Efficiency (participation )



Successful structural change is dependent on the development of greater food citizenship.  Discussed in many locations on this site (see Goal 3 Service), greater food citizenship skills amongst eaters and professionals are essential to making work many of the structural changes proposed here.

If implemented, these structures would permit greater and wider participation in food system decisions.  Effective participation means participating beyond one's role as a consumer.  Zolo (1993:260) argues that citizenship is based on the "practice of the citizens themselves, actively exercising their rights of participation and communication".  But such rights also bring with them responsibilities, to be informed about the many issues that affect how the food system functions, to engage constructively.  While participation as a consumer invariably leads to inequality, the drive to participate as a food citizen is about contributing to a greater equality, one of the fundamental ideas of a functioning food democracy.  Equally important, food system professionals must transcend the boundaries of their training and workplace and be advocates for a better food system (Welsh and MacRae, 1998).

Critically important, food citizenship requires diversity, of peoples, values and functions.  Given systemic racism and exclusion in the Canadian food system, these new approaches must embrace a wider array of participants than have traditionally been associated with food system decision making.

In parallel with improved food citizenship and participation is enhancing the ability of governance systems to address complex and wicked problems. Termeer et al. (2015) argue that decision makers must be able to observe clearly wicked problems and act appropriately, with governance structures enabled to support those efforts. Thus, governance systems must have 4 capabilities: reflexivity, resilience, responsiveness, and revitalization.  In their view, it is "very unlikely that policy makers will deal wisely with the varied characteristics of wicked problems, if they use a single capability based on one theory or approach" (p 700). Reflexivity speaks to the need to view problems through multiple and often shifting lenses, given that wicked problems are hard to pin down. Interventions can shift understanding of the problem, so continuous adaptation is required. Resilience skills are related to this, and in this context refers to an organization's ability to "adapt to unpredictable, changing circumstances without losing its identity and reliability. Without resilience, it may erode to the point that a small disturbance provokes a failure to keep fulfilling basic functions." (p. 684-685). Resilience often requires "bridging organizations" with multiple skills, and the ability to work across scales and domains.  In many ways, wicked problems are never ending and require responsiveness to different pressures, circumstances and publics. Responses must balance democratic values, effectiveness, reliability and fairness, efficiency and trustworthiness. Revitalization is "necessary to unblock unproductive patterns in the governance process" and "strategies that fit within existing policy routines may have served their purpose in the past but do not result in lasting solutions for wicked problems" (p. 686). Revitalization unleashes innovation in the face of difficult challenges.

Unfortunately, these skills, structures and processes  are weak in Canadian food system organizations.


Adding complexity management to organizational training requirements

Most organizations have training requirements for employees and associated budgets.  Many training groups offer courses in complexity management and systems thinking (cf. OpenLearn). Such courses must be integrated into the learning processes of food system actors that want to be involved in these new governance approaches.

A related requirement is training in roundtable participation and facilitation.  Many organizations also offer short courses on these theme. To be effective, roundtables have specific needs regarding facilitation, meeting preparation and follow up, accountability and impact monitoring.  Some people and organizations now have sufficient experience in these processes to work effectively, others will need to training to better participate.  Roundtables can be particularly difficult for government staff because they use different processes than internal deliberations and issues of confidentiality have to be managed.

Food Policy Councils (FPCs) at the local level (with food strategies and charters)

An analysis of local FPCs and related bodies and processes, and the factors that lead to success, is found in MacRae and Donahue (2013) and Buchan et al. (2019).  Based on that analysis, the following strategies are important.

Municipal/regional governments should:
  1. Facilitate longer term access to staffing and financing. It’s not that municipalities have to provide all the resources, as  multiple approaches are possible. But it does help if the municipality plays a role in ensuring such things are available.  In most cases, FPCs need at least 1 FTE staff position but secondments and assignments are feasible measures.  In such cases, the staff needs to come from a unit that has a broader interpretation of food system change and an internal champion.  The structure of the FPC should allow for leveraging of the municipal contribution so that on a net basis, the initiative can access more money than it costs to finance core functions.  This was certainly the case of the Toronto FPC which had staffing costs of approximately $225,000 / year but over a 6 year period helped raise $7 million for community food projects.
  2. Help create real and virtual spaces for effective multi-sectoral work. Many municipalities are very good at this in other domains (planning, economic development, public health) and need only apply some of the same participation design to food system engagement.
  3. Facilitate access to important constituencies. Relationships with a range of stakeholders are critical to success.  Municipal level governance has the advantage of being close to many stakeholders, so elected and un-elected officials are usually well positioned to bring different groups together.
  4. Help with assessing effectiveness – some FPC client and member satisfaction surveys exist, but there’s a need to go beyond that to examining food system impacts. Ultimately, there’s a need for a best practices knowledge base and related metrics of success that can be disseminated to existing and new initiatives (see Vancouver’s food strategy for some preliminary observations).  Many municipalities have management consulting units whose task is to evaluate the performance and impact of municipal policies and programs.
  5. Help identify regulatory and policy obstacles to food system change that can be effected from a municipal base.  Municipal officials and many NGOs are very adept at articulating what gets in the way of change.  This skill need only be brought to bear on food systems.
  6. Liberate civil servants from strict adherence to the traditional Westminister rules of "neutral" and expert governance.  It's clear that change requires both external and internal advocates and advocacy runs counter to the traditional perception of civil service function. This also creates the stage for more collaborative governance approaches (see Frameworks, Governance)
NGOs should:
  1. Provide members with the right kinds of expertise, analysis and logistical supports to participate in these complex, multi-actor partnerships. Many NGOs struggle to participate with “strange bedfellows” and it is just these kinds of alliances that create the possibilities for change.
  2. Bring a solutions orientation to the processes. Many NGOs are very adroit at drawing attention to problems, but struggle to offer effective solutions. These kinds of initiatives require participants who understand the problems, but can move beyond them to think through actions that might redress these problems.
 Food  businesses should:
  1. Participate. It’s common for food businesses to be absent at the beginning (Harper et al., 2009), in part because these initiatives don’t always have strong connections to the dominant food system, in part because food businesses often don’t have the expertise to participate effectively. There’s a need for them to find people who can work in this kind of environment.  Frequently, they don't see the connection between participating in these wider discussions and their day to day business operations, but increasing food firms recognize that participating in such activities provides a forward looking intelligence that will determine the shape and operation of future business ventures.  For example, the recent repositioning of Maple Leaf Foods as a protein company (rather than an animal product company) is in part a product of the participation of their leadership in wider food system discussions about the problems of animal agriculture.
  2. Bring a food systems orientation to the discussions. It’s clear  that many initiatives do not have sufficient access and understanding of the way the dominant food system works and that such knowledge can facilitate greater effectiveness regarding food system change. Equally important for food chain actors is adhering to the principles of food system thinking as part of a creative process to find the win-win. Food issues are complex and inter-related so food system thinking follows such operating rules to help cope with and find new opportunities.
  3. Help identify policy and regulatory barriers that have an impact on changes to local and regional food systems and can be acted upon by municipal and sometimes provincial bodies.
  4. Actively participate in a food labour board structured as a subcommittee of the local FPC (see Goal 8, Labour Force Development)
Aligning sectoral decision making nodes with national food policy (adapted from Ad hoc Working Group on Food Policy Governance, 2017)

As discussed under Existing Nodes, decision making is happening in many places.  There are two fundamental challenges for internal and external node alignment: a) different nodes and actors are currently working at cross-purposes, so there is limited alignment and harmonization; b) unaddressed major gaps exist (particularly because of jurisdictional, values and conceptual disputes, limited resources for implementation, or limited skills and expertise to address the problem).  In many instances, these barriers result in a lack of action, what some have labelled expedient inaction in the face of seemingly intractable challenges.

Ideally, now that a national food policy is in place and a national Food Policy Advisory Council proposed, the nodes begin to align their activities with the new direction it identifies.  There are, however, a number of potential challenges with this:

  1. Node actors can ignore the federal policy; this is particularly possible when there is no mandatory compliance provision in the policy and presumably no penalties for non-compliance. In the absence of a community of practice and trust, coupled with mechanisms to ensure accountability, no one may feel any obligation to act
  2. Node actors are insufficiently organized to respond in a collective fashion
  3. Node actors do not agree with some of the core dimensions of the federal policy so only implement the parts with which they are most comfortable
  4. Node actors do not have the expertise, time and resources to develop an alignment plan
  5. Node actors begin to align with the federal policy but interventions are too limited to conform with policy requirements.

Each node has a unique set of gaps, briefly summarized here:

Indigenous peoples

A governance structure for food policy cannot redress all the inequities of our colonial history (see Getting Started), but can hopefully contribute to reconciliation and decolonization.  The backgrounder to the National Food Policy names reconciliation as a guiding principle. Food and food policy discussions can also hopefully build on the  federal announcements on decolonization, reconciliation and the movement to self-governance.

These discussions would build on current realities, that each nation has a food strategy led by Council (food and water prominent portfolios).  Some indigenous communities have engaged in deliberative community discussion about creating formal food councils, networks and action plans (cf. Nikolopoulos et al., 2020 on discussions in one Alberta First Nation).  Each province / territory has a First Nations Food Network  or Indigenous food circle.  One option to build governance linkages is to ensure that each network or circle has representation on P/T FPCs, with some of those also sitting on the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council (see Substitution). For more on the opportunities and challenges of such linkages, see Levkoe et al. (2019) on the experiences of Thunder Bay and Area's Food Strategy and Indigenous Food Circle.

Food security has always been an essential element of land claims. There is already considerable co-management infrastructure in place for parks, oceans, inland waters, fisheries, forests, and health (including food security), with some Renewable Resource Councils for land claim territories.  Much more, covering significant territory is still in negotiation (for more, see Martorell and Andree 2019).  NGOs are also often involved in the delivery of programs related to co-management.  Many regions have food security strategies. All this will need to be progressively expanded.

Value chain organizations

Many value chains are linked vertically, but fewer organizational structures exist for horizontal integration. In primary production, the CFA, NFU and others exist, but at other levels of the value chain there are not necessarily comparable structures. Also, these value chain organizations are typically not comprised of the entire value chain, at least not officially, with farm input providers and retailers sectors  not always represented.


The “food movement” in Canada is extensive but not deeply embedded across the country, with numerous competing interests and resource demands. The “food movement” is more a series of related or networked movements working semi-independently (for more, see Levkoe, 2014). Sandwell (2012) states: “The Food Movement has gradually emerged out of a variety of different critiques that are now seen as related and interpenetrating. Though total consensus has definitely not been achieved and may never emerge, the last decade has seen an increasing number of actors and groups espousing frameworks that view many different problems as importantly interelated.”  Capacity building relevant to shared governance is critical.  For more on the interplay between civil society and food policy making, see research by FLEdGE.

Business Associations

There are numerous associations within the food system representing specific subsectors in inputs, processing, food service and retailing.  These sectors collaborate from time to time on wider angle issues, including participation in the CAPI and CBC processes on national food strategy. There is a need for more consistent participation (and associated mechanisms) in wider food system discussions.

Farm organizations

The diversity of the farm sector has often made collaboration difficult.  Increasingly, though, farm and commodity organizations have collaborated on issues related to common membership (e.g., field crops), environmental, food safety and public trust issues.

Public action plans are required to implement alignment.  There are examples of the federal government assisting sectors with the development of plans to align with national objectives.  Federal protocols, regulations and contribution agreements (with support from provinces and municipalities where appropriate) have been used for years to improve food safety.  Federal programming guidelines, templates and contribution agreements have been used to encourage sector collaborative strategies to reduce pesticide risks (see MacRae et al., 2012).

A contribution agreement program would provide support to sectors for node alignment.  It could be structured similarly to the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) and other programming where the sector, provincial / territorial and the federal governments contribute to financing the plan.  The Canadian Food Policy Council (see Substitution) should have a subcommittee that is involved in node alignment reviews.  The national monitoring body can also report on progress. Action plans and annual updates would be provided to the monitoring body.

Horizontal and vertical integration within government (interdepartmental committees, FPT processes)

Integration in government means coordinating work plans and program/service delivery across different units and departments.   Horizontal integration refers to coordination of activities between bodies whereas vertical integration is coordination across the delivery chain for a service or programme. Canadian governments do not generally have a good reputation for integration, but current efforts in food policy, including interdepartmental committee work, suggest a new approach is possible.  There's some evidence of success at coordinated service delivery for citizen benefits (e.g. Roy and Langford, 2008), but less so for higher order policy and program delivery as a joined up food policy requires.

There's no real secret to better integration.  The following are well-known and critical (see also Lahey, 2002):

  • strong support for integration from central agencies;
  • unit leadership that rewards staff for understanding  what's happening in related units which means that staff are encouraged to share what is happening in their unit with others working on related matters, and to devote time to meeting with colleagues in other units;
  • structures that allow cross-unit communication and implementation;
  • budget allocation and execution mechanisms that recognize what is happening elsewhere and shift allocations accordingly to create a more integrated budget package.
Federal government:

Cabinet and Interdepartmental processes (e.g. committees at levels of DMs, ADMs, Directors) already exist.  At this point it is difficult to know whether such processes are effectively delivering the requirements for successful integration named above.  AAFC was given responsibility for coordinating the food policy file by the Prime Minister but given the delays in announcing the policy due to complex political realities associated with the department and its relationship to other departments, it would likely have been a more suitable process with co-chairing by Health Canada, Environment Canada and AAFC  to ensure a balanced approach to the range of national food policy priorities.

Provincial and territorial governments

The research group Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE)  has conducted a scan of provincial food policy initiatives.  It reveals understandably uneven coverage across the country. Only Quebec appears to have a provincial food policy, although some collaborations have put them forward to their provincial government (e.g., the Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy, the Manitoba Food Charter).  There are no current provincial food policy councils with the active participation of and tight linkages to provincial governments.  There is scant evidence that interdepartmental activity on food is robust at the provincial level.

City regions

Many cities have food charters (see MacRae and Donahue, 2013), but less attention is paid in Canada to the city region food system. It is described as

the complex network of actors, processes and relationships to do with food production, processing, marketing, and consumption that exist in a given geographical region that includes a more or less concentrated urban center and its surrounding peri-urban and rural hinterland; a regional landscape across which flows of people, goods and ecosystem services are managed. The term ‘City region’ refers not only to megacities and the immediate proximate rural and agricultural areas surrounding them, but also to small and medium-sized towns that can serve to link the more remote small-scale producers and their agricultural value chains to urban center and markets in developing countries…Improved rural-urban connectivity is critical to achieve sustainable food systems, and the city region food system framework provides a manageable approach. (Blay-Palmer et al., 2018).

Governance of city-region food systems is in its infancy, in part because most Canadian city regions themselves are not  governed in an integrated fashion, let alone the region's intersection with the food system.  A case study of Ontario's Greater Golden Horseshoe (Miller and Blay-Palmer, 2018) highlights the opportunities and challenges, as does Martorell (2017) on the Montreal region. In general, collaborations are CSO-driven, with  many project - based collaborations, a network of food policy organizations (with citizen participation) with some attachments to their municipal councils, food charters existing or emerging in some of the municipalities, and rural-urban linkages somewhat apparent in the way networks and businesses are trying to influence supply chains.  So, the building blocks of a city - region integrated approach are emerging.  Linkages with the provincial government are limited an informal, in part because the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs does not view most city-region actors as their primary client base. See Goal 2, Demand - Supply Coordination, Substitution, New Planning Mechanisms for more on linking city regions with their foodsheds.