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Reimagining the Food System: scanning the horizon for emerging social innovations

Reimagining the Food System: scanning the horizon for emerging social innovations

Food systems require urgent and profound transformation to become sustainable, both in Europe and worldwide. Social innovation plays a pivotal role in transforming today’s food systems into ones that are economically and socially feasible, and sustainable within planetary boundaries. 


The project Reimagining the Food System: scanning the horizon for emerging social innovations was conducted between July - December 2021, on behalf of the European Environment Agency. It engaged in a systemic examination of emerging social innovations across the food chain, conducted using horizon scanning, a tool to detect early signs of potentially important developments. Thus, it offers insights into the experimentation taking place in alternative ways to produce, trade and consume food.


Project phases:

  • The horizon-scanning combined web mining with a filtering and validation process, using machine learning and human evaluation. The exercise identified over 240 weak (or early) signals from a variety of news articles, blogs and grey literature published in English between 2017 and 2021. The signals were aggregated into 24 closely related subsets, with each cluster hinting at a potential emerging issue (see image);


  • Next, 21 representatives from civil society organisations, business, academia and government discussed these issues at a sense-making workshop in September 2021;


  • Following the workshop, 10 emerging issues were prioritised for characterisation. The characterisation was based on desk research and 11 semi-structured interviews with experts in the field. The 10 selected emerging issues include developments in new foods, products, services, and business and governance models. These issues have often been enabled by existing technologies and new forms of local partnerships, involving a variety of engaged stakeholders. They vary in their degree of maturity and novelty: some are relatively new developments, while others lend new perspectives to known subjects. Moreover, some provide new combinations of existing elements, while others are niche practices beginning to filter into the mainstream:


1. Agroecology: a way of producing food and living, a science and a movement for change

2. Soulful soil: alternative methods for nutrient and pest management

3. The power of many: community-supported agriculture networks and initiatives

4. Food-growing cities: urban farming, integrated food policies and citizen involvement

5. Muscle-up: alternative protein sources for human consumption

6. Knowledge is power: ensuring traceability and informing consumers

7. Reclaiming retail: (re)connecting farmers with consumers and businesses

8. Procurement strategies supporting sustainable agricultural and fishing practices

9. Menu for change: restaurants feed appetite for sustainability

10. The gift that keeps on giving: upcycled foods and food into energy



The research team was composed of experts from the following organizations:

ISINNOVA

Institutul de Prospectiva

Austrian Institute of Technology

Insight Foresight Institute

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Foresight, Innovation & Sustainability
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