What do we achieve?

(adapted from Ad hoc Working Group on Food Policy Governance, 2017)

What solutions can the changes proposed here provide, recognizing that connectivity for its own sake will not necessarily address the challenges of national food policy implementation. The following functions appear to be central to a new governance model.

Data sharing - Data is certainly central to building a coherent pan-Canadian food strategy, and one of Canada’s big dilemmas is the divide between public and private data.  Much privately held data has significant public implications (e.g, consumer behaviour and food consumption, environmental performance) but is not used in public sector decision making. Alot of public data is too uneven in coverage or lacks a solid empirical foundation (sometimes because of lack of access to privately held data, sometimes for jurisdictional reasons, sometimes for lack of resources) and that limits the possibilities of designing successful interventions.  Data pooling would be an important function in a governance network, but given sensitivities, using a third party data aggregator is perhaps the best strategy. Quorom, an organization mandated to monitor and publish data on Canada’s grain transportation system might represent a viable third party approach.  Using mutually agreed upon data gathering and dissemination protocols, the third party operator could help with benchmarking, target setting and performance monitoring.

Benchmarking, target setting, alignment monitoring  and assessing progress – This is central to the new governance approaches in Europe and has been used somewhat successfully in Canada to develop strategies to address homelessness (Doberstein, 2012).  The monitoring agency would report to the Canadian Food Policy Council, but be structured as a semi – independent unit, in the way that certification agencies have an independent inspection and monitoring unit at arm’s length from the core organization.

Collaborative research and analysis, focusing on solutions -  We must understand the problems, but the design of effective collaborative interventions is a chronic weakness in the food system. It is important to assure a robust set of instruments are proposed to avoid the limits of, for example, the Australian plan of 2014 (see Carey et al., 2015). But we could benefit from their approach to a State of Food Report (every five years) and regional food plans (allowing for regional/state specificity).  Such reports could build on existing local and regional food and nutrition assessments. The Brazilian approach would also be instructive, through the establishment of Collaborating Centres for Food and Nutrition (CECANs)). CECANs are located in public education and research institutions and accredited by the Ministry of Health to support the development of strategies that enhance the initiatives of PNAN, are strategic partners to articulate the needs of the Unified Health System with the formation and qualification of health professionals for the food and nutrition agenda.

Negotiating and aligning purpose, expertise and actions to implement a pan-Canadian food policy – the structures must create spaces for identifying commonalities and aligning purpose, but clearly some aspects of alignment will be challenging for all participating sectors.  It is reasonable to expect the federal government to push sectors towards alignment, and to use primarily incentives (through existing authorities and spending power), with some (hopefully limited) use of coercive instruments to encourage movement. The federal government already has a contribution grant program,  the Canadian Agricultural Strategic Priorities Program, used for related purposes, that could be adapted to fund these organizational food system alignments.

Finding win-win-win scenarios and increasing participation - Generates partnership agreements for specific undertakings .

Improving the efficiency of organizational resource allocations - Government cannot usually develop detailed sectoral plans, participation of the sectors is required.  Community agencies can develop community food projects but they typically butt up against the policy and regulatory system.  Businesses often want to contribute to community development but do not have the expertise. So, if the governance system works well, it creates alliances that make all these processes work better. One of the advantages of food policy councils is that they create spaces for such participation.  However, in general municipal - level FPCs require financing from the state to be effective (MacRae and Donahue, 2013) which is difficult for mid and small municipal governments to allocate.  If the federal government thinks of this as "social infrastructure" it could model municipal funding after other allocations for hard infrastructure, such as public transit (at much lower cost).