WFPC Featured in Nordic Food Policy Lab for Innovative Policy Methods

Monday, June 28, 2021
Nordic Food Policy Lab
WFPC Featured in Nordic Food Policy Lab for Innovative Policy Methods

Where are the bold policies to follow, support or even lead the transition to a healthier and more sustainable food system? Duke's World Food Policy Center is among 11 organizations featured in the Nordic Food Policy Lab's Setting the Table 2021 publication in recognition of innovative approaches to food policy. Setting the Table is available online and as a downloadable pdf.

The guide is the conclusion to a conversation started by the Nordic prime ministers with Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges in 2017. Since then, the flagship project, Nordic Food Policy Lab, has staged dialogues, set the table for new encounters, co-produced knowledge and insights, and advocated for the potential of innovative policy to change the world. The report profiles 11 methods from around the world recognized for igniting dialogue, co-creating solutions or new directions and unravelling complex issues. Resetting the Table is meant to ensure that policymakers do not stand in a position where they see the daunting scale of the problem but feel unequipped to deal with it.

The WFPC section is excerpted below:

Moving from "on behalf of" to "in support of": Deep listening to empower agents of change

The Duke World Food Policy Centre supported a community-led process to understand the intersectionality of urban food justice. The process focused on listening, humility, and how institutions can re-learn how to be in community, moving from a leader to a listener and supporter.

The World Food Policy Center (WFPC) is a research, education, and convening organisation within Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Its mission is to advance connected and inclusive food system policy and practice in support of the equity and resilience of local and global food systems. Their theory of change is that relationships and community-led solutions are central to creating sustainable foodways. And, that food systems cannot be equitable at a global level if they are not equitable at the local level. 

Relationships focused on leveraging the position of Duke while shifting power to community leaders are at the heart of the WFPC model. Previous research has shown that networks among people and organisations produce and maintain power relationships within communities, often excluding people or organisations led by people of colour. Access to networks can often be restricted as people in positions of power (either by intention or default) work with those who are already in their proximate networks. In instances where these networks are exclusionary, inequalities are often exacerbated at the detriment of projects and organisations. Research on interlocking directorates has shown how power is held within very small groups of people across a range of organisations nationally, and these processes translate to local communities as well. These patterns were also factors in the current project and needed to be addressed head-on to uphold the principles of justice and equity

How it’s done

Focusing on building trust and relationship across institutions and community leadership were the MOST critical aspects for long-term systems change

Working locally in the United States in Durham, North Carolina, the WFPC supported a decolonised food justice planning process. The process began by convening a “Design Team”, intended to bring a Durham-based approach to problem solving and community planning that recognised intersectionality, layered systems, and the need to build common frameworks for lasting solutions. As opposed to bringing together traditional institutional leaders, the Design Team brought together a diverse set of Durham-based voices, including community organisers, food justice advocates, educators, strategic planners, evaluators, and racial equity trainers. This group worked collectively to take on key project elements: building trust, setting goals, creating an overall process, facilitating activity, and establishing terms to move forward with care, intention, and ability to adapt the work from an emergent and relational as opposed to a linear and transactional perspective. 

Key elements of the Design Team’s decolonised approach included: 1) co-developing agenda for meetings; 2) beginning and concluding with “centering experiences” such as sharing of personal stories; 3) regular communications to keep connected but consciously not rushing the process (continuing to “move quickly and move slowly” with trust-building guiding the process); 3) leaning into discomfort and being self-reflective to cultivate another way of thinking, feeling and being in the shared space as a team; 4) sharing materials and facilitating discussions that informed the Design Team’s function (e.g. articles on race equity/research methods); 5) responsiveness to stakeholder voices; 6) embracing flexibility (e.g. timeline) and emergent strategies (embracing a shift from food systems to food justice planning); and 7) moving at the speed of trust when relationships need to be nurtured and processes interrogated. 

Food systems cannot be equitable at a global level if they are not equitable at the local level

The outcome 

The outcome of the community-led process was that establishing a “plan” for justice in Durham was antithetical to the principles of justice and community leadership. Instead, focusing on building trust and relationship across institutions and community leadership were the MOST critical aspects for long-term systems change. To build these relationships, the team needed to learn how the inequities in Durham came to be. As a result of this process, three key products were developed to understand the history of the inequities in Durham’s food system, how whiteness shows up in food systems efforts, and how relationship can begin to address some of the inequities through innovative equity-focused financing of community-led efforts:

  1. Power and Benefit on the Plate, The History of Food In Durham, North Carolina
  2. Identifying and Countering White Supremacy in Food Systems
  3. How Innovative CDFIs Fund Equitable Food Oriented Development

The WFPC team often reflects on this quote from Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

Lilla Watson
Indigenous Australian activist, artist and academic

The World Food Policy Centre’s advice:

The WFPC would advise not to use the word “lab” or “model”, but to approach relationship with humility, seeking to listen and to learn, and to use the power and influence your own institution has for collective benefit.


The WFPC’s original intention was to start up policy innovation labs and to create a bridge between science and policy. They were interested in having policymakers and scientists in the same room and trying to identify disconnects and where policymakers needed more information. As the project evolved, so have their ideas about what is needed. They understood that institutions should use their power to support community leadership. Another evolution of their model had to do with ensuring people most impacted by policy decisions were leading discussions and decisions for equitable policy change, and that institutional leadership will need to continue to lean into shifting its influence from working “on behalf of” communities to working “in support of” and in relationship with communities.