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12th European IFSA Symposium


5.7 There are other options: boundary issues in innovation system governance


Systemic transformations require attention to the procedures and processes through which system boundaries are determined and governed, and by whom. Transitions toward social, ecological, bio-physical, and market functioning, and social well-being, require both socio-technical and institutional innovation, new kinds of social interaction, and social spaces in which meaningful and purposeful relationships can develop. This workshop examines examples of these phenomena.


Particular attention is paid to how system boundaries are determined, and by whom, because what is taken into account is constitutive of the kinds of innovation that emerge, who benefits and who loses from the change process, and how the governance of such change processes is performed.

We understand :

  • Relevant system boundaries to include (in diverse combinations and scales) biophysical and ecological functioning, production through market and consumption transactions, and social well-being.
  • Innovation to mean coupled changes in socio-technologies and institutions at levels and scales of interaction that frame and regulate routine behaviours and practices and normative expectations.
  • Governance as inter-connected actions for shared purposes, performed by a potentially broad range of actors linked (as individuals and/or in organisations) in networks, groups, platforms etc.

In the light of the above we seek original contributions that critically examine:

  1. Evidence of how systems thinking – when system boundaries are inappropriately drawn - can blind policy-makers, researchers and practitioners to the relationships that sustain ‘business as usual’ approaches to sustainable intensification;
  2. Evidence of how systems thinking, when applying more inclusive boundaries, challenges the claim that ‘there are no other options’;
  3. Evidence how appropriately constituted system boundaries open new pathways and options for change, and new procedures and processes for governing sustainable innovation at system scales.

Under points 1 & 2 authors are expected to apply systems thinking to relevant evidential, conceptual or theoretical issues (about one third of the paper). Point 3 allows for presentation, analysis and discussion of findings from (mini) case studies, action researching, and various forms of participatory research (about two thirds of the paper). Authors may address any level or scale of interaction.

The convenors will provide a short background paper. It presents evidence for i) how neo-liberal market thinking applied to agriculture and food futures draws system boundaries inappropriately, creating new forms of systemic risk; ii) the current focus on ‘transformative technologies’ and opportunity for a handful of dominant commercial enterprises ignores or under-values institutional dynamics that externalise (unsustainable) costs. These costs threaten bio-physical and ecological functioning and vulnerable social actors worldwide; iii) different boundary judgements open pathways towards alternative, less risky and robustly productive innovations. We note ongoing efforts in EU countries to bring forward transformational change. In the U.K., for instance, through the multi-stakeholder Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum(Twitter @WFNFEvents). France in 2014 introduced a new law, the Future of Agriculture,that requires all forms of agriculture to evolve agro-ecological farming technologies and practices, while sustaining France’s competitive position on world markets. This in turn is demanding new competencies and attitudes within INRA, the national agricultural research system. In the Netherlands, while the government and the leaders of Wageningen university are promoting business as usual the government has been challenged recently to meet its climate obligations (including in food and agriculture) by a judicial decision in a case launched by a charity (Urgenda). Instances from Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, West Africa and other countries are also noted.

The convenors will review all submitted Abstracts for their potential contribution to the workshop. The selected abstract authors will be invited to submit papers, following IFSA symposium guidelines and deadlines. All submitted papers will be sent for blind peer review, organised by the convenors. The authors will receive reviewers’ comments and the convenors’ final decision concerning which papers are accepted. The convenors will then organise the allocation of workshop session time and sequence of presentations.

The convenors will negotiate with Agricultural Systems for a special issue based on the selected papers/presentations.

Workshop Processes

Sessions will be facilitated and time-controlled to ensure that authors highlight only the key points necessary to stimulate discussion. The convenors will build a visual meta-narrative (storyboard) from the successive presentations. Authors may choose among the following options for their presentations:

  • talk with/without power point
  • talk built around pictures, diagrams or intermediary objects
  • a guided ‘kitchen table’ conversation.


5.7 An Investigation into the Aspirations, Governance and Management Challenges of Maori Farming Trusts

5.7 Institutional change: challenge for agricultural extension and the science that supports it. Evidence from West Africa

5.7 Evaluating public participation by the use of Danish water councils –prospects for future public participation processes

5.7 Performing and orchestrating governance learning in practice

5.7 Renegotiating boundaries for systemic water governance: some experiences from the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in England

5.7 Mediating boundaries between knowledge and knowing: ICT and R4D praxis

5.7 Sustainable food and nutrition security: Is there a need to pay much more attention to smaller farms, smaller food businesses and local food systems?

Lead Workshop covenor

Janice Jiggins (Professor/Guest Researcher,, Knowledge, Technology & Innovation group, Wageningen University, retired mid 2015). Corresponding address: De Dellen 4, 6673 MD, Andelst, The Netherlands. Tel: +31 (0)488 451016

Other Covenors

Niels Röling (Professor Emeritus, Wageningen University, The Netherlands)
Ray Ison (Professor of Systems, Open University, U.K; Head of Systemic Governance Research programme, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia; and President, International Society for Systems Sciences, 2014-15)
Chris Blackmore (Senior Lecturer, Open University, U.K.

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