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Imagining transformative futures: participatory foresight for food systems change

Aniek Hebinck, Stockholm Resilience Centre, University of Stockholm; Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University
Joost M. Vervoort, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University; Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
Paul Hebinck, Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen University; Faculty of Agriculture, Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Fort Hare
Lucas Rutting, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University
Francesca Galli, Department of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Pisa, Italy


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Transformations inherently involve systems change and because of the political nature of change, are subject to contestation. A potentially effective strategy to further transformative change that builds on interdisciplinary, multiactor, and multiscale-practices and values is the use of foresight. Foresight covers a wide range of methods to systematically investigate the future. Foresight exercises offer collaborative spaces and have the potential to conceptualize and even initiate transformative change. But there is no clear understanding of the possibilities and limitations of foresight in this regard. This explorative paper builds on foresight and sociology and interrogates the role of foresight in transformative change, building on four cases. These cases are embedded in different contexts and characterized by different organizational approaches and constellations of actors. Nevertheless, they share the common goal of transformative food systems change. By reflecting on the processes that play a role in foresight workshops, we analyze what created conditions for transformative change in these four empirical cases. We have operationalized these conditions by distinguishing layers in the structuring processes that influence the impact of the foresight process. Based on this analysis, we conclude that there are three roles, ranging from modest to more ambitious, that foresight can play in transformative change: preconceptualization of change; offering an avenue for the creation of new actor networks; and creation of concrete strategies with a high chance of implementation. Furthermore, contributing to future design of foresight processes for transformative change, we offer some crucial points to consider before designing foresight processes. These include the role of leading change makers (including researchers), the risk of co-option by more regime-driven actors, and the ability to attract stakeholders to participate.

Key words

food systems; foresight; participatory processes; structuring processes; transformative change

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087