Pecha Kucha: Governing the Doughnut

Today I gave a Pecha Kucha. A Pecha Kucha is a presentation of 6:20 with a series of 20 slides that change every 20 seconds. It is an unforgiving format that is admittedly probably engaging and potentially energizing for the audience but as a speaker it offers no space to engage with, or respond to, the audience and no room for error in your speech as the slides keep rolling even if you are not quite ready for them to! I get the appeal and the value but for an academic presentation, this is a terrifying format. Indeed, I found it so challenging to frame an academic paper/idea this way that I instead opted to give what amounts to more of a political speech.

I struggled to develop my talk for today, more so than any talk I have given in recent (maybe even distant) memory. I was intimidated by the audience (mostly soil scientists) and riddled with doubt: “Will they understand what I mean by governance?”;  “Do I even understand what I mean by governance?”

To further prepare, while on the train to the conference, I tried to write out the key ideas of the talk, without the limitation of having to shape ideas into 20 second with accompanying images.

Point 1: We need a transformation in the food system and this required attention to governance The talk starts from the position that we need a transformation towards sustainable and just food systems. I then argue, taking from transition theory, that governance plays an important role in facilitating or blocking such transformations.

Point 2: The doughnut offers a framework to consider environmental and social factors I then present Haworth’s idea of a doughnut: the space that is made between the planetary or environmental boundaries (outside the doughnut) and the social values or foundation (inside, or the doughnut hole- always the best part: Tim Bits, anyone?). The doughnut is a framework that serves to identify the safe and just space for us to work within to respect people and the planet.

Point 3: We need to embrace the idea of multiple solutions pathways The doughnut is not prescriptive. It offers the possibility for multiple pathways, and this is key for a just sustainability transition. These pathways need to be developed with and by people and address peoples’ practices in the everyday world.

Point 4: We need governance arrangements that can empower/support this solution pathways However, the architecture of governance is not able to support such pathways in its current arrangement. Key reasons for this include: lack of coherence and coordination, policy silos, overlapping mandates, competing understandings and interpretations of the problems, strong economic interests and an unreflexive commitment to productionism. Furthermore, governance has entered the realm of the post-political meaning in part that the debate has become polarised, or conversely framed around creating consensus. Both results arguably lead to a situation where conflict and tensions that necessarily exist around the tough decisions we need to make to support sustainability transformations are masked and this is unhelpful to supporting transformation.

Point 5: As scientists, we contribute to the post-political nature of governance In science and academia, there is a culture of studying complex problems and working towards answers that have narrow ranges of uncertainty: we tend to work towards simplicity. The problem is that the results of the research are never simple and if they extend beyond the labs and our offices they are applied to situations that are highly complex and which produce numerous uncertainties. In suggesting there is a final or correct answer to a problem we ignore this complexity. More problematically, we create a body of science that serves to justify almost any policy decision as science based.

Point 6: We need to acknowledge that our work is political. Scientists want their work to have impact but many refuse to acknowledge the political implications of their work. By trying to address complex socio-ecological problems we are engaging in the realm of the political. We need to be aware of this. We do not need to change our science necessarily but rather think about the potential impacts of the science. It means that we need to get out of our own silos and discuss the implications of our work with other scientists and importantly, non-scientists, notably those likely to be most affected.

Point 7: We need to politicise governance Those of us working on governance need to recognise the post-political nature of governance and work towards creating governance arrangements that are capable of addressing complexity, conflict and uncertainty. Such governance arrangements need to be organised in such a way so as to support the multiple pathways through the doughnut.

Point 8: What characteristics should these governance arrangements have? Well this is the big question! I have just written a paper about this with an Australian colleague, Ro Hill. I will post our answer to this big question when the paper is published!

Off to Copenhagen to address another conference on how to feed the world in 2050. This time Prof. David Barling and I are looking at food supply governance and identifying governance trends and challenges for the future.

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