Last Friday, I worked with the Network Support Team (NST) of the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) to facilitate a gathering of over 100 food system and food security activists. This was the fourth convening in the past year and a half, and featured what have become typical elements of fostering connectivity between people (welcoming and introducing ourselves to new people, learning together, making offers and requests) and alignment around the CFSA vision. And to honor what has been growing in the network as both a call for and a question about the possibility of collective action, NST members Melissa Spear, Marilyn Moore, and Jiff Martin created the following exercise to stimulate people’s thinking about how the network could “change the game” in Connecticut and boldly advance the state towards a reality where “everyone has access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food.”
This exercise is designed to help us explore Big Ideas for collective action that would leverage our network to make significant progress toward realizing our collective vision. This is an opportunity for all of us to think big and perhaps “outside the box” about how we might come together behind one or two actions that would address a KEY challenge that stands in the way of a “better” food system.
We don’t know where this exercise is going to take us . . . but it seems like many of us are often asking whether there is one action, or two, that if taken might change our food system in some significant way that would better align it with our vision.
A note about system change:
While we do not want to place too many constraints on this process or overly complicate it, we do want to invite you to think in terms of system change, not just simply the “coolest” or your favorite solution. One way to go about this is to consider all of what our food system includes (see graphic above) and to think of this as a complex body into which we want to put metaphorical acupuncture pins to free up or move energy in positive ways that benefit the whole and especially those who are most negatively impacted by the current system. Another way to think about this is to consider what lies “beneath the waterline” of the presenting issues in the food system. Try to go beyond symptoms to some of the underlying structures and beliefs that keep the system as it is.
So here is what we are asking:
At your table, spend 10 minutes engaging in a brainstorming session with the objective of identifying as many “game changing” strategies or actions that would address one or more key challenges that stand in the way of a “better” food system. Make sure that the CFSA vision is front and center during this process. The Vision is printed on the back of your agenda. Refer to the “Brainstorming Tips” sheet on each table to help guide this part of the process. (10 minutes)
Spend the next 15 minutes after the Brainstorming session collectively discussing and selecting the 2 or 3 Game Changers that you would like to present to the entire network. For each Game Changer selected fill out one of the Game Changer Sheets you will find on your table. (15 minutes)
We will come around and collect these sheets. Duplicates will be combined and they will be hung on the wall around the room. (5 minutes)
Now we will all “vote”. Each person will have 3 dots to vote with. Go around the room and read each Game Changer Sheet. Vote for a Game Changer by placing one or more dots on it. You may choose to vote for 3 different Game Changers or you may choose to put all your votes on one Game Changer – it is up to you. (10 minutes).
We will collect and share with the group the top 3 vote getters. We will spend the next 5 minutes reflecting on this process and how we might want to follow up on the result. (5 minutes).
The exercise resulted in some very provocative ideas that the NST will look at more closely during its next meeting. Where we go from here is yet to be determined, but some ideas include asking people at the next convening in January to weigh in on and add to these, set up a virtual forum for people to add and “vote,” perhaps have a few finalist ideas be put forward as grant proposals from the network. And we made the point during last week’s convening that if people are inspired by any of the ideas that came up, they should not wait. Get out there and prototype! What excites me most about this exercise is that it is another example of “innovation” bubbling up from a local network focused on food in New England, working with what it has and where it is.