… is the saying my wife shared with me after I explained the block I was experiencing over sitting down and writing a blog post. Honestly, this was today’s daily reminder of just how awesome I know she is.
Me: I want to write a post for my PhD blog, but I’m worried what I write will not be good enough. There are actual people who might read what I write. It needs to be good!
Wife: People read your blog?
Me: I know, right?! Thing is, I’ve got a list of things that I want to write about. Then I worry about what I write being good enough, so I write nothing. Then I feel sad I’ve not written anything. I don’t want to be that person who looks back and says If only I’d written a blog or something.
Wife: Perfect is the enemy of good. (stated like I should already know this, whilst at same time smashing out reams of words on her laptop keyboard, drinking beer and being awesome.)
Me: Says nothing, just smiles, takes a big gulp of beer and leaves room to write actual, real life blog post.
So let’s start with easily the most significant development – my wonderful son Jack built me a key word random venn diagram generator on Scratch (the world’s largest free coding community for kids don’t ya know). Here is a screen shot, but for full effect you really should check it out: P.H.D (this is for my dad) on Scratch (mit.edu) Click the green flag then use your up and down arrow keys to stop and start the generator. Don’t forget to bliss out to the ambient soundtrack and let the key words turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…
Nature of Prosperity
Huge thanks to Fergus Lyon at the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity for inviting me to participate in their Nature of Prosperity dialogue Food Possibilities—finding food justice within planetary boundaries event on 23rd February in Manchester. The keynote by Dr Rowan Williams was an inspirational opening to the day, and Tim Jackson expertly held the space – listening, reflecting and offering provocation. For me the event was an opportunity to explore the tension between making money and valuing people, and just how quickly outrage and anger bubbles to the surface in these challenging times. I strongly recommend watching the panel discussion with Sue Pritchard (Director, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission), A/Prof Angelina Sanderson Bellamy (UWE Bristol), Guy Singh-Watson (Founder, Riverford) and Carolyn Steel (Author of Sitopia) – talk about a list of who’s who in the world of sustainable food right now!
…is a research consortium working to transform the Yorkshire food system. On 16th March FixOurFood hosted the brilliant Yorkshire Food Summit in Harrogate, which I was able to attend with more than 120 food system leaders. The event was great, and my highlights were hearing about plans to develop a Yorkshire Food Council, and networking with key people in the region, including Jan Thornton MBE, Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network; Allison Kane, Deliciouslyorkshire; and Allister Nixon, Yorkshire Agricultural Society. I’m really looking forward to returning to Harrogate in July for the 164th Great Yorkshire Show.
It wasn’t long until I was returning to North Yorkshire and FixOurFood again, for the Food System Policy Interface training event led by Bob Doherty, FixOurFood and Yaad Sidhu from Defra on March 30th in York. Topics covered included a Defra structure overview, integrating a systems approach into Defra, working in the science policy interface and options of influence. Later in the day an unexpected but very exciting opportunity arose to share my PhD interests with the group and workshop a ‘rich picture’, which involved a collaborative combination of questions, discussion, writing and drawing. Feedback from the group suggested the research topic / question is sufficiently focused and addresses an important gap in knowledge, and a senior academic made my day when she just walked right up to me after the workshop and said ‘You’ll do great, because you’ve got life experience, and that’s what makes the different on a PhD.’ Yay!
Here’s a couple of pictures from the workshop.
Remarkably, despite life, the universe and everything, I think it’s fair to say I’ve managed to make some good progress on the PhD since I last posted on here back in mid-January. In hindsight a key learning point has been around trusting my abilities, and importantly giving myself enough time to develop this trust, because this seems to be what really matters when the inevitable deadline crunch comes around. This is OK, because with some good time management, in theory, there can be enough time. However, this has been the other key learning point. Basically after the assignment hand in I found myself struggling to maintain momentum. In the end I put this down to a one long day a week work pattern, which was too stop start, and left me feeling on the back foot before I’d even sat at my desk. So, trial and error etc. etc. and now I’ve adopted a three short days a week work pattern, and so far so good. Fingers crossed it will stay that way. So, what about this progress??
On 20th February, as part of the Critical Thinking in Business Administration module I studied in October 2022, I successfully submitted a 5000-7000 assignment with the title:
“Philosophical underpinnings for business and management research will depend on the topic chosen”. Discuss this proposition in relation to your own research aims and objectives
Here is the summary.
Part One – Research Philosophy makes thorough use of Chapter 4 ‘Understanding research philosophy and approaches to theory development’ in ‘Research Methods for Business Students’ (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2019) as a study guide, to explore research philosophy, assumptions, research paradigms, philosophical positions and approaches to theory development. A selection of key texts referenced in the chapter are explored further, and the Heightening your Awareness of your Research Philosophy (HARP) Reflexive Tool is used to explore the author’s views on research philosophy, providing an opportunity to build the foundations of further philosophical study and learning on the doctoral journey.
Part Two – Research Backstory sets out the main episodes to date in the iterative process of formulating what will become the proposed doctoral research programme. This process starts with the original PhD Scholarship opportunity, followed by the background and rationale for applying to study, and an initial account of the author’s research interests, values and beliefs.
Part Three – Research Themes is an attempt to synthesise the learning from Part One with the exploration in Part Two, with an initial exploration and literature review of research topics for consideration, and, if possible, reaching an initial position on the author’s research aims and objectives, assumptions and philosophical underpinnings for the proposed doctoral research programme.
The assignment certainly had a variety of limitations, and known weaknesses (see the title of this blog post for further info right?), but I felt these were more about where I’m at in the PhD journey, rather than anything fundamental. Focusing on the positives, the process allowed me to fully engage with new learning on research philosophies, to establish a strong consistent narrative connecting my professional practice pre-PhD with my emerging research interests in-PhD, and, most enjoyably, to review a huge amount of really interesting and engaging literature.
I’m awaiting formal feedback on the assignment, so unable to offer any further insights other than my own. Time is moving on, as is the PhD programme, so I’m taking the view it’s best to crack on regardless. However, I took steps to share a copy with my Director of Studies who was able to expertly weave feedback into a supervision session.
Research Approaches and Designs
During the week beginning 27th February I attended the second study block ‘Research Approaches and Designs’ (RAD). The module was led by Dr Adele Doran, and aimed to ‘assist you in developing a critical orientation to methodology and methods, which will be vital both for designing your own PhD research, and for evaluating existing research in your field.’
The range of topics was certainly stimulating, but for me, overall, the module did not land as successfully as Critical Thinking. I’m putting this down to timing – at the time of the study block I’d only just finished writing the assignment, and simply was not ready to assimilate an intense week of studying research methods. It is also fair to say module delivery faced a range of challenges due to staffing issues, strike days and hybrid working, and student attendance was impacted by clashes with existing teaching, study and work commitments amongst the cohort.
However, Adele did a sterling job of keeping the show on the road, and ensured all the material is now available on Blackboard to return to as required. Furthermore, the assignment is relevant and totally aligned with the overall PhD programme process, which means I’m fully motivated and engaged to complete it. Phew! The brief is to ‘critically review research philosophical perspectives relevant to your PhD research, justify the methodological stance and research design you will adopt, and discuss in detail the proposed methods of data collection and analysis, and the ethical implications of your research.’ Deadline is 16th May, so watch this space.
In early March I attended a supervision meeting with my Director of Studies Jen Smith Maguire and my supervisors Caroline Westwood and Mark Norman. We discussed the assignment, the study block, the upcoming RF1 submission, and progressing on the RAD assignment. The discussion was hugely useful, and I’d like to share the main recommendation, because it is gold dust…
Recognise both the challenge and opportunity of being so embedded in working towards a more sustainable food system, and ensure the PhD comprises of a discrete, manageable and deliverable element of this work.
This is now etched into my brain, but suffice to say back then I went on to miss the 20th March deadline to share a draft of the RF1 with my supervisors. Not ideal. This was actually the main tipping point on changing my working pattern, and learning about getting distracted… more on that next…
My 6 month deadline to submit the RF1 on 4th April seemed to arrive very quickly. Throughout March I was struggling with substantial work and family commitments, which combined with the stop start work pattern I mentioned above, was not doing me any favours. However, on reflection, I think the main challenge I had was distraction. Whilst it’s great fun (and mostly useful) to attend lots of events, do lots of networking and expose oneself to lots of new ideas and thinking, there came a point when I was like a child in the proverbial sweetshop. Too many sweets to choose from, getting overexcited, then gorging on all of them, feeling somewhat ill afterwards, and having that hangover feeling of never wanting another sweet again. All this certainly happened in the run up to the RF1 deadline. However, it seems all this was more of purge than an addiction. As the deadline approached I returned to looking at what I had produced for the Critical Thinking assignment in a different light, and was able to pull out a number of different pieces of the jigsaw, introduce some key new elements, and reassemble them altogether to compose a coherent, and much more focused picture which fitted within the constraints of the RF1. The lesson? – getting distracted must/does happen, and can be good, but can be bad, so know when to regain focus and to let your attention be recaptured fully.
For the record, here are the main sections of the RF1 as submitted. All are subject to review and change.
Yorkshire Food and Farming Events in Transition: The Evolution to Net Zero
Aims & Objectives
Critically examine the role and development of food and farming events (FFE) in Yorkshire towards achieving the UK Government commitment to net zero by 2050, specifically:
1. How FFE underpin food system (un)sustainability.
2. The potential of FFE to create spaces for meaningful participation in deliberative food system policy analysis and formulation of social imaginaries.
3. How to design FFE based interventions which translate critical action research into opportunities for deliberation, policy analysis, embedded everyday practice and impactful change in consumer perception and behaviour.
4. A deeper understanding of the role and development of FFE towards net zero by 2050.
The food system (Hawkes & Parsons, 2019) is unsustainable and sits at the heart of multiple global challenges (Global Food Security, 2021). In the UK, our food system is a mix of global, national, and local supply chains (Doherty, Benton, Fastoso, & Gonzalez-Jimenez, 2017) which fundamentally shape our present and future life (Llanos, 2020). Systems thinking is needed, because all the elements of the food system interconnect, and are highly complex, globalised, and interdependent, and therefore shared solutions to food system problems are essential.
Rethinking food policy presents major opportunities and challenges, requiring new types of food system governance (Hawkes & Parsons, 2019). Post-Brexit, UK Government policy is still under reform (House of Commons Library, 2016), food policy is highly fragmented (Parsons, 2020), and implementation (DEFRA HM Government, 2022) of the National Food Strategy (Dimbleby, H., 2021) has been very limited (Dimbleby, Henry & Lewis, 2023). The transformation of UK food and farming (Collas & Benton, 2023; Ward, 2023) is essential to achieving net zero by 2050 (HM Government, 2021; Skidmore, 2022). There are multiple programmes of research, investment, policy and governance underway to address this challenge (So & Wren, 2022), many of which are situated in Yorkshire.
Yorkshire is home to a vibrant food and drink sector and hosts an annual calendar of hundreds of Food and Farming Events (FFE), involving thousands of businesses working together, and attracting millions of people, including domestic and international tourists.
Event sustainability is a key priority for the FFE manager (Jones, 2018), with measurement methods available (Kaiser, Kaspar, & Beech, 2014), but these have limitations (Collins & Cooper, 2017) and opportunities exist to further understand and manage the capacity of FFE to make the food system more, or less, sustainable in the future.
When considering the relationship between FFE, food consumer perceptions and behaviour, and the wider food system, there is evidence of social innovation:
Facilitating Alternative Agro-Food Networks (FAAN) (Balazs, 2009; Karner, 2010) used co-operative research to analyse how policy impacts Local Food Systems including markets, food festivals, agricultural shows, farm shops, box schemes and community supported agriculture.
HealthyGrowth investigated regional organic value chains to learn how to foster cooperation and partnership (Bartkus & Davis, 2009; HealthyGrow, 2016; Lamine & Bjornshave Noe, 2017; Ostrom, De, & Schermer, ; Schermer, 2015; Stahlbrand, 2019; Stotten, Bui, Pugliese, Schermer, & Lamine, 2017; Sumner, McMurtry, & Renglich, 2014; Von Münchhausen, Häring, Kvam, & Knickel, 2017).
These innovations require new analytical frameworks (Renting, Marsden, & Banks, 2003) such as civic food networks, and greater understanding of food citizenship (Balazs, 2012; Flora & Bregendahl, 2012; Harris, 2017; Lamine, Darolt, & Brandenburg, 2012; Psarikidou, 2012; Veen, Derkzen, & Wiskerke, 2012; Zagata, 2010).
Covid-19 and post-Covid 19 caused transformative shifts in consumer perceptions and behaviour (Krzywoszynska, 2022; Wagenaar & Prainsack, 2021) and development of resilient systems (Driessen, B., 2022; Driessen, Bella, 2021; Guzman & Reynolds, 2019; Guzman, Reynolds, & Sharpe, 2019; Hammans, 2022).
There is debate around sustainability, (Adloff & Neckel, 2019; Delanty, 2020; Miller, 2020), resilience, transformation, and transition (Hölscher, Wittmayer, & Loorbach, 2018) in relation to how society responds to so-called super wicked problems (Levin, Cashore, Bernstein, & Auld, 2012) such as food system and climate change. The inherent complexity is a characteristic of living in the age of the network society (Castells, 1997; Castells, 2000a; Castells, 2000b; Castells, 2010).
Deliberative Policy Analysis (DPA) (Hajer & Wagenaar, 2003) asks the question ‘what kind of policy analysis might be relevant to understanding governance in the emerging network society?’ Interesting examples of DPA are water catchment area governance (Foster, Ison, Blackmore, & Collins, 2019) and community forestry groups in India and Nepal (Anderson, 2006), which are ecosystems, and share similar characteristics to bioregions, or food sheds, which are key food systems concepts.
Critical Sustainability (CS) (Delanty, 2020) applies critical theory as a critique of unsustainability, arguing not to reject sustainability as an ideology of late capitalism, but to reconstruct it as a critical concept, in order that unsustainability can take on a wider significance.
These new discourses pose challenges for democracy and present a crisis of public policy, requiring: a shift from positivist policy analysis to critical positivist policy analysis (Fischer, F. & Forester, 1993; Fischer, Frank & Gottweis, 2012; Hajer & Wagenaar, 2003); a politics of making and unmaking sustainable futures (Knappe, Holfelder, David Löw Beer, & Nanz, 2019); different futures of sustainability (Adloff & Neckel, 2019); a need to rethink democracy in time of crisis (Fladvad, 2021; Kelz, 2019); and a need to fundamentally shift theoretical frameworks for understanding social imaginaries (Adams, Blokker, Doyle, Krummel, & Smith, 2015; Miller, 2020).
Literature Review / Concepts and Theories – Initial phase of desk research, active networking and field visits to examine the social, political and environmental dimensions of the food and farming system in Yorkshire, and to contextualise the historic role and development of FFE within this system. High-level analysis of Yorkshire FFE sector (map, calendar, networks, policy, governance). Initial definition and categorisation of FFE activity. Develop framework to observe and record the experiential, material, and communicative dimensions of FFE.
Research Question – Explore examples of social innovation within FFE, underpinned by critical action research philosophy / practice (informed by Deliberative Policy Analysis and Critical Sustainability), focusing on FFE enterprise and management practices; the experiential, material and communicative dimensions of FFE; the capacity of FFE to connect food producers with food consumers; and FFE as instruments of food system change.
Sampling – Identify a community of innovative FFE practice for critical action research. Aim is a multi-level (hyper-local to regional) cross/intersection of FFE activity situated in Yorkshire.
Data Collection / Data Analysis – Devise, practice, observe and record FFE based interventions which enable instances within FFE to operate as temporary public(s)/space(s) for:
• Constructing, experiencing, and sharing (un)sustainability ‘imaginaries’
• Individual and collective deliberation, policy analysis, action and agency
• Transformative change around food, nature and society.
Writing Up – Reflect on findings and seek to contribute knowledge to the future role and development of FFE in transitioning to net zero by 2050.
Congratulations and thank you if you’ve read this far! Next on the agenda is completing the RAD assignment, and awaiting feedback / authorisation of the RF1.