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Spotlight On: Supporting Systems Change to Reduce Food Loss and Waste

Community Science completed a rapid assessment for one of the largest foundations in the United States of their initiative to support systems change to reduce food loss and waste. This initiative was designed to reshape how key actors and institutions within the system perceived the problem of interest, increase the priority and attention given to that problem, develop stronger networks among key players within the system, and encourage key players and institutions to take on a greater role in addressing the problem. The initiative focused on supporting a growing national movement to raise awareness and educate stakeholders about food waste, identify promising solutions, and implement food-waste prevention and intervention strategies.

The foundation contracted with Community Science to help them understand the outcomes that manifested during the first two and a half years of implementation, what kinds of products and activities contributed to or directly produced these outcomes, and what aspects of the foundation’s and grantees’ approach facilitated or undermined the achievement of these outcomes. Community Science used a form of outcome harvesting, adapted for a rapid assessment approach, as its core methodology. The food system at the center of the evaluation exhibited many characteristics of a complex system, characterized by entangled webs of relationships and activities, and outcome harvesting was therefore seen as especially appropriate for this context.

To gather data for this assessment, we completed a review of grantee documents, a literature review on food-waste initiatives and activities, and over 30 interviews with representatives from grantee organizations and partner organizations and with bellwethers in the field. We used outcome harvesting and systems analysis to identify findings and provide the sponsor with strategic insights to support its future decision-making.

Overall, the study concluded that the initiative had shown promise in reshaping how key actors and institutions within the system perceived the problem—for example, helping to increase the momentum to reduce food waste at the local level across the United States through the funder’s place-based investments, encouraging stakeholders to act, and strengthening networks among key players in the system, particularly when considering the scale, scope, and time frame of the initiative.

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