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Educating the next generation of professionals in the agrifood system

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NEXTFOOD (Educating the next generation of professionals in the agrifood system)

Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-04-30

Education plays a key role to meet the threats of climate change and to support a transition to more sustainable production of food and other bio-based products. Through education for sustainable development students become better equipped to link societal and economic activities to environmental issues, which helps prepare the future workforce to reflect on and deal with societal challenges. Not only should education prepare students for work, they should also be able to link production, economic, and societal issues with environmental degradation and be ready to take responsible action that will contribute to a more sustainable world.

Developing educational programs in line with the Nextfood approach is a comprehensive and complex task, as demonstrated by the findings partly presented in this report and fully in various project deliverables. As shown by the cases’ different takes on and experiences with action learning, the approach needed to be adapted to each specific case and context. Implementing the action learning approach through action research also implied remaining open to continuously improving the educational programs. Wider application of the action learning approach needs more institutional support and appropriate legislation framework at all levels (from educational institutions to the EU).
Competences needed for future professionals
The main findings point towards a need for skills to deal with complex and wicked problems, and to adapt to and live with changes, whether coming from climate changes, technological developments or new strategies related to farming, the food system in general or the markets.

The Nextfood Audit tool
The Audit Tool was designed to to help educational actors to identify these gaps by assessing how their programs, modules, courses, and other educational activities perform in relation to competence areas identified in the inventory of skills. Simultaneously, the tool encourages individual and/or group reflection on various ways to develop educational activities further, in accordance with the inventory. This will provide educational actors insight regarding their capacities to contribute towards developing a next generation agri-food and forestry professionals. The final outcome in the format of an online audit tool for implementing and reflecting sustainable agro-food relevant competences in educational and learning processes have been published and made public accessible within the project period https://audit-tool.nextfood-project.eu/startpage

Facilitating educational case studies
To support the transformation of educational systems in the agrifood and forestry sector towards sustainability, NextFood designed a “roadmap”, to be used by course leaders, educational managers and teaching practitioners who want to drive change in education for sustainability in agrifood and forestry systems (See attached Figure From D1.3-roadmap for action-oriented sustainability education). The roadmap is made also available as a book format at the NF website: https://www.nextfood-project.eu/roadmap-for-action-learning/


Development of action-oriented learning approaches
Action learning happens in the complex world outside the classroom in agri-food and forestry systems. When the learning arena is in the field, extra-university stakeholders also gain experience and training in the competences needed for sustainable development. Yearly each case has produced an annual case development report on the process of transitioning towards the Nextfood approach. The content of these reports served as data for cross-case analysis that informed the yearly reports on educational strategy. Figure 1 (attached) shows the key characteristics of what we refer to as the vision of the NextFOOD approach. The illustration shows the external and internal dimensions of the vision. The external dimension consists of the different educational activities and the contexts in which they take place. The internal dimension consists of two layers, where the upper layer is the overall educational approach that drives the external activities. The underlying knowledge philosophy layer describes the assumptions that inform the pedagogical approach and the external activities.


Assessing the societal impact of practice-oriented research
A main output of NextFood is a ready-to-use framework for evaluation of practice-oriented research in the agri-food and forestry sectors, focused on societal impact and practical usefulness rather than on scientific excellence only. The NextFood Sustainability Impact Framework is relevant to agriculture, food, and forestry researchers and stakeholders, participants in EU-funded projects in these areas, and actors in agri-food and forestry education.
Societal impact of the NextFood research
To what extent the NextFood cases contributed to a food system transformation is difficult to assess, but the cases had a direct impact by the co-creation of knowledge in relation to real sustainability problems and by sharing nature-friendly practices in each community of practice, and through the competences learners developed necessary to take responsible action for sustainability in their professional lives. The various outputs of NextFood contribute to scale-up the NextFood educational model, which could potentially transform the educational system on a broader scale (see table 1).


Conclusion
Developing educational programs in line with the Nextfood approach is a comprehensive and complex task, as demonstrated by the findings partly presented in this report and fully in various project deliverables. As shown by the cases’ different takes on and experiences with action learning, the approach needed to be adapted to each specific case and context. Implementing the action learning approach through action research also implied remaining open to continuously improving the educational programs. It appears that the Nextfood approach and similar approaches could be used as guidelines to implement action learning but should still give actors space for alternative takes on the approach. While it appeared that having students involve in real-life casework allowed them to practice and develop sustainability competences, it was in some cases difficult for the learners to understand and distinguish the core competences trained, from other skills or everyday activities. Besides, a major challenge faced by teachers when making the shifts towards the Nextfood approach was the lack of time, as it implied becoming facilitators and spending more time on educational activities and case development. Moreover, the involvement of stakeholders was both a major challenge and source of support and inspiration.


Suggestions for further research
Our findings suggest that further research should be done on how to adapt the Nextfood approach or similar approaches to a diversity of cases. More research is also needed on how to facilitate the development of sustainability competences for a diversity of students. Moreover, further research should investigate how educational institutions can facilitate the implementation of action learning in their educational programs, what it would take to implement the Nextfood approach at a whole-institution level. Moreover, future research should investigate the assessment framework real societal impact by following up outcomes of research project several years after they have ended.