Food systems are complex. They involve multiple elements, stakeholders and relationships operating across multiple scales. Trying to understand how the food systems function in practice can lead to a cascade of uncertainty ultimately making interventions unactionable. Within this context, how can evidence be marshalled and synthesized to generate effective food policy?
The Walker Academy provided three workshops to provide food systems thinking and training to 1st and 2nd year students of the FoodBioSystems Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), of which the University of Reading is a consortium member.
A large proportion of the DTP students’ research focus is on one small, and often technical, element of the food system. They receive little other training to help them contextualise their work within the larger food system, help them engage with other stakeholders, or contribute to food policy debates.
The workshops for this year’s Summer School took place at Cranfield University. 27 and 14 students from Year 1 and Year 2 respectively, participated in the three workshops the Walker Institute delivered. PhD students came from Aberystwyth University, Brunel University, Cranfield University, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Reading, and University of Surrey.
Dr Harley Pope designed and delivered all three workshops. The course content was designed around the principles of food systems literacy, as outlined in (Pope et al., 2021). This approach is centered around the idea that food systems analysis and intervention strategies are collaborative endeavors that require the surfacing of an explicit shared frames of reference among stakeholders.
Each workshop was designed around the knowledge and skills that feature within the food
systems literacy framework. Different systems thinking methodologies are showcased and experientially trialled to enhance student understanding of food systems.
These workshops were designed to be delivered in person. Half the time of each workshop was given to collaborative group work to trial the methods and let students benefit from each other’s differing professional and personal expertise. Students were provided with lecture slides and a small, targeted selection of key references in advance of the summer school.
These workshops help students to develop a functional food systems literacy through engaging in a variety of applied critical systems thinking approaches.
 Pope, H., et al. (2021). Developing a Functional Food Systems Literacy for Interdisciplinary Dynamic Learning Networks. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 5(November), 1–13.