Encouraging system learning in two poultry subsectors

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This article contributes to the debate on participatory approaches to bring about system changes that support sustainability and other broad innovation challenges. We report on experiences of workshops in two Dutch poultry subsectors where actors from the value chains together with a few other actors and facilitated by researchers, conducted an analysis of the structural barriers and windows of opportunity for innovation. In this way, we investigate the value of these collective system analyses in a wider approach for system innovation towards sustainable animal sectors. We expected that they would stimulate system learning among the participants: i.e. (1) recognising the multi-causality of recurrent problems, (2) redefining barriers into opportunities, and (3) designing options for collective action. The participants indeed recognised the integral and complex nature of the sustainability issues, and their commitment to sustainable development increased. However, the learning was limited in the sense that they defined few innovation opportunities and no options for collective actions. After analysing whether the workshops actively challenged the innovation barriers in the current subsectors, we conclude that the latter two dimensions of system learning seem to have been hindered by the representation of a large part of the value chains in the workshops. Our experiences provide new insights on how to stimulate a learning process geared towards overcoming lock-in in the incumbent production–consumption systems. Collective system analyses can be a relevant additional method for participatory innovation approaches. The innovation system perspective broadens the scope of the system and helps to distinguish the structures underlying current unsustainable practices. We suggest not seeking completeness by trying to bring all relevant value chain actors to the table at the same time, but rather organising multiple workshops with both value chain actors and innovating actors who operate more independently from the dominant system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • innovation systems
  • agricultural-research
  • framework
  • management
  • impact


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