My research interests include the governance of sustainable food systems in northern Canada and using Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology to work directly with local actors to create meaningful actions that help them reach their goals. I have had an incredible time researching in the Northwest Territories (NWT) since 2015. In addition to working with inspiring local research partners, I have had many adventures including being welcomed to the North by helping to stretch a moose hide almost as soon as I stepped off the plane, camping under the northern lights and cross-county skiing across the frozen Great Slave Lake. During this time, my research led me to work with two NGOs that are influencing policy and governance processes for food systems in the city of Yellowknife and throughout NWT.
In our recently published chapter, Pathways to Co-governance? The Role of NGOs in Food Governance in the Northwest Territories, Canada, Dr. Peter Andrée (Carleton University) and I, who are both members of the Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged Project analyze my experiences of working with these NGOs. We use theory on collaborative governance (or co-governance), which describes the key drivers of quality engagement, shared motivation, and a shared capacity for joint action as necessary for this type of governance.
Our analysis shows that these NGOs are effective at combining new governance frameworks, coalition building, and working synergistically on policy and community initiatives. However, there are some constraints that the NGOs are working within. At the municipal policy level, there has been an opening for a municipal agricultural policy, based on the consistent efforts of the NGOs to argue for one. However, there is no evidence yet that the municipality will take the comprehensive, systemic approach to the policy that the NGOs would like. At the territorial level, one of the NGOs is in a coalition-building phase to create a territorial network for food system actors. For this network, there are openings to once again influence agricultural policy, but other areas relevant to food policy, such as hunting and resource management, are already heavily governed by a range of invested actors. Based on this analysis, we identify some opportunities for co-governance to emerge. However, greater engagement and trust-building among the NGOs and key policy actors must occur first.
As part of the edited collection, Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance, this chapter is helpful for academics and practitioners interested in food policy or northern Canada. In particular, it provides a grounded case study of the opportunities and constraints involved in establishing collaborative relationships between policy-makers and NGOs.
I love to dream big, so in my future research I plan to continue to work with my northern research partners and explore connecting them to global policy-making spaces, such as the UN Committee on World Food Security.
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