ACT for CFS LogoActivating Change Together for Community Food Security (ACT for CFS)

2010 – 2015


Photo The ACT for CFS project had the following objectives. Please click on the links below for an overview of activities and related resources.

  1. To assess food systems and their impact on food access in selected NS communities to enhance understanding of community food security.
  2. To examine the policy environment that impacts community food security in NS.
  3. To enhance knowledge and skills of students and partners on participatory action research, community food security, and the development of strategies for policy change through innovative and diverse learning opportunities.
  4. To critically examine our practices and processes to determine the impact on those involved in participatory action research.
  5. To mobilize knowledge gained within the case communities and beyond to support policy change that contributes to community food security.

Close to 100 project partners & community members joined us November 6th for the release of the most comprehensive report on community food security in Nova Scotia ever produced.  The participatory research report emphasizes the complexity of community food security in Nova Scotia, notes its many Graphic - Report coverinfluences, and provides a platform for action. And while the challenges are complex, the strategies to address problems of food security at the community-level are emerging.

Making Food Matter:
Strategies for activating change together
A participatory research report on community food security in Nova Scotia. November 2014
View the 2014 Report »
(PDF, 9 MB | 106 pages)

Nova Scotia is poised to be a leader in creating healthy, just and sustainable food systems.

Exploring Community Food Security
Map indicating the four Nova Scotia community case studies and host organizations involved in the research project
Map of Nova Scotia case communities

The ACT for CFS team undertook a three-phase, rigorous mixed methods participatory research approach to the data collection, analysis and integration of qualitative and quantitative data on community food security through Participatory Community Food Security Assessments in four communities in Nova Scotia – Eastern Shelburne County, Northeastern Kings County, Spryfield (Halifax), and Pictou County.

Led by local organizations with partners and volunteers, community-based researchers, trained in research methods, gathered both quantitative and qualitative data. These data were then interpreted and contextualized with other research results by communities and team members to create a rich narrative of community food security in Nova Scotia.  View the provincial report – Making Food Matter: Strategies for Activating Change Together. 

Several methods were used in collecting data at the community level, including interviews, focus groups, surveys, spatial analysis, participatory food costing (and affordability scenarios), Photovoice, and Storysharing. In addition to the research results, more information on the process, namely the participatory approaches, methods and tools, used in the Assessments is forthcoming in a companion document. Resources will be posted to the Publications and Resources page.

Policy and Community Food Security

Creating community food security is everyone’s responsibility. Its complex social, political, environmental and economic aspects means that – in order to create the conditions for lasting community food security – we must work across many different sectors (business, community, academic), as well as in multiple policy arenas. Many of the direct and indirect barriers that communities face to achieving food security can be effectively addressed through supportive policies. Building community food security also includes policies relating to organizations (e.g., community groups) and the private sector (e.g., food retailers) to shape how they influence to community food security.

We prioritized policy mapping and analysis as a key activity to better understand the opportunities and strategies needed to achieve comprehensive policy recommendations, rooted in real community needs, which will lead to more vibrant Nova Scotia communities.

Within ACT for CFS, we used a “Political Economy” approach to thinking about policy change. The Policy Working Group prepared a document to provide ACT for CFS participants with an overview of what policy is, how it is created, and how it can be changed. The paper presents a framework for analysis of community food security based in the theory of political economy, which is a way of understanding the deeper power dynamics of policy making.
Photo - Powerpoint Slide
Led by the Policy Working Group of ACT for CFS, 41 interviews were conducted (2011-2012) with a diverse range of individuals and organizations with a stake in Nova Scotia’s food systems. Particular efforts were made to engage groups often marginalized, including minority groups, farmers and fishers, as well as health, anti-poverty, and government representatives. The purpose of this research was to draw on the knowledge of these stakeholders, in combination with other reports, to identify challenges and opportunities for building community food security in Nova Scotia through collaborative policy development and change. Presented in this report, these findings have informed our understanding of opportunities to impact community food security in Nova Scotia.

Community Learning and Development
Photo - workshop flipchart
A community learning workshop explored power and privilege in research.

Innovative solutions and system change cannot happen without the input and engagement of people whose lives are affected by the issue. Involving communities affected by food insecurity in research and policy advocacy is critical for linking healthy policy with people’s everyday experiences. Working toward this goal cooperatively meant building capacity with everyone on the project team to absorb new learnings, share new knowledge, and use new skills. Building team capacity enhanced our collective ability to influence policies that build community food security well beyond the life of this project. ACT for CFS capacity building activities included supporting student engagement and learning in research and community-based activities, so that they contributed their knowledge and skills to the project, and gained experience in participatory action research, community outreach, understanding of community food security, and activities relating to policy change, knowledge mobilization, and evaluation. We also built capacity within our team (community, academic, and government partners) to work together, sharing power and responsibility, and create participatory methods and leadership approaches. The Education and Training Working Group guided capacity-building activities through the lens of community learning and development and inclusive approaches.

The Working Group also prepared a resource and tool to support working inclusively within communities for participatory action research on community food security, as well as community dialogues for change.

Evaluation and Participatory Methods

Photo - What is a powerful question? Evaluation is an important part of any project to determine if the project’s objectives are being met and being met through appropriate methods. ACT for CFS evaluation included an evaluation of both what we achieved (our outcomes) and how we did it (our process). ACT for CFS also employed an approach to ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the project as a whole (and its constituent parts) that is consistent with the social change orientation of PAR and participatory leadership. We drew on the approach of “developmental evaluation” broadly, and specifically also used the tools of “outcome mapping.” Simply put, developmental evaluation is an ongoing process to support learning and development in complex and constantly changing situations, where the end goals may be unclear, adaptation to changing conditions is required, and real time feedback is needed. “It is an approach to evaluation that embraces uncertainty and deals with complex dynamic systems.”1 These evaluation approaches can be used with traditional evaluation tools (e.g., feedback forms, surveys, interviews, focus groups, community meetings, etc.), but within a framework that helps capture both expected and unexpected results and changes. This approach fit well with our participatory principles and the complex nature of trying to change policy to build community food security.

1. Ross, Katrina. Developmental Evaluation: A Literature Review for the Evaluation Working Group. ACT for CFS. March 2012 (DRAFT)
Knowledge Mobilization

Photo - Participants in discussion at the August 2010 MeetingACT for CFS engaged more than 60 partners, each bringing expertise and experience in their field. Partners come from universities, government departments, and grassroots organizations. They were food producers, students, business people, residents and grassroots groups whose lives are affected by the issue of community food security. Because ACT for CFS included such a large and diverse project team, Knowledge Mobilization was a critical component to ensure that information and resources flow between the project and the broader community.

Knowledge mobilization is the process of getting knowledge into active service in the broader society; it is political in nature, working to influence decision-making and policy by getting the right information to the right people in the right format at the right time.

We pursue knowledge mobilization to build stronger relationships and help make research understandable and relevant to the wider community. Knowledge mobilization recognizes that different people value different Ways of Knowing and uses intentional conversations (dialogues) facilitate meaningful conversations and build capacity for policy change at multiple levels as one key approach. Knowledge Mobilization helps us to value our team’s diversity and design project activities and elements to maximize our results and learnings.