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In-depth look at the ‘systems approach’

Teachers take part in a workshop on food systems at MUST's Open Day for teachers, 6 October 2018
Visioning results, teachers workshop on food systems at MUST's Open Day for teachers, 6 October 2018

Our food systems face many challenges and experts increasingly agree that a ‘systems approach’ is essential to guarantee Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) for present and future generations. But what does it all mean in practice?

The first policy brief of the FIT4FOOD2030 EU Think Tank sheds much needed light: the concept of the ‘food system’ stresses food’s connections with different fields such as agriculture, environment, energy, health, education, infrastructure and planning. It goes beyond production and consumption to include ‘the environment, people, processes, infrastructure, institutions and the effects of their activities on our society, economy, landscape and climate’ (EC Food 2030 Expert Group, 2018:6). In light of such complexity, an understanding of all the dynamics at play is essential in order to identify actions for impactful change.

This is the kind of insight that a ‘systemic approach’ privileges and which the City Labs hosted by science engagement organisations use in their local work with citizen-stakeholders. And such insights are far from being relevant only for usual audiences such as researchers and policy makers. Ecsite member and host of a FIT4FOOD2030 City Lab Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia 'Leonardo da Vinci' (MUST) brought this concept closer to the classroom through a special workshop held during the museum’s Open Day for teachers on 6 October 2018. FIT4FOOD2030 methodology, adapted for a broader audience, was received with enthusiasm by Italian teachers.

The teachers’ (and, in the future, perhaps students’) evolving thoughts about the complexity of the food system and unexpected relations between the actors behind the food we eat were captured on a Personal Meaning Map, a powerful tool to explore people’s knowledge and awareness on a topic. This took place before and after participating in an experimental activity hosted by the Alimentation Interactive Lab at MUST which explored the identification of proteins and the extraction of lipids as an example of research processes on novel foods (in this case, insects).

This phase helped participants move beyond their previous knowledge towards a systemic perspective, as seen in the additions to the meaning maps. Subsequently, with improved knowledge on board, teachers tried out was a visioning exercise with creative tools such as clay, paper and colours that capture their visions about the role they wish school could play in the innovative transformation of the food system. A learning-by-doing approach, the use of different school spaces (such as kitchens or canteens), reinforcing the links between the different actors of the food system and not shying away from hard discussions about balancing different values were just a few of the ideas brought to the table.

With guidance, such tools can also be used with youngsters to help them develop their knowledge and visions of desirable directions for change in the food system. And having a compelling vision of a preferred future is a powerful impetus and the first step in creating a strategy for change!


  • FIT4FOOD2030
  • FOOD2030EU
  • City Labs
  • community
  • visions
  • tools
  • food system
  • systems approach
  • future


Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia 'Leonardo da Vinci'

The National Museum of Science and Technology ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ is founded 50 years ago with the mission to educate in science and technology. It consists of a very large collection of objects distributed in different sections devoted to earth, water and air transport, energy, telecommunications, metalurgy, models of Leonardo da Vinci’s projects etc.