The FoodSHIFT 2030 project brings together urban communities committed to change in the way their food system operates.
A consultation process between cities has identified common themes for peer learning.
Involving citizens and people in urban food communities and initiatives is the theme of the first of several webinars.
There are two important dimensions to the places in which the communities in question participate. The first is the food local community. This community is a ‘community of interest’, i.e. a group of different people, who share a common interest for the food policy of the city, and related activities. But beyond a community of interest that offers a framework for collective reflection, community engagement can be an active participation in “Citizen driven innovation” which are grass-root initiatives, that are new (in an incremental or radical way) and initiated by city-region inhabitants.
The objectives of the webinar were the following:
- Sharing experiences in establishing local food community and initiatives, and in contributing to the success of citizens/people led initiatives
- Discussing main bottlenecks and difficulties
- Brainstorming about pathways and communication tools which could help (=solutions)
- Six cities actively participated in this learning process by exchanging experiences.
Initiators, resources and finances
The exchange of experiences between the six cities shows very different starting points, which can be grouped into three types of situations:
- The initiators are motivated volunteers who share an ambitious common objective and work towards it in an organised group (e.g. association) (Bari, Berlin)
- The initiators are municipalities that seek to involve their citizens in a sustainable change of their local food system (Avignon, Oostende)
- The initiators are companies or other actors, and one of their objectives is the mobilisation of citizens in a change of the food system (Barcelona, Copenhagen)
Because of their different configurations, the human and financial resources are very different, and the “good practices” that emerge from these exchanges are sometimes quite specific.
|Volunteers||Municipalities||Private sector or Technology Competence Centre|
|Human Resources||Voluntary work that is inexpensive but sometimes complicated to manage||Paid work but can be perceived as politically charged||Paid but fund-raising work, which may have commercial connotations|
|Financial Resources||Difficult to obtain and to consolidate over time||Dependent on the will of the elected representatives (possible changes depending on the outcome of the elections)||Difficult to establish over time as it depends on the business model|
Trajectories for initiating the participatory process with the inhabitants
The initiatives each follow their own particular trajectory, which corresponds to their values, the operating culture and skills of the initiator and the human, technical and financial resources available to them.
|Main Goal of the LAB||Type||Initiators||City|
|Setting-up a Children’s’ Parliament||Dialogue platform||Setting-up by the municipality with human and financial resources||Avignon (FR)|
|Community-led initiative around the FoodHub setting-up||Dialogue platform||Facilitated by individuals without any starting-up fund||Berlin (DE)|
|Creating an urban gardening community on abandoned land||Dialogue platform||Facilitated by individuals without any starting-up fund||Bari (IT)|
|City dialogues around the AgriFood Park||Series of events||Facilitated and funded by municipality||Ostende (BE)|
|Strengthening the regional food system by creating awareness, recognition and learning about food system transition based on selected innovation actions||Series of events and training||Facilitated by a mix between private start-ups, university with municipality support||Copenhagen (DN)|
|Socializing food tech as a tool to solve community challenges while building capacity in its use and hacking in communities of practice||Series of events and training||Facilitated by a Fab-Lab at University||Barcelona (SP)|
Participants to the discussion platforms being regular in attending events was identified as an important factor in initiating a real dynamic of collective participation. For this, access to public funding is an important key to sustaining the organisation of the dialogue events.
Another dimension is the communication around the events, relayed by social networks, but also by the local press or other networks (for example, the city’s food council in Berlin). The moments of exchange between the participants, the conviviality around the meetings and the quality of the meeting place play an important role in the regularity of participants’ participation and the motivation to get involved, almost always on a voluntary basis.
Mobilising citizens and city dwellers is complicated. But mobilising farmers is often an even more difficult challenge.
Other issues that often came up during the webinar were among the followings:
- Enrolling a wider circle of citizens and inhabitants than the beginners, especially developing collaborations within a growing ‘city food network’
- Finding a balance between the participatory and “democratic” functioning and the efficiency and economic functioning, that could improve the establishment of the initiative
- Finding a way of communicating and stabilising the relationship between the municipal administration and the way of developing of citizens’ rooted initiatives, which are often based on a mixture of voluntary work and salaried employment
- Developing unstructured spontaneous citizens’ initiatives into an more formal organisation with sometimes legal existence and public funding, while retaining the enthusiasm and sometimes militant commitment of the initiators, e.g. in Bari transforming the collective gardening activity on abandoned land into a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative
- Funding investments to increase the size and scope of the actions
- Finding land in the city to establish market gardening initiatives
- Finding farmers close to the cities in order to to supply food to consumers’ initiatives that are willing to buy local (and organic) food
- Spreading the message of “food low tech” and acting so that low tech carried by citizen collectives assert an identity and a capacity to resist the high tech of big business
City dialogues help in:
- Raising awareness on new developments (wide communication needed!) and creating dialogue (pro & con) that could inspire people & create a positive vibe
- Thinking out of the box
- Involving politicians
- Coming back with changed plans and communicating the final plans.
- Raising awareness of the youth, for example empowering children through a “Parliament of Kids), who can test the implementation of their projects and ideas, i.e. rendering concrete the essence of their future “citizenship”
Framework conditions that support the enrolment process
- Municipalities should care about setting-up conditions that really support the building up of long lasting structures initiated by citizens and inhabitants
- City council programmes should address the support of civic involvement through grassroots movements
- Municipalities should dedicate a global budget to implement the actions and also to provide a human support to the implementation of the food policy
- Municipality should care about proposing participatory ways to engage dialogue with the grass root initiatives, as it is a key aspect of their success
Out-of-the-box – Thinking ahead
This an incentive given by the Municipality, in order to make local food strategy more citizen-driven. Municipality make a budget available, and its use is decided upon citizens’ voting.
Necessary to predefine themes under which actions can be developed and predefine budget that can be allocated to these different actions
- Citizens can turn in projects related to strategic or operational goals.
- Citizens can vote for which project should be implemented
- Citizens can allocate predefined municipal budget to projects
Change at farmers’ school
Farmers’ motivation is weak in many cases, and for many reasons. One being maybe linked to the education at farmers’ schools. Here, we could try to make them more aware about opportunities to enroll in citizens’ led initiatives.
Be innovative in your “Access to land” strategy
There is an option for the municipalities to buy land, and contract a farmer to produce according to specific requirements. This could solve the issue of not finding any farmer willing to join any citizens’ led initiative.
Recruiting or contracting farmers is very demanding, there should be more experience sharing to perform it.
Terre de Liens in France has a good model to make land accessible to innovative farmers.
Develop social business models
There is a need to find ways to long-term finance the initiatives, and not depend only on project’s funding.
This is an important challenge, and can be solved case by case, for ex. Turning urban agriculture into Community Supported Agriculture, or developing trainings for the citizens.
Need to build competencies in setting-up social business models.
Think what can move a “citizen letter” addressed to the Maire
Some projects led by citizens can start from a citizen letter written to the Maire, like a child asking for the “Parliament of Kids” in Oostende.
Argue about your impact with evidences
Transfer benefits into “numbers” to visualize them, show social return on investment. This may help in raising long term public funding.
Link with other Cities
After the first year of scaling at the Barcelona level, a joint work could be initiated with Baumhaus in Berlin, to introduce the Food Tech 3.0 innovations in their community
Testing the innovations experimented in the Fab Lab in Barcelona (smart citizen kit) would be then presented to Baumhaus initiative in Berlin, to promote the concept of alternative food low tech, i.e. tech that is open, accessible, just and citizen-driven.