Home / What is The Montpellier Process?
30 April 2024

What is The Montpellier Process?

Fabrice DeClerck, member of the Scientific Council of Agropolis Fondation, explains.

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Hello, my name Fabrice DeClerck, I’m a Principal Investigator with the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, one of the CGIAR centers, and also Scientific counsil member of Agropolis Fondation based in Montpellier. I’m also the EAT’s Chief Scientist leading its synthesis research projects such as the EAT-Lancet Commission, the Food System Economics Commission, and the Blue Food Assessments.

Can you describe the Montpellier Process and its objectives?

It’s really an unconventional idea in many ways. Basically the Montpellier process recognized important value, but also challenges in the way that current Science Policy Interfaces are operating and calls into question how we as a scientific community can increase the efficiency of the science policy ecosystem as Patrick Caron says. We wanted to create a space where those of us engaged in those processes could reflect, learn, and react with the aim of improving the knowledge community’s capacity to engage meaningfully. We noted three gaps in particular – between local, national and global, between knowledge systems (local, scientific, practical), and between domains (feed, care, protect).

The March 2024 event brought together three hundred experts, including scientists, policy-makers and decision-makers from representing sixty countries and five continents. Our participants were quite anxious at first because there would be no presentations, or conferencing topics – rather this was about deep engagement and participations, stepping out of our comfort zones to discuss, exchange ideas and reflect on how to harmonize our efforts in line with the urgent food system challenges. Building upon lessons from successes and failures about concrete use cases from countries, cities, citizens, landscapes and trade, the aim was to provide a collaborative framework for leading international experts and organizations to collectively address current and future challenges while focusing on food system transformation as a major lever for sustainable development, and strengthening interactions between science, policy and civil society.

On the second day, we had everyone on stage in six stations and rotations – young scientists with former ministers, representatives from five continents, indigenous communities, UN officials and local landscape leaders all gathered around in small groups diving deeply into proposed solutions. For me it was quite symbolic that we brought people down from the audience, and up onto the stage. The main message was being that confronted by such critical challenges, we can no longer be passive members of the audience, but critical actors in shaping the future we need for people and planet.

Day 2 workshops

What are the main lessons learned from this event?

I found several learning that emerged from the process. The first and maybe the most important was there is a real desire by the Science community, and by the knowledge community more broadly to contribute more actively in achieving the impact needed to transform food systems. There’s a real frustration by the community about the lack of progress on food, health, climate, biodiversity, justice despite repeated evidence by the scientific community on the consequences of inaction. There’s also a growing concern about the lack of trust in science, or more importantly the growing threat of misinformation, polarization, and fragmentation of society at a moment when collective action is most needed. The Scientific community wants to engage more actively and is less and less convinced that this progress is attained by producing long, often fragmented and repetitive reports in the absence of real engagement with countries, cities, citizens, companies and civil society representatives whom are on the front line of change.

My second realization was that despite this desire, the research community is ill prepared to engage, and our own behaviors and institutions may be part of the lockins. The Montpellier Process was a rare moment to question our own role in the process, and how we as scientists need to transform ourselves and our work if we are to contribute to food systems transformation – rather than calling for the food system to transform as though we were not a part of that process. This space for introspection was extremely valuable though remained poorly understood.
We tried to instigate this with representatives from cities, countries, citizens’ groups struggling to access, translate and use science in designing and implementing integrated interventions.
Our aim was to use this to have the scientists ask questions about engagement with transformation processes, and to propose concrete actions. I was surprised by how difficult it was to get the group to inquire about that engagement during the question-and-answer period – questions seemed fixated on the specifics of the case studies rather than on the engagement with science.
The most positive outcome however, was a real appreciation for the very participatory nature of the Montpellier process – and a call by the community for more opportunities to engage with policy and society in what we are calling “risky safe spaces” increasingly focusing on tension points in society – for example the environmental responsibilities of agriculture, working with the private sector on improve the global commons, how to meaningfully attain critical global goals while enabling the participation of local communities, how to address the significant power imbalances in the food system as a lever for change etc… A risky safe space is a space where participants engage with deep humility and humanity, with a willingness to consider and be confronted by their own roles in food system transformation – including their culpability in acting as a barrier – rather than pointing fingers at the inactions of others. It’s a space that moves away from the generalities that are all to often discussed and allows a much deeper dive into disagreements, while seeking to understand the origins of such disagreement parsing the fundamental differences from the conceptual ones with the aim of mediating, and negotiating credible pathways to transformative change.

What are the next steps?

We’ve built a credible and engaged community of over 300 researchers whom we specifically invited to join us in Montpellier to develop the “terms of reference” of the Montpellier process. We’ve agreed that the Montpellier process will continue to build an inclusive and action-oriented community of practice committed to engage in order to increase levels of ambition and capacity to transform local, national and global science-policy interfaces and amplify its utility and impact, and second that we would provide this Community of Practice with ‘risky safe spaces’, meaning a space where it becomes possible to address those tension points locking in transformations and to engage in reflection, mutual learning and preparation of its contributions to the post-2030 Agenda.

We’re planning three specific types of activities. First by facilitating cross collaboration activities, both formal and informal, between SPIs with distinct disciplinary, regional, or specific expertise with the aim of increasing their ability to share more actionable knowledge with cities, countries, companies, citizens, professionals, and other actors working to feed, care, and protect for people and planet. Second, we aim to support implementation and learning from living use cases contributing to strengthening science-policy interfaces and to transforming food system at local and national levels -for example engaging direction with countries developing national food system pathways with the UN Food Hub. And third, largely through these actions we aim to anticipate and collectively engage in the global development agenda setting beyond 2030 including the framework of the United Nations International Decade for Science 2024-2033.

The individuals and institutions present in Montpellier also identified six key actions that they wish the Montpellier process to undertake:

  • 1/ Strengthening and adapting institutional arrangements between knowledge institutions at all scales, independent assessments and intergovernmental SPI’s to make action knowledgeable and knowledge actionable;
  • 2/ Enabling Science: facilitating the engagement of science and knowledge platforms with use cases.
  • 3/ Acting on Inclusion: We recognize the need for enabling greater representation and diversity of participation in SPI’s including greater leadership opportunities to the social sciences, and non-academic actors. We are committed to developing a culture of honesty regarding both exclusion and injustices, recognizing those perspectives not at the table.
  • 4/ Enabling Communication: increased capacity to understand each other across science, policy, and society communities by developing a common narrative across sectors, actors and institutions.
  • 5/ Filling and Adapting the Knowledge Toolbox with a diversity of tools that the knowledge community have accessible and needs in support of the diverse policy and action contexts.
  • 6/ Navigating public-private convergence to produce public goods.

We’ve bookmarked several next convenings – first at the CGIAR’s Science week in Nairobi this July, and more critically we are working to engage with COP16 in Cali, Colombia.