Aligned Vision for the Future
From spring through late summer 2022, we undertook a comprehensive strategic planning process to chart a course for the coming few years.
This explanatory post with accompanying resources covers the following information:
Immediate (+ One-Pager)
Future Activities (+ Overview of Findings)
Near Focus and Next Steps (+ Full Strategic Plan)
The aptness of our timing turned out to be greater than anyone had realized.
Our former Director, Michaela Oldfield, initiated the planning process in late 2021, after serving in the role of backbone support staff for about six years. A strategic planning process led by the Local Food Action Team that became our Food Policy Council and its first director, Angie Carl, had guided the Council's work since the mid 2010s.
In addition to the changes that are to be expected during any period of several years, many other significant developments pointed to the need for reflection and fresh planning. These developments included the COVID-19 pandemic, several large grant projects, the addition of another backbone staff member, and growth at our Council's parent nonprofit organization, Green Umbrella. With the security of two multi-year USDA grants guiding and sustaining much of our work through September 2023, Michaela felt this would be a wise time to plan for our next steps.
Michaela ended up moving on to another organization as Green Umbrella was receiving responses to the Request for Proposals for strategic planning consulting services. However, our incoming Director, Maddie Chera, and Green Umbrella's Executive Director, Ryan Mooney-Bullock, were able to continue what Michaela initiated, contracting with Way Consulting, LLC to undertake a multi-step planning process.
We wanted to use the strategic planning process to determine the unique niche that our Food Policy Council can fill, in order to meet the needs of the community and of our partners.
Because the food system is so multi-faceted, and there are challenges at many levels and scales, there is often the temptation to try to be all things to all partners. We knew we could not effectively do that and have meaningful impacts.
We were prepared to revisit the mission and vision of the Food Policy Council, the partners we need to engage deeply, and the most effective governance and staffing structure to accomplish those goals, once we understood the most impactful direction the Food Policy Council could take. We wanted the strategic planning process to produce a two-year work plan that could set us on the path to determine how the initiative will continue to evolve in the coming years.
From the outset, an essential part of our approach to strategic planning was to seek focused input and feedback from stakeholders at multiple scales, at several points throughout the process.
Michaela initiated that approach in 2021, by presenting research by the Center for a Livable Future at John Hopkins University on the landscape and features of food policy councils across the country at one of our Full Council meetings and led us in visioning activities in another. Michaela worked with Maddie to create a shared sense among our backbone support team of how our Food Policy Council's role has changed over time and some of the possible areas where we could grow. For her part, Maddie conducted interviews with 23 stakeholders and partners in the fall of 2021, pairing reporting and evaluation for our USDA Regional Food System Partnerships grant with questions about our Food Policy Council's strengths, pain points, the kind of support and partnership desired, and suggestions for the strategic planning process.
A few partner comments from those interviews validated our undertaking:
"It feels like a good time right now to bring all the players back to the table to re-evaluate and re-engage on the large scale."
"Don't fall into the 'I've gotta boil the ocean' mindset."
"It's valuable to do a few things well."
"What's next? How do we break boundaries, how do push things? How do we change this food system?"
We also heard from those interviews with partners that the areas where they needed support from the Food Policy Council or other sources included policy and program development, connection, communication, guidance, funding, equity, and staffing.
In 2022, the backbone support team of Green Umbrella staff (Maddie and Ryan) supported the principal consultant, Lindsay Way, in conducting over 20 "deep-dive" interviews with additional stakeholders. Interviewees represented Green Umbrella Board Members and staff members, local policymakers, our food system partners (including food system advocates, public health employees, grassroots organizers, institutional purchasers, food distributors, and funders), and leaders of food policy councils in other regions. Three questions guided these interviews:
What is going well?
What are the challenges or gaps?
What inspiration can we take from our peer organizations in other parts of the country?
Lindsay also reviewed internal and external documents and research and participated in regular meetings of the Full Council and Leadership Team. She presented the plan as we developed it at both the May and July meetings of the Full Council and facilitated interactive comment and contribution sessions with all who were present.
The final plan comprises a review of this process, an overview of the current environment, an analysis of stakeholder engagement, a pairing of our current strategic positioning with feedback on our current work and reflection toward our broad five-year goals, and recommendations based on the need for capacity-building and for policy and programmatic opportunities. The plan also features a section on resources, which includes examples from other food systems organizations and how they have addressed similar organizational and thematic needs.
The broad context of our current environment in the Greater Cincinnati Region includes threats to our food system like rising development pressure, massive farm consolidation, the aging of the farming population, growing income inequality, food insecurity rates higher than the national average, and impacts of climate change.
We have opportunities on the horizon and resources to address these threats, including expanded funding through the USDA and statewide organizations like the Kentucky Food Access Network, Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association, and Ohio Food Policy Network. Our regional features include a large urban core home to many Fortune 500 companies, higher education institutions, and healthcare organizations, surrounded by farmland and strong agriculture industries. Our region also has a prominent food culture, both historical and contemporary.
Unique to Us
In addition, when we consider our Food Policy Council in reference to other food systems organizations and groups across the country, we have special assets, including:
a broad range of food systems work
nonprofit status and organizational stability through our parent organization Green Umbrella
a history of high funding success and a budget significant to cover dedicated staff time
a regional scope that has potential to address the food system where it really sits, across traditional political boundaries
a strong culture of collaboration with many partners and a foundation in collective impact
The plan identifies several needs and offers recommendations about how to address those needs. One example of a need is to engage sectors of the food system and of the larger economy not heavily involved in our work at present, including food workers, retailers, and producers.
The recommendations are categorized as capacity-building and policy and programmatic recommendations.
All of the recommendations are in service of our broad five-year goal to be a regional Food Policy Council that:
serves as the go-to forum for collaboration on food systems change in our region
amplifies needs and wins in food systems work
facilitates collaboration across sectors and geographies
operates with systems and processes that reflect shared ownership and collective impact
is a trusted source for research, advocacy, and strategy
effectively advocates for policy and systems changes
operates with diversified and stable funding sources
There were a few recommendations we were able to adopt fairly immediately through ratification by the voting Council Members actively participating in fall 2022:
rearticulating our vision
so it allows people from multiple sectors to see themselves and their work represented by the Council, highlights the urgency of building community resilience, and aligns with other organizations’ articulations of food systems work
revising statements about "how we work"
to focus on what we are positioned uniquely to do and can do well, in order to meet the needs expressed by stakeholders
aligning our policy agenda and the categorization of our areas of work
Lindsay left us with a one-page sheet summarizing the most immediately adopted recommendations of the strategic plan, along with a few next steps:
Integrating Projects Underway
The plan also includes tables laying out how our current work (existing projects underway now) maps onto our newly adopted policy agenda, and explaining what level of policy our current work addresses. For example:
under the policy area of Farms and Land Use,
our current work to support connections between food hubs/distributors and historically marginalized farmers
at the level of institutional policy
fits with the current policy priority of identifying and championing programs and policies that increase the viability of farm and food production businesses, particularly beginning and underrepresented producers.
And it includes an appendix that similarly maps suggested policy and programmatic priorities and related activities that would fit with our policy agenda, reach various levels of policy, and build on the momentum of our existing work and current landscape. For example:
under the policy area of Access and Education,
we can act at the levels of institutional and neighborhood policy and practice,
by working to amplify success stories of initiatives that help build neighborhood-level food access,
in line with the policy priority of advocating for innovative business models that support food access, particularly in underserved areas.
Lindsay created an eight-page brief reference document that serves as an Overview of Findings and includes these highlights.
Near Focus and Next Steps
Some of the key short-term milestones that we have been working on since the strategic planning process wrapped include:
hosted by the USDA and other partners, to enhance our impact specifically insofar as we represent and serve a region
increasing backbone staff capacity in areas of communications and network-building
by hiring someone who could help us engage with all parts of the food system across the region and communicate across various audiences
expanding membership structure and (re-)building a decision-making process
so that there are defined roles with clear responsibilities, capabilities, and processes for action
recruiting new members
so that our Food Policy Council consists of community influencers from all walks of life, all sectors of our food system, and all parts of our ten-county region
building on the momentum from recent wins
to identify new opportunities for policy advocacy at multiple levels (institutional, municipal, state, and federal) and for programmatic projects
Our implementation of the plan in the medium-term will involve capacity-building through a communications strategy and a diverse financial strategy for longer-term sustainability. We will look to the Council, relaunched in structure and governance procedures, to make decisions on our policy advocacy and programmatic undertakings, based on the recommendations included in the plan and response to the ever-evolving needs of our region.
Review the entire plan below, and stay tuned for updates!
⚒️ Get involved in our work and help us implement this plan!