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Food Change Labs

Sven Torfinn

To support citizens to shape a green and inclusive food system, Hivos and IIED, in cooperation with their local partners, have set up several Food Change Labs. A Food Change Lab is a multi-actor social innovation process that addresses pressing issues in a local food system, by aiming to better understand them, build coalitions of change, generate ideas, and test these ideas on the ground. Our Food Change Labs are safe social spaces for varying participants with an interest or stake in their own food system. Because food system issues are so complex, with a myriad of actors and underlying issues and policies, the Labs take a systems approach that integrates thinking, relating and doing. Concrete coalitions, ideas and interventions on the ground are translated to advocacy efforts on national and international level.

Change Lab process

The set-up and execution of our Change Labs follows a series of steps inspired by a range of methodologies, theories and tools, such as systems thinking, design thinking and Theory U. In our Lab process, we explore the issues in the external world as well as our inner-sources of motivation and drive. This is because we strongly believe that to effectively tackle the big challenges of today’s world, we require collective leadership capacities that go beyond skills but touch on people’s personal sources of inspiration.

The Lab process starts with exploration of the world outside of our institutional bubble so we can get a better understanding of the issue at hand. This exploration is done with all Lab participants, which allows them to learn from one another and get a better understanding of diverging viewpoints. It also leads to increased trust across the sector. This simple logic also tackles our persistent habit to immediately jump into ‘solutions mode’; building in moments for exploration and reflection in the end makes our actions more substantiated, sustainable and purposeful.

Collective understanding of the issue feeds into our next Lab phase, which is to identify leverage points in the system to further act on. Collectively, Lab participants select a range of issues they can work on from their own capacity. These ideas for solutions are turned into ‘prototypes’: small-scale interventions that allow us to learn ‘what works’. Ultimately, these ideas are taken up by the wider system and/or translated into advocacy efforts that are brought forward by the Sustainable Diets for All program.

Change Lab Toolkit

Hivos has written an extensive Lab toolkit as a first attempt to document general principles and tools of Hivos’ Change Labs. It gives you background, prompts, inspiration and practical tips for setting up a Change Lab.

We have also created a practical, ‘bitesize’ online version that will guide you through the process step by step. 

Read our bitesize online version:

Results and lessons learned

We have set up Food Change Labs in Bolivia, IndonesiaUganda and Zambia. Though following the same process and principles, each Lab has its own unique set-up and content focus, leading to a rich pallet of results.