The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and the future of our planet and its people – depend on well-functioning food systems everywhere. They should be sustainable, produce foodstuffs that are affordable, safe and nourish people. They should do this in ways that restore ecosystems and ensure prosperity for all producers, processors and distributors. They should make the lowest possible contribution to climate change. Yet most current food systems are not working properly – for people, for the planet and for our common future.
Efforts to encourage rapid and joint actions that transform food systems have been hampered by deep disagreements among different stakeholders. These can be reduced through greater interaction between the different actors working for sustainable food systems. Interaction helps different actors to reach a better understanding about reasons behind their different positions and enables them to identify ways to align. There are insufficient mechanisms presently available that encourage all stakeholders to have opportunities for meeting, talking, agreeing and acting together. Such mechanisms are necessary for more rapid transformation to sustainable food systems in local and global (“glocal”) settings, across all nations.
Effective joint action usually involves a common vision about what is a working food system, an understanding of where positions on the vision diverge, and increasing degrees of agreement on how to realize the vision. Achieving a common vision is easier of different actors use the similar scientific analyses of what people need to be well nourished, and of the boundaries to the safe use of planetary resources. They will also want to take account of power relations, to understand how markets work and to appreciate the range in capabilities for producing, processing and purchasing food.
The focus of the FSDs is to connect actors and share experiences so that food system transformations occur within defined locations (for example nations, cities, districts, territories, landscapes, watersheds). FSDs will provide opportunities for discussion about food systems policies and economics (encouraging integrated, multi-disciplinary and comprehensive policies), science-based targets and pathways (encouraging the latest peer- reviewed consensus, such as the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health and the work of the FABLE consortium), the potential of innovation and the absolute need for all stakeholders to be included in dialogue. The issues will be carefully framed so that there is scope for open interactions between actors in a context characterized by mutual respect and trust.
There will be a strong focus on monitoring the extent to which the FSDs achieve at least some measures of success during this period. It is expected that the FSDs will catalyse an acceleration in the emergence of sustainable food systems at multiple levels through (a) engaging groups who would not normally work together; (b) fostering greater agreement and ambition among them; and (c) encouraging greater alignment and more intensive action.
The FSDs will be designed to encourage participation by decision-makers from local and national governments, consumer organizations, as well as small and large-scale food producers and processors, businesspeople, civil society groups and international organizations.
It is planned that FSDs sessions will build on each other. There will be FSDs sessions whenever possible in the margins of international meetings that focus on sustainable development and food systems: results will be shared between FSDs in ways that encourage both continuity of debate and the evolution of positions. Dialogues will also be encouraged and advanced at local, national and regional level. Results will be threaded among FSDs and between the different levels. The programme for international dialogues in 2018 could include Dialogues in New York during the UN General Assembly and the World Economic Forum Impact Summit (September), at the Committee on World Food Security in Rome (October), and the WBCSD meeting in Singapore (October). Two regional FSDs are also envisaged before the end of 2018.
The initial plan is that there is a a specified format for Food Systems Dialogues sessions. Each Dialogue takes place in a small group (usually no more than 12 persons). Each Dialogue has a theme: the intention is that while participants pursue their specific interests they explore ways of doing so within an integrated systems approach. There are Principles about the opportunity for open of the dialogue, the freedom of each participant to speak as they wish, the roles of the facilitator and participants agreeing in any statement that emerges from the Dialogue. All persons in a Dialogue have equal status – none will receive preferential treatment. Each Dialogue reflects the “Chatham House” rule – what is said in a Dialogue may not be attributed to any individual in a way that enables identification.
The plan is that each session of starts with all participants meeting in plenary (usually for no more than 30 minutes) to share the ambitions of the FSDs and the trends in previous FSDs sessions. Participants will then move into a facilitated round table Dialogue lasting for up to an hour. Participants explore the extent to which they can agree on ambitions and on actions to be undertaken. Areas of divergence are also clarified. At the end of a Dialogue participants prepare a short statement describing their shared ambitions, their divergence and actions to be taken. These Dialogue Statements (DS) will be synthesised and posted on the FSDs website. The syntheses are intended for use by participants in their efforts to achieve food systems transformation. They will be reviewed in subsequent Dialogues.
Each FSDs session will consist of several Dialogue tables. The curator will propose a discussion team and identify a facilitator for each Dialogue table. There may be two or three rounds of Dialogue in a FSDs session, depending on its length. Participants will be informed in advance about the themes to be discussed during a FSDs session. They will select the Dialogue themes that interest them. The themes will be identified on the advice of a Reference Group (see below).
The plan is that participants sit in a circular group. The group includes the facilitator. There is a 10-minute set-up phase, a 45 minute period for facilitated Dialogue and a 15 minute period for developing the Dialogue Statement. In the set-up phase the facilitator ensures that the rules of the dialogue are established and agreed. During the set-up phase participants should have the opportunity to leave if they wish – once the Dialogue has started, leaving will be discouraged unless unavoidable. Once the Dialogue is over, DSs are shared between Dialogues by the facilitator through a 5-minute report-back to all the Dialogue tables. [If there are many Dialogue tables there may not be time for all facilitators to report back to all tables].
Once all the Dialogues have been completed, and DSs shared, there will be a plenary discussion where participants have the opportunity to share experiences and voice concerns that need to be taken in future. Participants will complete evaluations after each session.
The Dialogue Statements are the primary outputs of the Dialogues. An important Outcome is that participants in the Dialogues own and act on these DSs, using them to help catalyse activities that impact on the behaviour of food systems.
It is planned that FSDs sessions be hosted by an increasing number of different entities in the coming 2 years using – as far as possible – the specified format and sharing Dialogue Statements so that they can be aggregated and then shared on the FSDs website. The specified format for the FSDs and the process for advancing FSDs in different locations will be developed over time in the light of experience.
An initial FSDs reference group advises on principles and themes for the FSDs as well as procedures for conducting them. Additional reference groups will be established as new series of Food Systems Dialogues are established by different hosting entities. An FSDs steering group has been established. It presently consists of leaders from EAT, WBCSD and WEF. Its role is to support the independent curator in establishing principles for the conduct of FSDs as well as procedures for advancing them in different settings, specified formats for establishing and conducting FSDs, and means for synthesising and communicating results. The Steering group will ensure that secretariat arrangements are in place, timetable is established, and necessary finance is mobilized. There will be transparency about sources and expenditure of finance.
A dedicated Secretariat of two professionals (FSDs Programme Director and an Event Manager) – 70% time will be established in Geneva with immediate effect. They will support the work of the independent curator. They will be supported by an FSDs Design Team which will include expertise in the management of Dialogues, Communications (including social media) and Impact Evaluation. The tasks of the Secretariat include:
1 Develop an agenda of FSDs events in the next two years;
2 Establish and maintain the FSDs website;
3 Develop principles for the conduct of FSDs;
4 Develop a mechanism for advancing FSDs in different settings (including the engagement and mentoring of organizations able to host FSDs sessions in different regions);
5 Develop procedures for establishing, conducting, synthesising and communicating results of FSDs;
6 Establish systems for preparing and posting the syntheses of Dialogue Statements;
7 Support the Reference Groups;
8 Develop capacity of facilitators and reflectors with a support kit and mentoring system;
9 Track the use of the Dialogue Statements in different settings.
The initiating organizations have developed a budget for the FSDs which will be sufficient to cover the costs of international and regional FSDs sessions, the FSDs Secretariat and the curator. Finance is being mobilized by the initiating organizations from their own resources as well as from donors. The rate at which FSDs can be advanced depends on the speed with which funds can be mobilized.