Patrick Caron’s Closing Comments

It is time to draw this meeting here in Montpellier on Foresight4Food to a close.

Last year at the first Foresight4Food meeting in Oxford (and thanks to those who initiated and made the first gathering possible) I was left with two feelings:

  1. Enthusiasm: about the initiative and the importance of the issue
  2. Frustration: as we hardly lifted the lid of diversity of approaches and methods despite being a diverse group with diverse thinking

(Thanks Jim, John, Saher and Monika for keeping the process and spirit going; and to the sponsors who made it possible),

But over the last few days I felt my frustration lifting as we built on the Oxford discussions to arrive at much deeper understanding of foresight for food systems.

I have really enjoyed the exchanges.

Of course it is not only about the enjoyment, so what have we achieved?

Coming into the workshop I had three scenarios in my mind of where we might end:

  1. That today would be the end of it all – an interesting experiment, but one without a clear future
  2. We could move on with an initiative to network and to learn about foresight (sharing, confronting, contesting, comparing etc.) building upon the diversity of perspectives and work shared on day one
  3. We may move toward the capacity to perform a normative foresight exercise ( IPCC like as some of us have in our minds, although as stressed by Andrew Campbell the comparison is questionable given the complexity and diversity of food systems issues)

We have had very fruitful and pleasant exchanges drawing in a wide diversity of skills and backgrounds – knowledge institutions, donor and development agencies, private sector, regional organization and civil societies (even though not perfectly balanced). We have followed the agreed sequence of sharing, moving forward and deciding.

So my conclusions from the 3 days are:

  1. There is a huge need and interest in designing narratives for food systems transformation for addressing the whole 2030 Agenda (David Nabarro’s words underscored this and this need has not be contested during the 3 days but rather affirmed by all). There is a needed and an interest at all scales from local to national, regional and global.
  2. A forward looking approach to food systems is absolutely necessary –understanding “steam trains”, “black swans”, weak signals is needed because of the shocks, stresses and disruptions food systems will experience into the future – foresight methods can help us explore and respond to this turbulent future.
  3. There are many different ways to consider foresight methods and the diversity is a richness and a wealth.
  4. So far Foresight4Food has had more of a foresight “provider” push than a “user” pull. This is not an original sin, however we now need to engage more widely as we move to ensuring improved foresight can contribute meaningfully to the global dialogue an exploring the potential of a normative exercise.
  5. This means that we must anchor Foresight4Food with existing arenas of dialogue and policy convergence that have legitimacy. These do exist, and it would be an error for Foresight4Food to generate yet another arena adding to a cacophony of fragmentation (CFS might be the one, because of its intergovernmental foundation and its inclusive nature).
  6. We are seeking to provide intelligence and literacy about the future; yet we must recognise the political dimensions of any forward thinking process. We need to avoid the myths of “neutral knowledge” and “honest brokers”. In working towards the synthesis of foresight work we have discussed what is absolutely critical is to provide transparency about the assumptions and desired outcomes that inevitably underpin any analysis or literacy about the future, particularly on controversial issues.

Given what I have said and what we have heard over the last days, including from those who have supported this initiative, I propose the following:

  1. We should collectively continue with the Foresight4Food initiative, it is needed and a good number of individuals and institutions appear ready to commit themselves to follow-up
  2. We adopt a step by step process of planning and progressing, building on what exists and avoiding reinventing of wheels. This implies moving beyond the provision of knowledge by demonstrating the capacity to provide intelligence through synthesis and meta-analysis based on transparency and valuing the diversity of foresight works.
  3. We better identify the boundaries of how Foresight4Food can contribute in connection with stakeholders engaged in decision making and policy convergence. In a spirit of foresight intelligence, we take a more integrated view of “users and providers” recognizing this can be a problematic oversimplification if we consider the involvement of all stakeholders in the forward looking process.
  4. We work towards a substantial rendezvous in 2020 that would draw on work and initiatives that can be mobilized over the coming 2 years. The 4th Conference on GFS organized by Elsevier which will be hosted by Montpellier institutions and WUR in June 2020 could be an opportunity, and we may also need to consider a forum for wider political momentum.
  5. We take a 2020 convening as a point to consider the merits, legitimacy and viability of a larger scale normative foresight exercise (and the necessary governance that would need to accompany such a process).
  6. Given the above it is possible to envisage the following activities being carried out over the next 2 years (resources depending):
  • Continuing with the sharing, networking and learning we have begun through an emergent community of practice
  • Further developing a portal for collating and providing easy access to core foresight work (e.g. portal),
  • Providing synthesis of existing work,
  • Supporting or fostering spin-off initiatives (application at regional, national, local levels and hotspots), as the ones suggested by GFAR
  • Working to anchor the initiative to legitimate decision making and policy convergence institutions and forums;
  • Exploring how to look at the monitoring and evaluation of foresight processes

Overall we need to demonstrate the capacity to perform by the delivery of useful products creating confidence and trust, while make clear the value and unique capacity of this initiative to (i) bring together forward looking and food system thinking; (ii) connect the diversity of expertise and skills (not reconciliation but reflexivity on the basis of heterogeneity).

The implication for governance is that in the shorter term we can have a light advisory committee, probably some associated science group to guide directions with legitimacy being given by others being willing to associate with Foresight4Food as partners.

Finally, on behalf of MUSE and its members we have been very happy to host you here and are committed to further engagement in particular through the Montpellier Advanced Knowledge Institute on Transitions (MAK’ IT).

Let me leave you with our motto for the workshop: enjoy, be creative, be thoughtful, deliver and decide.

I wish you a safe trip back home (and that you will come back here at some stage) and wish us a fruitful road in moving on with Foresight4Food.