- Objectives and Abstract
|Conundrums related to agriculture and food policy change often entail entrenched positions which restrict our ability to solve pressing food system problems related to economic viability, the environment and population health. Moving forward to meet conflicting purposes of many actors is difficult. Our key objective is to identify new solutions to pressing food system problems. The project will include two separate day-long workshops, held at a monthly interval. Each workshop will address a conundrum pertaining to the agri-food system in Ontario. About 20 people representing different parts of the value chain and agri-food sector will attend each workshop. The format of workshops will follow a Circle protocol in plenary and small groups, to discuss invited papers and probe values and insights of participants. They will be selected for their interest, knowledge and involvement pertaining to each conundrum. After they listen and speak in a structured space, designed for exploration and attentive communication, we expect new ongoing working relationships leading to creative, profitable and sustainable policies and practices. Participants and their contacts will have options to contribute to our developing webpage on the basis of respect for different approaches and interests and an eye for creative resolutions, not yet recognized.|
2.Activities and Progress
|Indicate which milestones have been met, not been met, and why.|
|What is this project about?|
|Our key objective is to identify new solutions to pressing food system problems. The project included 3 workshops in Sept and Nov 2017, addressing the question “What are the policy options for the agri-food sector to meet public social license expectations and to produce adequate, healthy food to address food security needs, while adapting to climate change?” About 15 people representing different parts of the agri-food sector attended each workshop. The workshop format was a Circle protocol in plenary and small groups, to discuss the overall question and to probe values and insights of participants. Soil health became a dominant theme and the March session focused on how participants might agree on broad policy goals related to soil health. In addition to documents posted at http://foodpolicyforcanada.info.yorku.ca/research-projects/, a summary document on soil health was submitted to The Conversation and a separate article to several farm papers.
The question "If agri-food sector meetings involving contentious issues were conducted using the circle process rather than with other processes, my willing participation would be;" showed an increasing response of 4.3/5 to 4.6/5 to 4.8/5 from Sept to Nov to March. The previous 5 responses had scores from 2.3/5 to 4.0/5.
|What does this project involve?|
|How did you work towards meeting your project objectives, how have you implemented KTT, methods and tools (tactics/communication channels used- video, storytelling, mapping, manuals, diagrams, scenarios, images, internet-based channels, etc.) (Max 200 words.)|
|We met our project objectives as intended for our first 2 meetings and in March we addressed concerns about the topics being too general. Thus we focused on soil health, a topic which had emerged in previous sessions. We also surveyed the participants before and after each workshop, as intended, to understand how they viewed the effectiveness of the Circle process.
We published documents pertaining to the workshops at http://foodpolicyforcanada.info.yorku.ca/research-projects/
Three reports are posted for the sessions in Sept, Nov and March as well as two papers:
Answers from 1st Anniversary - Progress Report
A) Agri-food sector meetings in which I have recently participated are mostly: 5) very satisfying, 4) satisfying, 3) balanced between satisfying and frustrating, 2) frustrating
B) The probability of me stating my honest and sincere comments in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sep = 3.9, Nov = 4.0, Mar = 3.6
C) The probability of me hearing and understanding honest and sincere comments of others in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sep = 3.7, Nov = 3.4, Mar = 3.3
D) The probability for all the viewpoints within the agri-food sector to be heard within a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sep = 2.6, Nov = 2.3, Mar = 2.8
E) The probability of finding common ground and moving forward after discussing contentious issues in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low and 1) very low. Sep = 2.8, Nov = 2.5, Mar = 2.5
F) If agri-food sector meetings involving contentious issues were conducted using the circle process rather than with other processes, my willing participation would be:
G) In my experience, the overall workshop question could be addressed among the participants of the agri-food sector in a facilitated (non-circle) session with: 5) full understanding, 4) sufficient understanding, 3) marginal understanding, 2) very little understanding, 1) no understanding. Sep = 3.6, Nov = 3.8, Mar = 3.8
H) The probability of moving toward agreement on the overall workshop question in a facilitated (non-circle) session is: 5) very high, 4) high, 3) medium, 2) low, 1) very low. Sep = 3.3, Nov = 3.7, Mar = 2.5
|In addition we conducted email surveys after each of the 3 sessions. The mean scores and sample comments are shown here.Q1. How effective was the Circle process in helping you to listen deeply to diverse perspectives? Answers from very effective (5) to strongly not effective (1). Sept = 4.5, Nov = 4.4, Mar = 4.3
Q2. How effective was the Circle process to communicate your perspectives and feel heard? Answers from very effective (5) to strongly not effective (1). Sept = 4.3, Nov = 4.6, Mar = 4.6
Q3. How effective was the Circle process in enabling the group to work collaboratively and in a way that seems different than a typical facilitated meeting? Answers from very effective (5) to strongly not effective (1). Sept = 3.5, Nov = 3.8, Mar = 4.2
Q4. What did you appreciate about the facilitated Circle process for yourself? Answers included phrases such as: openness; safe space; express own views rather than those of institution; opportunity to listen; honesty; speak without interruption; respect; time to think; all have chance to speak, including women; uncomfortable with vulnerability; unmuddied by debate; observe body language; genuine hearing; real connections with others
Q5. What, if anything, would you improve about the facilitated circle process? Answers included phrases such as: pass talking piece move across circle sometimes; include people with a vested interest; narrower set of issues; set goal to reach consensus; more reps from different parts of the food value chain; need clearer goal; include people with more divergent views; process should lead to actionable item; more people attend; keep to < 20 participants; < 8 participants
Q6. Based on your experience during these workshops, how useful would the Circle process be for addressing contentious issues in the agri-food sector? Answers from very useful (5) to clearly not useful (1). Sept = 4.0, Nov = 4.4, Mar = 4.3
Q7. Did your point of view (identify a specific one) shift or change (even slightly) as a result of the facilitated circle process? Sept. Yes = 6, No = 7, No comment = 1; Nov Yes = 1, No = 4, Maybe = 1; Mar Yes = 3, No = 1, Maybe = 1
Q8. Do you see an opportunity to implement the circle process approach in your own work? Sept. Yes = 10, Maybe = 1, No comment = 3; Nov Yes = 4, Possibly = 1, Partially = 1; Mar Yes = 4, Maybe = 1. Answers included phrases such as: challenge; build trust in hierarchical structure; help policy priorities
|What does the reader need to know about your project?|
|The circle process allows time for thinking and improves listening, understanding and the potential to move toward agreement.|
|Our key objective is to identify new solutions to pressing food system problems. The project included two workshops in Sept and Nov 2017, addressing the question “What are the policy options for the agri-food sector to meet public social license expectations and to produce adequate, healthy food to address food security needs, while adapting to climate change?” About 15 people representing different parts of the agri-food sector attended each workshop. The workshop format was a Circle protocol in plenary and small groups, to discuss the overall question and to probe values and insights of participants. After the first two workshops, it was clear that soil health was a dominant theme and the March 26, 2018 focused on how participants might agree on broad policy goals related to soil health. It was evident that participants were engaging at personal as well as professional levels and addressing topics with breadth and depth. In response to a question about using the circle process in their organizations in the future, the percent of those saying yes was 71% (Sept), 67% plus possibly (Nov), 80% plus maybe (March). No one said they would not use the circle process.|
- Highlight of Results
|Stories about the Impact of this Project|
|Impact - The question "If agri-food sector meetings involving contentious issues were conducted using the circle process rather than with other processes, my willing participation would be;" showed an increasing response of 4.3/5 to 4.6/5 to 4.8/5 from Sept to Nov to March. In contrast, the previous 5 responses regarding questions in circle situations, had scores from 2.3/5 to 4.0/5.
Intended audience - We reached most of our intended audience in the Sept workshop but missed retailers and large processors in the Nov and March workshops. Most participants commented on how the process would have been tested more thoroughly had representatives from those sectors been there. We're hoping a broader audience will learn from what we still intend to post on our website. Several people who could not attend are asking for more material.Behaviour Change - One participant said "Yes, I am already intentionally trying to bring aspects of Circle into my work. For example, the meetings we have are starting to provide more space for each person to express them selves and there’s less of a rush to reach a conclusion. More process, better results." However after the Nov meeting another said "I’m unsure how long term changes get made. How do we go beyond talking?" It will take time for the effectiveness of the process to ripple into organizations.
Some felt that circle on its own does not help people develop new ideas that will drive change and that circle needs to be combined with other approaches that address change processes.
Enhanced levels of collaboration - One participant wrote, "the process allows for dominant voices to be subdued and quieter ones a chance to flourish." Another said, "I experience a type of catharsis in circle and start to feel a kind of kinship with the other participants very quickly, even if I know they do not share my views."
Agri-food and rural sector in Ontario - More farm organizations (NFU-ON, CFFO and OFA were represented in all workshops) have awareness of the potential of the circle process. "There are those issues that are contentious and it is challenging to get to the heart of these issues. The circle process allows the deep conversations to occur." Another said "For the topic of conversation, more viewpoints of the entire food value chain would be helpful, e.g., finance, transportation, distribution, food service." Clearly More sectors should have been involved.
|What can others learn from your project?|
|Lessons are derived from some quotations of participants who answered the email survey.
"You have no choice but to hear others' complete thoughts without interjection from others."
"The inability to get into a dialogue on a single strand of discussion is a limitation, but it’s worth giving up that ability in order to be able to listen to a broader range of views and to listen for echoes of similar views as well as differences of opinions"
"Safe space to step outside the box and speak openly"
"The absences were noticeable.. I don’t know how to set-up an enticing outcome for these sessions – but if it was possible as a way to achieve a mutually desired outcome – it may increase attendance"
"A true breakthrough was thwarted by a lack of attendance from larger food organizations"
"I have always liked the circle structure for meetings and workshops. But I would like to start taking it a step further"
"Circle forced me to listen and not just jump in and respond"
"Over time with consistent members reappearing around the circle, trust built; we became more familiar with each other and the sense of vulnerability diminished"
- Contributions to Education, Training and Knowledge Translation and Transfer
|Contribution to KTT|
|The first circle process was organized around a set of broad questions concerning agriculture, sustainability and climate change. Soil health, loss, and accountability, as well as the fundamental role that soil plays in agriculture and sustainability, were referenced across 6 of the 8 themes.
The research team prioritized the topic of soil health for the second circle and there was a focus on the need to allow for context and system specific solutions that acknowledge the economic barriers to building soil health address solutions for micro to landscape scales.
For the third circle, we began by asking, “if we achieved soil health in 40 years, what would it look like?” We then honed in on the most commonly raised suggestions (top 8) to accelerate soil health. To determine the degree of support and consensus for different policy options, we asked the group to discuss whether there were any policy/program options that they recognized as having the potential for all participants to support? Within the group there was at least majority support for the following four broad policy options.
Several preferred to see the third option combined with the option of supporting more soil testing, and requiring an audited performance on soil health in lease agreements
There was cautious support for the option of paying experienced farmers with good soil health on their farms to mentor inexperienced farmers or those who need to improve soil health. However, there was not majority support for the option of implementing WWII style government interventions that are updated for soil health today. Neither was there majority support for the option of finding a way to recycle nutrients in sewage.
The emergent specific policy options related to soil health were partly in response to those in the group who wanted to address more specific issues that might have immediate repercussions.
A final observation of the researchers is that it is difficult for busy people to commit to an exploratory process that may not result in a tangible change or that is not directly addressing the many urgent and/or important issues they need to address. It is our expectation that participants and their organizations will consider the circle process as a useful approach when confronting urgent and/or important issues within their organization or across the agri-food sector. Based on the responses of participants there is reason to hypothesize that the circle process can integrate broad understandings with specific issues in a way that will clarify specific agreements and what remains to be resolved.
More farm organizations (NFU-ON, CFFO and OFA were represented in all workshops) have awareness of the potential of the circle process than prior to this project.
- Publications All reports and papers at http://foodpolicyforcanada.info.yorku.ca/research-projects/
|Sarah Rotz, Rod MacRae, Ralph C Martin||How Ontario’s Soil Health
Strategy Falls Short
|submitted to Ontario Farmer, Western Producer, Country Guide and Rural Delivery|
|Sarah Rotz, Rod MacRae, Ralph C Martin||We Can Do Much More to Improve Soil Health in Canada||submitted to The Conversation|