Karolien Niederer has extensive knowledge and experience of innovation, communication and strategy in the field of major transitions and complex systems. Previously gained in the field of labor market communication, she is now committed to the food transition at Foodvalley NL. Niederer: “Foodvalley is located in Wageningen. We have been working on the food transition for 20 years and our goal is to have a clear picture by 2050 of how healthy and affordable food will be available for 10 billion people on our planet. We mainly focus on the practice, the people in the field. And that’s a diverse field, but highly involved, each with their own specialisms. Only together can we make great progress. It’s not just the farmer or the supermarket that needs to change, it’s about the entire system: “from farm to fork”. Typical for major transitions is that it takes a long time. Across entire generations, because the real change takes time. One of our roles is to find out what the different experiences and views are, and connect the stakeholders with each other and with each other’s different perspectives. To make sure they start speaking the same language. We do this by asking carefully structured open-ended questions. We want to achieve collective understanding and collective intelligence to realize Foodvalley’s goal. We have used the online dialogue & co-creation of CircleLytics for this.”

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Determine language via the dialogue

Niederer: “We communicate both offline and online. Offline is slower than online communication, and usually less inclusive, interactive and reflective. For example, we once interviewed 120 individuals to arrive at a shared understanding of a complex issue re food transition. It is hardly possible to do that together in an interactive, learning, adaptive way. So, learning from each other, influencing and enriching each other’s thought formation has been very limited. Due to the complexity of the subject and the diversity of stakeholders, it is valuable to let people talk to each other, so that they learn from each other and knowledge and perspective, and therefore intelligence, evolve. The strength lies in bringing expertise together, interacting and moving forward together. We want to appeal to the collective intelligence of this diverse group, which is usually tens of percent higher than the sum of the intelligence and ideas of the individuals. Everyone sees topics from a specific, own angle and the dialogue brings all those angles together in a process where the group’s collective angles emerge. If we use the online dialogue, we get (mainly) qualitative results that show which angles are widely supported by the group of participants, or are clearly rejected by the group. The time available for the rounds of dialogue and the anonymity make it easier for people to share their opinions and even formulate them more emphatically than in a physical meeting. The second round quickly shows which opinions are widely supported and the explanatory notes explain why. The online dialogue removes barriers for people to let go of their previous opinions and learn from others, and be inspired by the most meaningful opinions.

Also read what other organizations achieve with CircleLytics Dialogue, such as Hogeschool van Amsterdam: “Thanks to the contribution of The Growth Lab and CircleLytics Dialogue, we as a sub-council gained a better insight into what our teachers think of this complex issue. Questioning the teachers was important to the project in order to identify the question behind the question and thus address the actual problem rather than just the symptoms. This made it possible to convince management and steering group of possible and feasible scenarios.” Read more.

A good example from one of our dialogues is how people from various disciplines see the word ‘investment’. One talked about a financial thing and another indicated that it is also about time and energy that you put into something. Investments are about trust in each other, a good relationship and yes, also a financial commitment. It would have been more difficult for us to figure that out otherwise. This is also part of my point of ‘speaking the same language’ and learning from each other’s language and interpretations. This, to come to one narrative.”

Collective action

Niederer continues: “We also get the sentiment about an issue from the results of the online dialogue. There are also surprising insights into shared opportunities and obstacles. This is an important start, because everyone must speak the same language in order to arrive at a joint approach, for example. We put the right people in touch with each other, they collect ideas and develop them together. This results in initiatives in which organizations that work closely with the various experts get to work in practice: testing, monitoring and analysis. It is precisely this collective action that follows on and through the dialogue that is important for a successful sustainable solution for the food transition.

The biggest challenge remains to convert collective intelligence into collective action to progress food transition: what is the right dosage for the right solution? And is that in behaviour, technology, training people or a combination of these? A start-up involved in an initiative often has different goals than a corporate or a province. Everyone has to work together, enter into dialogue in order to arrive at a supported solution and steps to take. We therefore continue to involve the entire field, repeatedly: we stay in dialogue. We can only solve these complex issues together. That starts by identifying the real issue and everyone’s role in solving it.”

Partnership with CircleLytics

Foodvalley has used the online dialogue multiple times and plans to continue to use it regularly. Niederer: “We like the method. We continue to need a lot of coordination and input, now and in the future, and the output provides us with valuable information and a valuable dialogue and learning process with the group. The collaboration with CircleLytics is going smoothly. They also keep moving forward and regularly make new additions to the dialogue platform. Innovating together is what we like to see in a collaboration partner.”

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