The wide geographical spread of the IFSTAL student cohort was more evident than usual as the programme’s first virtual summer school launched on 23 June 2020.
Taking place over Zoom and MS Teams, the three-day event is a bracing mix of systems thinking, project work and online collaboration. The students come from a wide range of disciplines and five educational institutions – adding to the challenge.
Day one of the three-day event focused on systems thinking, with a communications day and, finally, a day devoted to careers and the workplace planned. Through the duration of the summer school, students would be tasked to work on food systems projects in addition to attending the online workshops, talks and lectures.
Day one roundup
After a warm introduction from IFSTAL Programme Lead John Ingram, the group were presented with a quick poll to see how much they knew about fellow participants from the handbook biographies. Clearly the group had been paying attention, or possibly sneaking a peek at the handbook off-camera, as the high levels of awareness set a precedent for the day ahead.
The first guest speaker was Professor Gerald Midgely, Professor of Systems Thinking in the Business School at the University of Hull. In his talk, he emphasised the importance of the stakeholder perspective and highlighted how looked stakeholder analysis can help assess whose voices matter. He also focused on the conflict that arises when you include stakeholders from different perspectives, emphasising how building empathy with those who hold different perspectives is key when tackling complex issues.
Horizon Three Thinking is a tool for looking to the future and facilitating transformation and was the next topic in the spotlight. In his session, Dr Harley Pope of the University of Reading, an Education Co-ordinator on the EFSET programme, highlighted how investigating the future can allow us to notice potential in the present. In doing so, he said, we can bring that potential forwards to contribute to building the future we want.
Reflections from the workplace
Hearing from those working in the food system has always been key to inspiring IFSTAL’s students. In a short interview, former IFSTAL alumnus Luke Hamilton, now a Social Research Officer at Defra, explained how systems thinking is being used in his multidisciplinary team – and on a wider scale – as Defra tackles challenges in the food system and beyond. Hearing how systems thinking is being harnessed to create positive change provided an inspiring end to day one’s teaching sessions. The hard work was just beginning, however, as the students commenced project work after lunch.