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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.

Photo of Stephanie White

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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).

WHO BENEFITS?

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.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

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.

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.

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Stephanie,

Below is some feedback from our challenge experts. We'd love to hear your responses!

How will this work would translate insights from student research into practical actions that would result in a measurable resilience benefit, such as improved food security?

For example, if laws are already in place to support markets and vendors, how will passing an additional law ensure effective implementation, management of funds, and enforcement? The program would benefit from further elaboration of the connection between the participatory research components of the project and the intended long-term outcomes in the communities served by the various markets.

Photo of Stephanie White
Team

Chioma, this response comes from Genscher M'Bwabwa, the Director of Commerce at the Lilongwe City Council:

--Yes the City Council do have market bylaws but are outdated hence are not relevant in the current business environment. Updating bylaws could not be done due to the absence of councillors. (9yrs)

-- The project will help us to incorporate pertinent issues that need to be addressed by the legal framework.
-- Being something that is emanating from a consensus of all stakeholders in the project, the bylaws will not require much time for publicity. We also believe that the rate of compliance will be high since the people that concerns them are part of the change being desired hence interventions being implemented in the project will be sustainable.

Photo of Stephanie White
Team

I'll speak to the participatory research component.  

There are many, many researchers who go into Lilongwe's markets to collect data for their own purposes.  According to their own accounts, people working in markets are tired of constantly being asked things, but never seeing change.  In this case, we are actually working with the municipality to use the insights and suggestions from people in markets to make meaningful changes and to develop meaningful ICTs.  

In relation to laws, many of the laws on the books reflect a colonial perspective and do not respond to conditions as they are.  We are applying the latest thinking from urban planning in Africa (http://www.africaresearchinstitute.org/publications/counterpoints/who-will-plan-africas-cities/) to food exchange and provisioning, focusing primarily on how it occurs in markets, which the municipality has some purview over.  Without doing better planning in ways the meaningfully address conditions in African cities, cities are headed towards increasing vulnerability and reduced resilience, both as they grow and as they become increasingly affected by climate change.  

To be frank, the most fundamental requirement for resilience is creating processes that enable responsiveness, aka 'adaptation.'  In a city, the 'socio-ecology' and it's ability to produce conditions that enable well-being, is contingent on human relationships and practices.  Without strong and deliberative processes that can address needs and shape outcomes (i.e. city conditions), many technologies or isolated innovations will not be able to get a foothold.  It is for this reason we are intent on producing better relationship between city residents using the food system as both an entry point and a locus of improvement.  The students have a critical role to play in our approach for multiple reasons, both short-term and long-term.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Stephanie, thanks for the detailed response. As someone who worked in law reform for many years, I appreciate the power this type of change holds, and also the concerted time, work and relationship building that it requires. I am wondering about a few things. First, who will steward this work in Lilongwe? Is it your plan to have different groups of students participate over the course of this project? In what capacities? What is the first thing you'd like to start to work on? How do you envision using Amplify's support?

Photo of Stephanie White
Team

Hi Chioma,
Two of the primary team members are located in Lilongwe.  Genscher M'bwabwa is the Director of Commerce in Lilongwe and Jessica Kampanje-Phiri is a lecturer at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  In the immediate future, those two will be the local stewards, though I imagine it will be important to find local stewards/representatives from the markets.

Yes, our plan is to have different cohorts every year and to build upon what the students from the previous year have done. We just made the decision last week to stay in the same markets this year, and to engage participants to move even further towards solutions that work for them.  We have this idea that the action research that we're doing will proceed in a step-wise process, and engage several cohorts of students over several years in the same markets.

I think the first thing we need to work on is building relationships that provide a good foundation for effecting change, and doing that with practices that build trust and transparency.  I think that Amplify's support would be important in terms of helping us to find ways to build inclusive design processes...ones that better connect citizens with government.  The other thing is that we're working in an environment of scarce resources, and we need to make the best of what we've got.  At this point, we think that collective action in markets can improve things, but we could use some guidance on how to proceed.  Thirdly, there is definitely a need to address the lack of resources, and need to find a sustainable funding mechanism.  Amplify's growing network of problem solvers and creative people is something we want to tap into.

We see this as a long-term project, but one that can potentially offer lessons for other municipalities struggling with similar situations.  We think that decentralized food distribution networks are valuable in terms of promoting food resiliencies, but that they face a lot of challenges as cities grow and as they face more unpredictable food environments due to climate change.  Given Amplify's orientation towards 'democratic creativeness' we think our project and your aims fit well together!

Photo of Stephanie White
Team

By the way, the next practicum is in August.  We'd love to have Amplify as a guest/participant!

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Stephanie, thank you for the detailed response! Do make sure to keep us updated about what you are working on in the next practicum - we love to know what members of our community are up to - and to make whatever helpful connections we can! 

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