Food for All: Reflecting on how theory helped with public participation in the development of local food policy

By Vivien E. Runnels, Elizabeth Kristjansson and Caroline Andrew.

Published by Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

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A community-based funded research study called Food for All was designed to develop local food policy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The food policy was developed directly from the public’s food needs, concerns and interests, and the public’s extensive participation in researching the evidence, formulating and writing the policy. The research collaboration that directed Food for All selected and followed a theoretical model taken from the knowledge translation (KT) literature to guide its policy development processes and activities. To date, more than 300 residents of Ottawa have participated in searches and reviews of the literature; interactive evidence-based learning sessions; development and pilot-testing of a community food assessment toolkit; kitchen table talks; values determination and priority setting discussions; and sessions devoted to policy-writing. Members of the public have directly shaped 14 food action plans that currently form the policy document. The purpose of this paper, based on a conference presentation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall of 2012, reflects specifically on the role of theory in Food for All impacting public participation. It describes the justification for public participation, a key driver of the research study, and the role of community-based research. Our reflections suggested that while theory helped the research collaboration, the use of theory also presented challenges and might have helped further. Some suggestions for further research related to the use of theory are proposed. In conclusion, our collaboration found that public participation was necessary for realizing the development of locally relevant food policy, with theory providing the basis for understanding the importance of meaningful public participation. Theory underpinned the development of a thoughtful research collaboration, and the mindful utilization of different sets of expertise, skills and knowledge, helping to ensure a fit for the local context, and the development of local food policy.

Keywords: Public Participation, Theory of Planned Change, Food Insecurity

Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.21-31. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 590.511KB).

Dr. Vivien E. Runnels

Researcher, Globalization and Health Equity Research , Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Vivien is Senior Researcher with the Globalization and Health Equity Research Unit and the Population Health Improvement Research Network at the Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. She is involved with a number of research studies in the areas of food security policy, population health interventions, health human resources and migration, global health diplomacy, and medical tourism and out-of-country care. She is a member of the Sex and Gender Working Group in Systematic Reviews associated with the Campbell and Cochrane Collaboration Equity Methods Group.

Dr. Elizabeth Kristjansson

Associate Professor, School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Caroline Andrew

Professor, Centre for Governance, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada