Food Security More than an Experts’ Domain

Case Stories are coded for quick reading

Blue: What Wasn’t Working
Black: Systemic Method
Red: Outcome

The Technical Issues Group (TIG) in an international food-producing organization is charged with the responsibility of anticipating and investigating the emergent risks to the organization’s products. Each year it has convened a conference of food security experts to identify the risks the Technical Issues Group should be studying. The conference is very popular and the same experts, each highly recognized in their field, attend year after year.

The manager of TIG became concerned when an audit of the group’s work revealed that no new risks had been identified in recent years. TIG’s entire program was essentially re-studying issues previously explored. The manager was highly disturbed by these findings, as she was aware of the changes that were occurring in their products’ environment.

TIG decided to approach the next annual conference differently, to be more systemic about their risks. To this end they invited many ‘non-experts’ in the field of food security including writers, environmentalists and social commentators. TIG also decided to use the WindTunneling software, which enables participants to write scenarios about what they consider to be plausible future events that will significantly impact food security. Thirty of the many plausible future events that were submitted by conference members were presented back to conference delegates with a request they use a 10-point scale to assess the impact of the risk in each event to the organization’s food production along with the probability of that event occurring in the next five years.

After the conference, which culminated in an open debate on the outcomes of the WindTunneling exercise, TIG was able to identify a number of unexplored risks that emerged from this systemic approach. The manager of the Technical Issues Group’s report of the conference highlighted how experts are excellent at identifying risks within their field of specialty, however, the diverse participating delegates gathered for the Conference, using the systemic methods, enabled a more holistic approach to food security and emerging risks. This enabled an enhanced level of attention and planning for previously unseen risks.