How do you measure sustainability?
Developing Vivid Picture Indicators
The Vivid Picture project is designed to build a dynamic and actionable model for a food system that supports the communities, economies, and ecosystems of California. Key to creating this Vivid Picture is the identification of the underlying principles, and indicators (benchmark measurement tools) that will allow us to measure how close we are actually getting to achieving the goals of sustainability.
Gail Feenstra, Food Systems Analyst at the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) (www.sarep.ucdavis.edu), is leading the Vivid Picture project's work on developing food systems indicators. Prior to working on the Vivid Picture, Ms. Feenstra organized food system stakeholders throughout California - farmers, farm workers, ranchers, researchers, educators, regulators, policymakers, industry professionals, consumers, and community organizations - to develop indicators in three California county bioregional "foodsheds." Placer, Alamenda, and Stanislaus County stakeholders and policymakers successfully used these indicators to showcase food system trends and identify future directions for supporting regional, county-based food systems.
Through written and oral interviews, Vivid Picture has called upon a broad spectrum of stakeholders from throughout California's food system to provide information on how a future food system might function, and to define it's underlying principles.
Interviewees include farmers, fishermen, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, restaurant owners, food service owners, institutional buyers, non-profit leaders, public agency leaders and the Roots of Change Council members.
A comprehensive review process, including convening a meeting of more than 60 food system advocates from California, has provided crucial feedback on, and clarification of, early draft principles. Attendees included a cross-section of leaders including funders, public interest advocates, business people, and university researchers.
During the meeting, small groups were formed around the potential future system principles. Each group brainstormed potential indicators of its principle, as well as for data sources. This input provided a powerful start on the on the indicator selection process.
The project team then began investigating some of the indicators and data sources that emerged from the groups. The Vivid Picture team continues to brainstorm additional indicators. The following criteria are being used in evaluating which indicators could potentially be effective, practical and usable:
An example of a principal/indicator pairing:
Potential indicators for each of the fifteen principles have been distilled, and are now being refined by a group of experts identified by the project team.
The indicators will be an integral aspect of the Vivid Pictures visioning tool. It is crucial that the visioning tool be usable; a truly functioning tool for local, regional, or county based groups.
The work of defining the indicators for the Vivid Picture has been an inclusive process. Ms. Feenstra and the project team are continually reaching out to the broader food systems community to gather input, with the ultimate goal of creating indicators that will be useful to everyone who works in the entire California food system.
We welcome input on the indicator selection process and the principles and indicators themselves. The Vivid Picture principles will be publicly listed by the end of December. We hope to release the draft indicators for peer review and public comment in Spring 2005.
Reported by Ali Edwards, Straus Communications