Accepted Paper:

T-labs as transformative spaces: the case of alternative food networks in the Western Cape, South Africa  


Laura Pereira (City University of London)
Olive Zgambo (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
Scott Drimie (University of Stellenbosch)

Paper short abstract:

Two T-labs on alternative food networks were held in South Africa. This paper interrogates the messiness of convening transformative spaces and their potential for invigorating systemic change to sustainability. It describes the process, learnings and outcomes that the process elicited.

Paper long abstract:

This paper describes a Transformation lab (T-lab) process on alternative food networks that was convened in the Western Cape, South Africa in 2016 and 2017. In particular it talks to how novel research approaches are being developed to forge new alliances and forms of inclusive and creative collaboration around sustainability. T-labs are 'safe-enough' spaces where diverse people working a specific complex and systemic challenge are brought together to see the system differently, redefine problems and identify opportunities for innovations to instigate transformative change. We held two T-labs around the questions: What is the viability of linking alternative food actors into the mainstream without losing the integrity that makes them alternative? How do we build relationships that enable alternative food systems to grow? As facilitators, we learnt exponentially about how messy convening such diverse and contested processes could be, but also how rewarding it is when they go right. We struggled with the T-lab being defined by participants as a 'Western concept' and adapted the methodological approach significantly for the second lab. As such, this was a markedly more successful gathering where new alliances were forged, active collaborations were agreed on and even some policy suggestions emerged- such as the design of a food charter. This paper will describe the T-lab process and the learnings that emerged about convening such 'transformative spaces' referencing data that was collected by one of the co-authors for her masters thesis.

Panel C28
Meetings over and around food