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Program experience

Hear from a Complex Systems Leadership Program participant

Food Security in the City of Onkaparinga

​What was the wicked problem you worked on?  

The City of Onkaparinga chose to work on food security. Food security is defined as the ability to acquire safe, appropriate and nutritious food on a regular basis, as required to live an active and healthy life. 

​What previous work had Onkaparinga done on Food Security?

As signatories to Department of Communities and Social Inclusion’s Affordability Charter, the City of Onkaparinga has a strong commitment in sustainable responses to poverty, and has been involved in a wide range of food initiatives aimed at increasing the health and wellbeing of our community.

This focus on health and wellbeing is identified in our Community Plan, Onkaparinga 2035, which details our desire to build resilience and respect within our community. We have partnered with Flinders University, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, and the Oz Harvest NEST Program to address food security determinants including skills to prepare healthy meals, make healthy food choices, and reduce food waste.


​Why did you decide to undertake the program? 

Our Community Plan Onkaparinga 2035, Healthy Active Lifestyles Strategy and Regional Health Plan commit us to improving health and wellbeing with and for our communities. To achieve these outcomes, we support community led food initiatives that help all generations to grow and access fresh food and learn transferable skills, as well as support initiatives that redistribute surplus healthy foods to emergency food outlets.

Given our history and current strategies, the Wicked Lab program offered a structured framework to enable systems change. The program gave me the opportunity to strengthen my ability to work with our community to improve food security outcomes for those experiencing food insecurity, as well as open up a dialogue to better connect people and resources.

​What were some of the key learnings from the program and how are they influencing your work in Food Security?

The primary learning has been the ability to better define the role of local government in the food security system. Learning that governments need to take on an enabling role to support systemic change has been consistent with our approach and has given me additional confidence that I am on the right path.

The initiative characteristics have operated as a great tool of reflection and self-analysis for the food security initiatives. They have been thought-provoking and sparked conversation about new ways of doing things, or have acted as a reminder of the path that was once planned. It is becoming increasingly clear as to how the focus areas and initiative characteristics can be used to support emergence in communities

​What were some of the issues you faced in applying a complexity approach to Food Security? 

Balancing the enabling role of local government with community development principles will be an ongoing challenge. I will need to make sure that enabling does not cross over into controlling, and that we as the government administration are able to be adaptive in our responses to the community. I see our enabling role as being the initiator of a conversation, and providing the food security initiatives with the opportunity and space to come together and tackle food security in a more coordinated, coherent manner.

It would be inconsistent with a community development approach for us to fill out the score card without the input of the food security initiatives themselves. I also do not have the necessary understanding of the food security initiatives to decide whether or not an initiative possesses a specific initiative characteristic.

Successfully getting the buy-in from food security initiatives will be integral for this work to proceed.

​How has the program shaped your future plans for working on Food Security?

I am using this program as an umbrella strategy – utilising the principles of the course to guide my work. I do not have specific plans for future work in food security, as it not our role to define the direction. It will be up to the community and the food security initiatives to shape future plans.  I believe that through the planned coming together of initiatives operating in the solution ecosystem, I will begin to explore the initiative characteristics around unplanned exploration of solutions with communities, and planned exploitation of community knowledge, ideas and innovations.  

​How has the program impacted your practise as a community development practitioner?

This program is extremely consistent with community development principles. In discussions with other people, it has been pointed out that the initiative characteristics read like a list of best-practice community development philosophies. Given the response so far, the initiative characteristics have acted as a prompt for further exploration, meaning that the community is in control of the direction of their work, and are able to take from it what they need. 

​Would you recommend the program?

I would definitely recommend the program!
An understanding of complex systems leadership theories have given me more confidence in approaching communities, and has allowed me to better articulate the complexity of communities and food security within our local context. This work also helps me be more persuasive when speaking with community members who do not naturally understand philosophies around community development. 

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