Developing learning systems for addressing uncertainty in farming, food and environment: what has changed in recent times?

Chris Blackmore, Nadarajah Sriskandarajah, Ray Ison


Systemic approaches to managing change and dealing with uncertainty in relation to farming, food and environment have evolved over many decades.  These approaches take many forms and have been initiated by researchers, advisers, governments, NGOs, farmers, businesses and others. They include learning systems approaches that go beyond emphasising innovation and life-long learning, in appreciating a range of individual and collective perspectives.  The importance of learning, and drawing on the multiple perspectives of stakeholders to co-produce knowledge, has become well recognised in contexts ranging from organic farming to managing water catchments to robotic agriculture.   Some of the workshops and one-off events held in these contexts have built on relationships among stakeholders to evolve into longer-term inquiries and communities of practice that have adopted learning approaches and Living Labs where multiple stakeholders experiment and co-create innovations. In this paper we, the authors, who have worked on developing learning systems in a range of agricultural and environmental contexts since the 1980s, take a long-term look at what has changed over the years and what may need to change in future.  We consider how theories and practices have changed and their influences on each other.  Through reflecting on our experiences of learning systems (including those of running PhD courses for researchers alongside the International Farming Systems Association (IFSA) symposia) we review needs for systems thinking in practice (STiP) and some of the responses to these needs.  We conclude with some insights into how to design learning systems that take account of the dynamics of learning in times of uncertainty.


Learning systems, design, systemic inquiry, change, uncertainty, IFSA.


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