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Unlocking Barriers to Sustainable Food Procurement in Finland: a Case Study

Format: Papers, RSD6, Topic: Socioecological Design

Helén Marton, Andrea Cuesta

systems thinking
design thinking
design for government
circular economy

The case “A Model for Regional Sustainable Circular Food” has been commissioned to the 2017 Design for Government (DfG) course at Aalto University by the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MMM) and the Ministry of Environment (YM), alongside Sitra and Motiva.

It explores and addresses issues around creating a regional circular food system in Finland and making profitability and sustainability match in this context. This submission falls under two themes of the RSD6 conference: democratic participation and policy innovation and human-scaled and regional economies.

The case is currently in its final ideation and proposal stages, and will be concluded on May 23rd 2017, so the final outcomes are still inconclusive. However, the value of this case already shows in methodologies used and artifacts produced, final results notwithstanding. Our team went through focused, iterative phases of Desktop Research, Empathic Design, Systems Thinking and Behavioral Insights. Throughout the case, methods of both Design and Systems Thinking were applied, and worked with in tandem to explore issues of a sustainable food system.

The case presents an example of the Finnish government’s eagerness to embrace design and system methodologies through commissioning this brief and working together with students throughout the course. A commitment to experimentation and innovation is on the highest political agenda in Finland, namely the Governmental Program; and such efforts are evident with increasing interest in the course from various Ministries. Thus, this case is related to the theme of democratic participation and policy innovation. Additionally, the case is also related to the theme of human-scaled and regional economies, as it concerns itself with the regional sustainable food system. Our project grappled with concepts around the culture of centralization, price wars, power relations and viability of small, local farmers when competing in this environment. We also explored the role of public procurement, and how the centralized practices affect and systematically disadvantage small, local farmers in the process and have no effective way to factor environmental impacts into the public procurement decisions.

“A Model for Regional Sustainable Circular Food” project is a 14 week long process where students are required to discover wicked challenges and propose interventions into the system using various Design and Systems Thinking methodologies as well as extensive desktop research into best practices and other relevant literature.

Throughout the process a rich selection of methodologies were used. In the Empathic Design phase we used interviewing, “sketchnoting” approach, design games like the ATLAS game and stakeholder mapping game. For Systems Thinking, we created system models, rich pictures from the soft system methodology and created participatory systems modeling exercises. For synthesising the information, we used affinity mapping. As for the ideation phase, we used the EAST card deck from the Behavioral Insights Team (UK) besides more traditional brainstorming techniques. Then, the ideation matrix method was used to evaluate our ideas.

During the empathic and systems stage, we especially appreciated using games, design games to be specific; as they were a fruitful and participatory way to engage stakeholders. According to design game scholars and practitioners, Tuuli Mattelmäki and Kirsikka Vaajakallio, these games introduce a structure and elicit a playful mindset that can result in a rich output as participants suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in play. The stakeholder mapping game resulted in rich discussion and a visual interpretation of actors, connections and flows in the Finnish food system. The participatory systems modeling was useful in uncovering the complex world of public procurement from the perspective of public procurers themselves.

The case offers knowledge around design and systems thinking methodologies used to create interventions on wicked challenges, in a governmental context. It presents the challenges of combining these methods, as well as the perceived benefits. It also presents the final intervention proposed to the commissioners of the brief and the ministry response to the ideas presented.




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2017
Title: Unlocking Barriers to Sustainable Food Procurement in Finland: a Case Study
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 12 October 2017
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