We can’t achieve our vision of a tech-enabled circular food economy without the participation and support of the Guelph-Wellington community. Our mission is to enable the community to see a role for themselves in this initiative. For this to happen, Our Food Future must reflects the needs, values and diversity of the community. That includes residents, food producers, businesses, community organizations, educational institutions, Indigenous leaders, government and more. Ultimately, these are the individuals and organizations that will become champions and stewards of Our Food Future, building a movement that will create long-term systems change.

Guiding principles

  • Environmentally sustainable, locally based—Our communications and engagement program seeks to preserve the planet and prevent harmful impacts to the environment.
  • Accessible and inclusive—We value the broad spectrum of human diversity and aim to engage with all stakeholders in ways most accessible and comfortable to them.
  • Open-source—Whenever possible, communications and engagement tools and materials are provided widely to stakeholders to allow anyone to participate or share.
  • Scalable—We aim to make our activities, learnings and outcomes scalable to wider audiences and communities. Tools, messaging and other communications and engagement assets should be adaptable to new audiences, uses and contexts.
  • Human-centred design—We centre problem-solving around the perspectives of the people experiencing the problem.
  • Strengths-based—We rely on the strengths and contributions of the entire region to achieve its goals, actively looking for what is already working.

Creating a shared vision, together

To create a shared vision for Our Food Future and ensure broad-based buy-in from stakeholders and the public, we launched an extensive engagement process in 2018. Using a “theory of change” approach, we worked with our community to create a shared understanding of what we collectively wanted to achieve and how to achieve it.

That initial engagement happened in three phases. In phase 1, we focused on gathering baseline information, raising awareness about the initiative, recruiting participation, providing opportunities for rich conversations and shaping the overall vision. Some of the activities during this phase included launching foodfuture.ca; hosting more than 60 stakeholder/community events; surveying local residents, producers and food and beverage companies; running an intensive social, video, radio and print media campaign; and engaging with Indigenous representatives and community champions.

In phase 2, we emphasized testing and validating models and ideas. We piloted a “Circular Food Economy Collision” event and held an “innovation challenge." We hosted key stakeholders in a value-stream-mapping pilot exercise with the goal of developing a more comprehensive picture of losses across a given value chain. We also engaged with thinkers and doers by presenting at multiple conferences beyond Guelph-Wellington about food sustainability.

In phase 3, we introduced our “Be a Food Future Star” campaign to build excitement and buy-in for Our Food Future. During the campaign, we featured local success stories, facts and tips about food. We hosted community events and set up a pop-up Food Future Star stations where children and families pledged to reduce food waste. We organized a restaurant-sponsored campaign championing circular food menu items. And we partnered with local school boards to prompt in-class conversations about food.

Be a Food Future Star was our first public-facing engagement campaign. For details on our latest campaign, see the “Reimagine Food Awareness Campaign” Pathfinder Project.

Key findings

These engagement efforts revealed that Our Food Future’s vision resonated with Guelph-Wellington residents. Businesses were also on board—in a 2018/19 online survey about Guelph’s economy, respondents ranked Our Food Future as one of the three biggest opportunities for local enterprises. Meanwhile, according to a 2019 Wellington Federation of Agriculture survey, almost 70 per cent of farmers indicated they would be willing to pilot new technologies on their properties.

Our research also pointed to the need for more education and engagement. For example, our survey of Wellington County residents suggested that although the vast majority of residents support the idea of making healthy food choices, buying locally and reducing food waste, most underestimate the amount of food waste they generate.

Challenges identified

Our engagement efforts provided important opportunities to flag challenges to address as we move forward with Our Food Future. These include:

  • Not upsetting the apple cart. We must recognize and be respectful of other food-related efforts already underway. If done insensitively, this type of initiative can destabilize community action by upsetting core actors already doing great work.
  • Recognizing that everyone is a stakeholder. As a basic and universal need, food affects every member of our community. As such, we need to design an engagement strategy that is as inclusive and extensive as possible.
  • Recognizing that many of our partners are already working at capacity. We need to find ways to create change without overwhelming the organizations we work with.
  • Eliminating jargon. Our efforts highlighted the importance of using plain language and finding ways to connect with stakeholders on a human level.

Finding our way forward

With the official launch Our Food Future, we quickly set out to build our public-facing communications and engagement strategy. The Guelph-Wellington community is at the heart of this initiative, and the success of Our Food Future depends on that same community. To create the changes required for a truly circular food system, we need to continue reaching out and engaging with Guelph-Wellington residents. We started are work by defining what we want to achieve through our communications and engagement efforts.

Communications and engagement goals

Immediate goals

In year one we aim to:

  • Build a foundation for consistent, effective, distributed communication and engagement,
  • Build awareness, trust and excitement in all stakeholders about Our Food Future, and
  • Support immediate goals of the workstreams through communications and engagement.

Intermediate goals

The goals we achieve in year one will subsequently enable us to do the following:

  • Build trust and accountability with diverse stakeholders,
  • Create a diverse, open and inclusive ecosystem of stakeholders, and
  • Gather actionable feedback and input to support workstream activities.

Ultimate goals

By year four, we aim to:

  • Build community ownership and buy-in for Our Food Future, and tech-enabled circular food economy ideas more broadly, to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of the project,
  • Foster measurable behaviour change and entrepreneurship, supporting the achievement of Our Food Future’s ambitious targets, and
  • Be an inspiring example of innovation by setting new best practices for industry and communities and sharing successes and learning from Our Food Future that can be applied in communities around the world.

Engaging with the community in-person and online

The best laid plans are just that. They provide a roadmap for how you plan to get from A to Z, and all places in between. Our strategy included numerous face-to-face activities to engage champions and build networks and collaborations such as:

  • Experiential pop-up stations that raise awareness and serve as mini-research labs to test concepts and prototypes, gain insights and promote dialogue,
  • A community activator program that recruits and trains champions to conduct in-person and digital outreach,
  • Annual community events to recognize changemakers, bring stakeholders together and maintain excitement, and
  • School outreach, because past experiences with recycling initiatives show that students can influence household behaviours.

However, in March 2020 COVID-19 changed our engagement landscape as it became unsafe for us to hold large gatherings. We also had to recognize that the priorities of our collaborators changed over night. Everyone was still committed to achieving the goal of Our Food Future, but how we did that would have to change. Through Grow Back Better, limited engagement started with the Kids Get Growing gardening kits and various online business supports such as R-Purpose and R-Purpose Micro.

During this time we were also able to focus on moving our digital presence forward by launching The Kitchen Table, our online engagement platform. The Kitchen Table provides community members who can’t engage in person the opportunity to participate.

We also leveraged Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a digital newsletter to communicate and engage with the community on a regular basis. Tracking engagement through these tools will help us to tailor communication to further reach our goals.

Foodfuture.ca continues to serve as the entry point for all things Our Food Future related: information about the initiative, tools, resources and videos, online engagement and collaboration, data, stories, documents, contact information and more.

Finally, we’ve incorporated the functionalities of ESRI’s community hub software into foodfuture.ca. As a result, visitors will also find:

  • Surveys, polls and online forums to encourage community input and participation,
  • Space to interact with our digital panel of community advisors, and
  • Visualization tools to present key project data in clear, easy-to-digest ways.

Engaging with champions and collaborators

To aid our champions and collaborators in driving Our Food Future and Grow Back Better forward, we produced an expanded communications toolkit. This includes:

  • Brand guidelines,
  • Key messages,
  • Communications protocols,
  • An image library, and
  • Video and multimedia resources.

By taking advantage of these, workstream members can save time and ensure consistent messaging.

In 2020, Our Food Future won a Smart 50 Award for its communications and engagement strategy. The Smart 50 Awards recognize global smart cities projects, honoring the most innovative and influential work.

Transformative results

Together, we will build Our Food Future

Our Food Future will bring significant benefits to Guelph-Wellington. We’ll shrink our environmental footprint by reducing waste. We’ll create new revenue streams and new jobs by extracting value from the byproducts we currently throw away. We’ll foster innovation, collaboration and skills. And we’ll help ensure every local resident has access to healthy, nutritious food.

But the benefits aren’t just local. By developing, testing and refining new thinking around circular food systems, we’ll create a roadmap to share with communities across the country and around the world.

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