Building Collaborative, Inclusive, and Responsive Planning Processes for Fostering Resilient Urban Food Systems (updated 11-24 with video)
We will implement inclusive planning processes to improve the city’s food environment and working conditions of small-scale food retailers.
EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA
We will address the following: (1) poor communication processes between small-scale urban food retailers and the Lilongwe City Council, and (2) lack of funds to improve resiliency of retail food environments with critical infrastructure and public health interventions.
Poor communication, lack of accountability, absence of mechanisms to seek input from retailers, and unclear budgeting procedures have resulted in food environments that overburden small-scale retailers, thus undermining their ability to improve profit margins. The absence of inclusive and responsive processes and poor infrastructure frustrates measures to adapt to changing conditions. As cities grow and as food environments become more unpredictable, such a situation will result in heightened food vulnerabilities.
Through collaborative action research conducted in 2014 and 2015, we have identified a number of 'action items.' Those include (1) improving transparency and collaboration between city council and people working in markets, (2) improving accountability and responsiveness of city council by passing into law a requirement to invest 25% of collected tax revenue (from retailers) back into markets, (3) supporting the development of market action committees, comprised of people working in markets, and their efforts to create and implement improvement strategies, and (4) identifying and addressing the most pressing infrastructure issues. We will use simple ICTs to support this effort (see attached).
Retailers benefit by having conditions that help to widen their profit margins AND provide better working conditions that improve their ability to deal with more volatile weather. Urban residents benefit by being able to better trust their food source. Retailers and city council members benefit by having improved communication channels that allows more targeted investment and a better use of scarce capital resources.
The idea will be implemented in Lilongwe, Malawi.
HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?
Markets located in slums are those most lacking in infrastructure and access to resources. Consequently, those markets are among the most difficult and risky food environments, and thus the most susceptible to environmental or economic shocks. In addition, many people working in the food system live in informal settlements. Municipal governments, as important decision-makers in relation to the use of space and access to resources, have a critical role to play in supporting urban populations in their efforts to thrive and in creating cities that work for majority of urban residents.
Our proposal is reflective of all design principles, and all are outlined in the attached document, but several are listed below:
Planning for the Ordinary: Food environments and many food-based livelihoods are chronically insecure. Working to improve resilience and livelihood security is necessary regardless of climate change. However, climate change and urbanization provide a context that must be considered when designing interventions that reduce risk and improve the quality of food environments.
Consider the system: This inclusive approach uses the existing food provisioning and exchange system as its foundation for problem-solving and change. In other words, the approach is system-driven, and improvements build on what exists.
Building in Flexibility: One of the major identified problems during the action research phase was the need for improved responsiveness. Responsive institutions are more flexible because they better accommodate conditions as they emerge.
Yes, for two or more years
I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
I am an assistant professor at Michigan State University, with The Global Center for Food Systems Innovation. My partners include Jessica Kampanje, a lecturer at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Genscher M'bwabwa, the Director of Commerce at Lilongwe City Council
IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?
The idea is new for our organization (i.e. the City Council) as it emanates from problems identified using collaborative and inclusive action research carried out during the summers of 2014 and 2015 in Lilongwe City. To date, much of the interaction between those working in markets and the city council has proceeded using long-established relationships and methods. Based on the research, we found that these kinds of methods aren't working in ways that create the most conducive working environments for retailers and consumers. Just by asking the questions and involving retailers in markets, we have gained new perspectives about how to proceed.
Furthermore, local educational institutions and the City Council have never before partnered to solve problems in Lilongwe's food environments. We anticipate such partnering will facilitate mutual benefits for both LUANAR and the City Council, and that it will promote an environment conducive to generating new ideas based on empirical data.
HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?
In the past, we have worked in markets, but in this case solutions are being generated by those who have the most to gain, and are being developed in partnership. Entrenched relationships and processes that are used for market functioning exclude many of the stakeholders, most of whom are working independently of each other. In the past, the City Council has been dealing with problems in markets in reactive manner without pertinent information to aid them in decision making. Because of the disconnect among stakeholders, conditions in urban food markets are degrading day by day as there are no concerted efforts to deal with them. In addition we are prepared to more substantively consider and address the effects of climate change and their impact on urban food security. This integrated and inclusive approach is unprecedented in Lilongwe's markets.
Interviews and focus groups were used to understand obstacles and opportunities for food-based livelihoods in markets.
At the same time, the old relationships and processes are not without value and can be used as a platform to facilitate and improve transparency and accountability. They provide an entry point for working in markets, which gives us an advantage for moving forward quickly and efficiently.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?
Apart from the retailers, City Council officials and researchers, what other stakeholders should be involved in solving the problems.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?
To solve the problems identified in the research would require more time hence could not have been addressed to date. There is also need to address issues of infrastructure, accountability and changes in by laws which also need considerable time.
HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?
Over the past couple of weeks, the specific ideas outlined in this proposal have been shared with retailers on an informal basis in the four markets where action research has taken place. While retailers are generally supportive of changes that will improve infrastructure in markets, the particularities of making it work is a longer and more complex discussion than what was possible in the time allotted.
Much of the feedback about what the changes that need to happen in markets happened with the action research project during the summer of 2015. Included in that action research project was a public presentation of findings to retailers and City Council, which also prompted a discussion about next steps. That activity is briefly discussed in the latter part of the attached video.
During the expert feedback phase, I think our team will benefit from expert feedback in relation to using ICTs in a way that really engages with the particular challenges retailers face as well as the conditions that shape their economic activities. There are obvious issues of infrastructure in markets, as well, and there is a need for sustainable, inexpensive, simple and elegant solutions that can work to, for example, keep food fresher longer. The diversity and complexity of urban food environments needs to be considered going forward (and in relation to climate change) and collaborating with experts mindful of those conditions is an exciting prospect!
WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?
On the part of the City Council, we would like to see a very conducive environment existing in the markets for selling food with improved infrastructure, sanitation, transparency, collaboration, communication and responsiveness. Small scale traders should also increase their profit margin and provide better working conditions to provide safe food to urban residents and to improve their ability to deal with more volatile weather. We would also like to see urban residents trust their food source and having a more pleasant place to shop for food. Furthermore, we would like to see researchers provide empirical information to the community they work in for decision making and help them solve the
How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?
In this case, we are trying to build a network of people working in food-based livelihoods, the municipality, and the local academic community. Each of those groups has different skills, entry points, engagements with the city. But, the main thing we are trying to do, i.e. create better transparency and communication in relation to market conditions, is fundamental to a resilient city, and has the potential for creating better feedback mechanisms and communication that will affect the ability of urban citizens and government to respond to changing conditions. In other words, with a focus on creating better food environments in specific markets, and creating processes that are more responsive and transparent, we are laying the groundwork for building better communication in other realms, as well.