Modularity in Intersectoral Research/Action Collaborations for Food Systems Transformation: Lessons from the FLEdGE Community-Engaged Network
Canadian Food Studies / La Revue canadienne des études sur l alimentation
How can academics and community practitioners better collaborate to overcome the existing barriers? What role can intersectoral research collaboratives play in supporting, enhancing, and sustaining the impact of community-engaged research? In response to these broad questions, this paper shares insights from the Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE) community-engaged research network, a collaborative, interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners that crossed sectors,
... and geographies. The FLEdGE research program ran from 2015 to 2021, and built on over a decade of academic and community partnerships to assess the current and potential role of food initiatives as pillars for sustainable transformation. Our mixed-methods study draws on data from a social network analysis survey, summary reports, semi-structured interviews, and reflections from the authors who were all active members of the network. Our findings reveal that beyond making theoretical and practical contributions to food systems scholarship and initiatives in the participating regions, FLEdGE played an important role in building food movements across Canada and beyond. We describe this as a modular approach, an organizational structure in which multiple units (or modules) operate independently while also sharing enough commonalities that allow them to be interrelated, modified, and reconfigured in diverse and dynamic ways. We argue that intersectoral research networks adopting a modular approach require interdisciplinarity and collaborative methodologies, but also flexibility and critical reflexivity. In addition, we underscore that setting objectives, both overarching and tactical, requires a negotiated approach, particularly when budgetary administration resides within an institutional partner.