This section of the report is an outgrowth of a AFP Management Team meeting that was held in June 2015. At this meeting a group of community and university collaborators reflected on four years of working together and formulated concepts and ideas around learnings worth carrying forward. One concept that emerged over-and-over again, was the idea of trust. It was development of trust that made possible our collaboration up to that date and at the same time, it was the presence of that trust that underscored the importance of continued regional collaboration by the partners represented at the table. In this section, we unpack this idea and think about how we might go about creating spaces and conditions for the transformation of our food system.
In Grassroots Action >> Institutional Change, we use the Cynefin framework as a way to make sense of community food security work. It provides some baseline structure for thinking about why food system change should involve “creating spaces” and then what it might look like to seek transformation.
The framework describes four contexts in which a leader might find her/him/themselves
- Obvious - Meaning a clear relationship between cause and effect
- Complicated - Determining a relationship between cause and effect requires expert analysis
- Complex - There is no ordered relationship between cause and effect, it can only be perceived after the fact, but is not replicable due to a multiplicity of fluid variables
- Chaotic - There is no recognizable relationship between cause and effect
When the relationship between cause and effect are knowable, as in the obvious and complicated realms, best and good practices can resolve an issue. In the complex realm, best and good practices fail to achieve adequate resolution. The issues of community food security falls into the context of the complex.
With no knowable relationship between cause and effect, we are in need of what Snowden and Boone (2007) describe as emergent practice: a process of probe-sense-respond. We have translated this to a process of:
Experiment >> Assess >> Re-Tool
Experiment >> Assess >> Re-Tool
Experiment >> Assess >> Re-Tool...
The food system is not going to transformed by the adoption of good or even best practices. The relationship between cause and effect is too complex. Following Cynefin, what we need are better and more strategic ways to experiment. Snowden refers to the realm of complex issues as the area of emergent practice.
The question for us: How do we cultivate spaces for emergent practices, spaces where we don’t solve for isolated problems (which are the problems of best and good practices) but for pattern?
This kind of space requires a diversity of lived realities--it requires collaboration. If we take seriously the process of experiment >> assess >> re-tool, this means that these processes need to be approached from a collaborative point of view. This points to the salience of “trust” as an important learning from the last four year of AFP work.
In order to work together rapidly, agilely, and experimentally, each person needs to be able to trust their collaborators. We believe that such trust is hard won, but that it can also be better enabled by certain processes. As the AFP, we have seen this in our own work, but we also envision particular conditions and a food-systems-work culture that can carry this down the line.
Examples from our work
Valuing the Importance of Relationships for Collaboration
In two recent AFP meetings, we have had the occasion to reflect on the learnings and progress of the AFP over the past four years. In a group convened to strategize next steps for our three-state partnership, community and university partners noted the critical importance of relationship-building for both learning and collaboration among regional food system practitioners. After four years, this group agreed that this was the central value proposition of the three-state partnership. This was similarly corroborated in the June 2015 AFP meeting mentioned at the beginning of this section.
This relationship-building has both facilitated and been facilitated by the development of trust among diverse partners. But this process has taken time, which means it has also taken the institutional commitment and personal and professional stamina to maintain and build these relationships over the past years. The multi-year funding to the universities responsible for the AFP has enabled the institutional commitment. It has allowed for the time is has taken to build and then support of spaces and channels of communication.
Collaborative processes that are intentionally inclusive
The effectiveness of the the on-going communication and partnership within the AFP has been supported by instituting collaborative processes that are intentionally inclusive. The university partners have been able to pay stipends to community partners who participate in the management team. Though modest, this compensation has made on-going community participation more feasible.
The policy-setting management team is composed of community partners who represent a diversity organizations and university partners who come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. To support equitable engagement, the AFP has used a facilitation process (Circle Forward) that actively solicits around the concept of consent. Instead of seeking consensus across these diverse, perspectives, we instead seek action and policies that are within each person’s “range of tolerance”--meaning a perfect solution is not necessary.
Consent and Experimentation
Using a consent process has created space for timely action in a team of diverse collaborators. Though the AFP has not mastered this process of “rapid prototyping” or experiment>>assess>>re-tool, the consent process has enabled quicker decision-making and the group support to move forward with riskier, more experimental propositions. Our move to LocalWiki would be an example of this process in action.
Open and Transparent Information and Communication
Like many organization, the AFP uses a listerv, social media and Googledocs as open means of communication and information sharing. We have recently been working with a collaboration ethos borrowed from open and crowd-sourced communities--we refer to it as A Peer-to-Peer Ethos for Collaboration. As a guiding ethos, the AFP has pursued the development of LocalWiki as a space for open and transparent information sharing. Using a crowd-sourced approach to building and sharing regional information offers a means greater transparency, lower collaboration costs, more visibility, and the potential for new experiments in working together.
Spaces and Recommendations
Based on our experiences working in the region, we recommend the cultivation of the following spaces, concepts, and ideas.
1. Trust-building among diverse practitioners. This process has the potential to enable rapid and experimental collaboration and consequently the prospect of emergent transformations. See Barr Fellows Document and Network Impact Report, p. 2.
2. Developing multi-directional transparent communication. Drawing on Ethos for Peer-to-Peer collaboration and potential for agile and experimental action, creating communication channels that are easily accessible, open to all, but not a burden on users. i.e. more nuanced that a listserv. Communication should be structured in a way that allows anyone to communicate with any other partner at any time. i.e. no gatekeepers, ≠ credentialism.
3. Open information-data sharing. The creation and on-going support for spaces like LocalWiki where information can be easily and freely uploaded, organized and accessed.
4. Evaluation of These Spaces.A key part of the Cynefin cyle: experiment>>assess>>re-tool is the assess component. To make the most of the experimentation that open communication and open information processes enable, it is important that there is appropriate support for the evaluation of these experiments. Appropriate evaluation should:
- Consider the limited and constrained budgets (time) of NGOs and other grant-funded projects
- Strive for openness and shared learning across the region.
- Be able to account for less tangible outcomes, like trust and relationship-building
- Be flexible and adaptive to emergence (i.e. developmental evaluation)