Topic: Innovations for a sustainable agriculture and food sector: An integrative innovation model
Keywords: innovation processes; innovation management, small and medium enterprises (SME); sustainable land management
Despite the increased efficiency through differentiation of markets and division of labor, food systems are also confronted with large negative social and environmental impacts. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the agriculture and food sector have the potential to (further) develop innovative solutions to contribute to sustainability but are often faced with limited resources, expertise and the complexity of the context they operate in – remaining in a niche. Moreover, there are currently few instruments for SME with most models being very complex and targeted at companies, which often have their own innovation departments. In a multi-stage process within a transdisciplinary research project, we developed an integrative innovation model that connects different socioeconomic aspects with concrete challenges in innovation management practice. The model relates six themes to each other which are all key to, but so far often overlooked or difficult to manage in innovation processes in the agriculture and food sector, namely acceptance and participation, cooperation, knowledge management, marketing, and sustainability assessment. Addressing these themes contributes to co-developing sustainability, innovation and implementation targets and allows to generate knowledge to be able to assess the innovation and develop a viable operational model. Our interdisciplinary team followed a methodologically constructivist iterative approach accompanying two case studies throughout the different phases of an innovation process thus allowing us to connect the analytical with the practical level. We used a dual approach by simultaneously developing tools for innovation management challenges identified in the two case studies. We developed tools transferable to other innovation processes for each of the themes and drawing on experiences with tool tests applied in the two cases of niche innovations. The first case deals with the development of sustained value chain for ethical poultry husbandry and the second case aims at the combination of different niche innovations for cultural landscape conservation. Through continuous documentation of the tool development process, participatory observation, reflection of tool tests and team integration work, and a working group of the authors, we developed a model that allows users to reflect and work on their innovations from different angels at different degrees of depth. Furthermore, concurrently considering different themes supports actors in a coordinating role in the agriculture and food sector by making heterogeneous actor settings accessible to planning, steering and evaluating innovations. Finally, our model allows for better harnessing the potential of local actors to contribute to the sustainability of the agriculture and food sector.