Innovation event jumpstarts dialogue on food, agriculture and health

By Kyeema Zerbe and Jennifer Hebets

The first ever event by the Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) struck surprising consensus in the food, agriculture and health agenda. The Challenge Definition Workshop held Oct. 29 set the stage for dialogue around such issues as crop selection, soil health, nutrition education, consumer decision-making, and technology feasibility – all under the overarching themes of health, sustainability, knowledge and governance. Next week, focus groups will deliberate the research questions behind such challenges, in preparation for the tour, hackathon and conference scheduled at the Solution Summit on December 2 and 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

Participants at the Oct. 29 IIFH Challenge Definition Workshop discussed food, hunger and innovation. Image ©Fred Greaves 2015

Participants at the Oct. 29 IIFH Challenge Definition Workshop discussed food, hunger and innovation. Image ©Fred Greaves 2015

The workshop saw the inaugural convening of many perspectives that will make up the innovation agenda. The charge for the Oct. 29 event was ambitious: define the most pressing issues facing food, agriculture and health. More than 100 participants from a unique cross-section of investors, entrepreneurs, students, researchers, and corporations represented the entire food system, from production to processing, and distribution to sale and education.

With an invigorating kick-off by  acting director Justin Siegel, and Mixing Bowl Hub cofounder Rob Trice, the event was powered by a shared vision for building uncommon collaborations and game-changing solutions to the challenges at hand. Through several rounds of active deliberation, more than 30 issues facing food, agriculture and health were narrowed down to a half dozen grand challenges. From there, a lively conversation resulted in consensus on four collective themes: health, sustainability, knowledge and governance.

The exercise proved that issues facing food, ag and health can each be defined from the perspective of those joining the conversation. The diverse participant mix revealed that such topics as undernutrition, GMOs, or technology, can be tackled from multiple angles. Therefore, it becomes necessary to establish common terms as a critical first step toward creative collaboration and consensus building.

In November, the next round of events will include Focus Group Retreats in which smaller groups of multifunctional teams will dive deeper into issues identified at the workshop. On December 2 and 3 the IIFH will host its first public Solution Summit in which hack teams, keynotes and panelists will explore innovative solutions with a broader audience.

The IIFH’s first event served as clear evidence of the much needed movement for promoting cross-sectoral collaboration to solve complex issues. The process of bringing together diverse perspectives, expertise and priorities is inevitably “messy”. However, as history has proven time and again, the greatest innovations often come from the least expected solutions.

Join the conversation by attending the next public event, the Solution Summit on December 2 and 3 – register here: http://foodaghealth.solutions/summit/

Kyeema Zerbe is Program Director for the Innovation Institute for Food and Health.

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