Systems mapping complex


Just before Christmas, Julia Leventon and Lenka Sucha were excited to be in Pretoria, South Africa for the launch of the FoSTA Health project (Food Systems Transformation in Southern Africa for One Health). The project is exploring food systems transformations in Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa, and works closely with academic and practice partners from all these countries, as well as the Netherlands and the UK. FoSTA Health is funded by the European Commission and UKRI (insert grant agreement number).

The department’s work in the project is split across three workpackages (sub-topics within the project).

  1. We are looking at processes of participation in transformative change, including how participatory processes address questions of equity and justice.
  2. In collaboration with in-country partners, we are exploring at place-based systems dynamics in transitions into and out of Maize production in case studies in Malawi and Tanzania.
  3. We are learning and integrating across all cases to identify opportunities and interventions for transforming food systems.

The kick off meeting in Pretoria was the first opportunity for all partners to meet each other, and understand our motivations, intentions and ways of working within the project. We learned about the work already being done in the case study locations. We were also given an insight into the physical, social, economic and political factors that are shaping food systems and their transformation, and how these vary across the cases. Partners FANRPAN outlined their planned process of actor engagement and participation through the project, and all workpackage groups had time for some detailed planning.

For our part, we ran a short introductory session on critical systems mapping. We started by introducing different models of systems (e.g. icebergs and onions, networks, different kinds of relations, etc.). We then asked participants to start drawing their own. Most started with thinking about how different actors were connected. As we started to ask questions about who was shaping the system, what it was seeking to achieve, and why it looked that way, we soon moved into incorporating factors such as power, environmental change, values and knowledge. In this way, we explored normative dimensions of systems and started conversations about which system is being transformed, and how this connects to other systems of change.

Our intention is that such exercises should surface differences in our assumptions and expectations about what we are talking about when we talk about ‘the food system’ and ‘transformation’. Some differences are reconcilable, and others will exist as points of plurality in the project. But understanding which is which, and why it matters, underpins all three areas of our research in the project. As such, we were pleased to start the conversation during the kick off meeting. And we certainly had fun doing it.

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