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3 June 2024

The researchers speak: Elodie Valette from UMr Art-dev, CIRAD, presents the URBAL project (2018-2023)

URBAL - Urban Driven Innovations for Sustainable Food Systems

Elodie Valette, UMr Art-dev, CIRAD

Can you tell us a little about your project?

The dominant food systems and diets in the world’s affluent regions have many negative consequences from environmental, health, social and political points of view. These problems raise questions about sustainability in a context of global population growth. Of particular interest are urban food systems, which concentrate production needs but not production capacities. Concerned, major cities around the world signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) in 2015. Indeed, there is a growing feeling that the solutions for more sustainable food systems will be found on a local scale. These cities are brimming with initiatives and experience. But how can we support them in their efforts to expand and transition towards greater sustainability? How can we help assess the impact of these social innovations on the sustainability of food systems?
While questions of assessing sustainable food systems have been addressed elsewhere (see Blay-Palmer et al., 2019), this work has mainly focused on developing indicators to measure the sustainability of urban food systems. Many of these approaches are time- and cost-intensive, and cannot be easily adopted by local authorities or innovators to better inform decision-making processes. In the absence of accessible tools to support decision-making, policy-makers may engage in planning without a clear idea of their context and/or the impacts they can expect from food system innovations (Callon et al., 2001).
Addressing this gap was at the heart of the URBAL research project, whose main objective was to provide a methodological guide for monitoring and evaluating social innovations undertaken by actors and stakeholders involved in the transition of food systems towards sustainability. The resulting method is participatory, qualitative, multidimensional and affordable. Since 2018, it has been tested in 16 case studies.
Urbal uses a participatory research approach, enabling innovation stakeholders to identify the outcomes, obstacles and catalysts of change and their impacts on their food system. This approach is based on impact pathway assessment, i.e. it focuses on the processes of change over time. By mapping sustainability pathways along five possible dimensions (governance, health, environment, socio-cultural and economic), enabling factors and barriers to sustainable innovation can be highlighted, supporting the decision-making process undertaken by organizations and donors, as well as the creation of policies and programs by political decision-makers.

What were the main results?

Following development, the Urbal approach was tested in 16 case studies, including one each in Baltimore, Berlin, Brasilia, Cape Town, Lyon, Mexico City and Rabat, two each in Hanoi, Montpellier and Paris, and three each in Milan and Montpellier.
To ensure that the approach is widely accessible and adopted, a free, detailed and adaptable Urbal guide and toolkit are available online, in English, French and Spanish, HERE.
The URBAL methodological guide is available online under a Creative Commons license. This guide explains how to use the Urbal process. It provides detailed information on how to develop activities related to food system innovations, map changes and impacts on the sustainability of food systems, and identify enablin factors and barriers to these changes and impacts. Urbal also offers the possibility of comparing, evaluating and monitoring the sustainability of food system innovations.

What impact or contribution will your project make to society?

The qualitative, participatory approach is designed to support the decision-making process of innovation promoters, landlords and public decision-makers. By multiplying and cross-referencing points of view, the participative, multi-actor dimension of the method guarantees the social relevance of its results, and thus their appropriation by the various players involved.
More generally, this approach has been designed as a tool to support innovative approaches to transition in the food sector: it hopes to enable innovators to better self-assess their projects. In addition, the dissemination of the method and the results of the assessments in an ever-growing number of case studies is helping to build a community of practice that is looking into the ways and means of bringing about change towards greater sustainability.


Présentation du Guide URBAL :


Elodie Valette

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