A sustainability experiment systems approach to identify the governance system and influencing factors of experiments in the agri food chain

Marianne Hubeau, Fleur Marchand, Guido Van Huylenbroeck

    Onderzoeksoutput: Bijdrage aan congresC3: Congres - Meeting abstract


    Experimenting is acknowledged to be crucial within a transformation process as it can contribute to the transformation by deepening, broadening and scaling-up. Deepening is defined as a learning process through which actors learn about new ways of performing societal functions within a specific context, broadening is repeating an experiment in a different context and linking it to other functions or domains, and scaling-up is embedding an experiment in dominant ways of thinking, doing and organising at the level of the societal system. Furthermore, based on a literature review and rephrased for our case, we define transformative sustainability experiments as innovative initiatives focussing on sustainability challenges within the agri-food system as starting points for learning and collaboration aimed at contributing to a transition towards a more resilient system. At present, many sustainability experiments emerge, such as short chain initiatives, food hubs and transition towns. However, a lot of experiments cease and come to an end due to failures of very diverse origin. Hence, the identification of collaboration success and its influencing factors in relation to its potential contribution to a more sustainable system is essential. We focus on the agri-food system as the agri-food system is urged to transform towards sustainability due to various demographic, socio-economic and ecological pressures such as scarcity of natural resources, urbanisation and volatile price formation. Moreover, the agri-food system has specific sustainability challenges due to the perishability of products, seasonality in production and food safety policy. Empirical insights and guidelines how to design and manage sustainability experiments within the agri-food are specific and limited so far. Therefore, we analysed and evaluated four in-depth sustainability experiments of the Flemish agri-food system, i.e. (i) a short chain initiative to set up direct home delivery of fresh and processed farm products, (ii) sustainable social catering in a hospital, (iii) the valorisation of biological surpluses into a new marketable product, and (iv) production, processing and consumption of local soybeans for animal feed and human consumption. All sustainability experiments are local and small scale, innovative, focus on action and learning-by-doing, and have a high risk of failure. To analyse and compare the four case studies, we developed an analytical framework based on literature from institutional economics, ecological economics, evaluation methodology and transition studies. The resulting framework determines performance based on three dimensions, namely governance (i.e. organisational and relational governance), process and societal outcomes or collaboration. We define collaboration success as the social gains, the learning effects and the transformative power of the experiment. Moreover, the overall performance of an experiment is the sum of collaboration success and effective changes into practice. In this study, we determined the collaboration success perceived by the actors of the experiments. We performed 21 semi-structured interviews with actors of the experiments, organised four learning workshops and one overarching eye opener workshop. Our preliminary results provide useful empirical insights into the governance, processes and collaboration success of sustainability experiments linked to their overall performance. Moreover, we identified the influencing factors of their collaboration success. These identified factors are network structure, personal relationships (e.g. trust and relevance of identity), choice of partners and transaction characteristics (e.g. task decomposability and risk sharing). The results are useful for researchers, decision makers and practitioners who design or organise future sustainability experiments to accelerate a transformation process. Future research could extend the number of case studies and assess more broadly the influence of the affecting factors on the collaboration success.
    Oorspronkelijke taalEngels
    PublicatiestatusGepubliceerd - 27-apr.-2017
    Evenement18th PhD Symposium Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics - Brussel, België
    Duur: 27-apr.-201727-apr.-2017


    Symposium18th PhD Symposium Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics


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