Forming a common agenda to address food security: Part 1

One of five collective impact conditions is the commitment by partners to a common agenda.

Previously, in a February 3, 2014 article, collective impact was explored as a means to addressing complex social problems. Community food issues like food access or food security do not have simple solutions that one entity or organization can address. Bringing diverse food system stakeholders together in a concerted effort can lead to an effective long-term food security solution through synergy and coordinated action.

In the introductory article, it was shared that five conditions are typically present in order to produce true alignment and meaningful change. Those five conditions as highlighted by John Kania and Mark Kramer in their 2011 paper in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on Collective Impact are:

  1. Common agenda across organizations
  2. Shared measurement systems
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities that build synergy
  4. Continuous communication
  5. Backbone support organizations that foster synergy

The focus in this article is on creating a common agenda in order to collectively address social issues like food security. When a diverse group is brought together, differing perspectives, visions and agendas will be present as well. These differences will need to be discussed and resolved with the intent of developing common ground and direction between all parties. Achieving mutual understanding and common vision sets the stage from which everyone can work. A common agenda does not mean that those involved need to perform the same strategies, but instead achieve complimentary strategies that build on the work of others.

Tactics for achieving a common agenda include:

  1. Find common ground between partners
  2. Understand the dimensions of and develop an agreed upon definition of the social problem
  3. Commit to a shared vision and collaborative partnership
  4. Determine the primary goals and mutually reinforcing actions

An example of common agenda creation can be found by looking to the Eaton Good Food Council (EGFC) in Eaton County. The EGFC is comprised of members from the Eaton County Board of Commissioners, the Barry Eaton District Health Department, the county’s farmers markets, high school student, township officials, private consultants, farmers, school food service directors, business owners, hospitals, Michigan State University Extension and the Eaton County United Way. Bringing a diverse group like this together did mean bringing differing perspectives, agendas, and interests to the table. To best focus efforts, the group wrote a purpose statement that was agreed upon by all. This statement gave the group a necessary touchstone to keep efforts directed and synergistic.

Other articles in this series:

The EGFC develops collaborative partnerships and relationships across Eaton County to increase production, consumption, and easy access to good food; educate residents how to access nutritious local foods; advocate for policies and systems that strengthen quality and equality in our local food system; and increase agricultural production and economic viability.

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