and Programme Leader John Ingram made the final closing remarks, underlining the role of the IFSTAL network in staying connected to the programme and our fellow alumni.

About the authors

Lauren Bauer has a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and is currently studying Veterinary Medicine at the Royal Veterinary College. She has an interest in international small ruminant production, veterinary public health, and food safety. As an IFSTAL participant, she was able to learn more about global food systems through transferable skills in interdisciplinary collaboration.

Paula Almiron-Chamadoira has a background in Marketing, Communication and Semiotics focused on eCommerce. She is a PhD candidate who has been an academic visitor at the Crossmodal lab of the University of Oxford, applying a multisensorial marketing approach to study consumer behaviour, the food industry and gastronomy. IFSTAL has helped her advance her knowledge of food systems and contributed to her practice of systems thinking.

Louis Williams is studying a Sustainable Crop Production MSc at the University of Warwick. His interests centre around reduced input agriculture and the place of farming within a larger, food systems context. He has particularly enjoyed discussions with fellow IFSTAL members, offering insight into different perspectives.

Main image: © Lauren Bauer