Teaching systems thinking to the next generation of changemakers

From co-ops to intergenerational sharing of knowledge, a group of design students from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) are looking at ways to address the inequities in Tāmaki Makaurau’s current food system.

The Southern Initiative (TSI) and Healthy Families South Auckland have been working with AUT’s Design for Sustainability programme for five years and in this year’s cohort, provided mentorship to 25 students to learn systems change and utilise The Good Food Road Map to navigate the complexities of the food system and create innovative solutions for resilient local food systems.

The result is six proposals identifying solutions to make effective shifts in the way we currently, produce, consume, cook, and supply kai. The final proposals are:

  • Staple Food Co-op – a community-led co-operative store that offers premade boxes of produce at a scaled range of prices, largely depending on the recipient’s financial situation.
  • The Melting Pot – a night market focused on creating opportunities for the exchange of knowledge capital surrounding food, and access to a diverse range of good quality, culturally representative meals.
  • Better Sharing – a concept that focuses on both the sharing of food and the sharing of knowledge about food, using both land-based leaning and digital platforms.
  • Nourished Babies and Bellies – an affordable programme to educate and support expectant families to understand nutrition, cooking and wellbeing.
  • Books ‘n’ Beans – an educational programme operating from local libraries that utilises a garden space on site to provide hands-on gardening and learning opportunities for tamariki and their whanau.
  • Bupa Buddy – a proposed buddy system using retirees from local retirement village and new mothers, teaching generational knowledge around the growing and cooking of kai.

Healthy Families South Auckland lead systems innovator Julio Bin helped advise the students as they designed their proposals. He says all embraced the systems change approach with it showing through in their work.

“Food systems is a very dense and complex concept to understand over a career, let alone a university course. But these students were open to the challenge, and managed to create some very implementable ideas to support community food resilience,” he says.

“They have used the six conditions of systems changes framework in combination with the Good Food Road Map to address some of the systemic issues in the local food system. The result has been a combination of unique, yet practical, approaches to making positive shifts to the kai system.”

Senior lecturer Lisa McEwan oversees the AUT Design for Sustainability programme and has been collaborating with TSI and Healthy Families South Auckland for several years.  

She says TSI and Healthy Families South Auckland were generous with their time, helping the students to learn new methods and the impact it could make in the design process.

“A key focus each year is to get students to look outside of their own bubble and to understand an issue like food insecurity that they might not have experienced themselves. TSI has been great in introducing our students to current change makers and influencers in the South Auckland food space, helping them to get a grasp of what they’re dealing with.”

This year, the student cohort used The Good Food Road Map framework as a starting point when researching the South Auckland food system. The Good Food Road Map has been developed by Healthy Families NZ and is being adopted and implemented by organizations and community groups around the country as a framework to inform the transition to sustainable and resilient local food systems. 

Each of the student groups chose one of the ideal scenarios from the road map, which defined a particular aspect of the food system that needed shifting to achieve greater food sovereignty and security. 

“Complex information about food systems can get buried in dense reports and text books,” Lisa says. 

“Instead, The Good Food Road Map presents the issues in a much more digestible way. Each ideal scenario was summarized in a succinct statement that contained key words like ‘mana-enhancing’, ‘community-led’ and ‘supply’ that the students were able to refer back to as they worked through the research, analysis and design of their final proposal.”

Healthy Families South Auckland manager Winnie Hauraki says universities and other places of learning play an important part in growing the kaupapa of systems change to address community inequities.

“To make any transformational change it has to develop and expand over time,” Winnie says.

“Getting an opportunity to work with AUT is a chance to not only teach the next generation about systems change but also have them show us how we could continue to develop our own work now and into the future.”