Experiences from Latvia: Local foresight workshop on school meal systems

The status and development of the Latvian school meal system was the main focus of the first local workshop by the Baltic Studies Centre-team. On the 18th of February we welcomed 19 participants to discuss the current status and developments within the school meal systems. The participants ranged from high level Ministry officials to end users  faced with changes in the school meal system; the high school pupils.

The timing of the workshop was somewhat complicated, as the beginning of 2016 saw a dramatic increase of controversy over new regulations of school meal quality aspects issued by the Ministry of Health. Thus the scenario workshop had the added value of providing the much needed safe and non-partisan meeting place for various stakeholders to try and align the diverse perspectives and agendas. Many participants noted that in the course of their professional activities they do not get the opportunity to meet some of the groups represented at the workshop and this opportunity was much appreciated. This workshop focussed on the desired goals in the school meal system, possible paths to attain those goals, and the downscaling of three EU-level scenarios to the level of the food system and school meals in Latvia.

The format of the workshop was already tested in Cardiff and Leuven and had three components: harvesting goals and setting priority by picking three goals; back-casting for the three prioritized goals; and downscaling and mapping the possible impacts of three EU scenarios on Latvia food system in general and school meal system in particular. The latter two steps were implemented after two trial runs on researchers and Master level students, but were novel to the participants. Beforehand, we presented the introduction to these new planning tools as an added value of the workshop; according to follow-ups with the participants getting acquainted with these tools was much appreciated. In the following, we briefly summarise the results of the three parts of the workshop.

Latvia process

1 Harvesting of goals and prioritisation
The harvesting of ideas was carried out in three groups, with ideas then grouped together and “coded”  by BSC team. This exercise yielded 13 goals, which participants then prioritised to arrive at four key ideas: (1) in the future key ingredients for school meals should be produced by local farmers and food industry; (2) school-goers should be capable of  making healthy choices, (3) both children and their parents should have nutrition eduction, (4) presentation of food should be attractive/suitable for school-goers.
Later on  (2) and (3) were merged, thus arriving at three top goals to back-cast. It must be added that participants could separately  note additional goals which they felt to be important (these did not reach significant support in voting), thus everyone could have a say.

2 Back-casting on the three priority goals
This was also done in three groups, developing several parallel story lines to attain the goal. Initially the logic of back-casting seemed somewhat alien to participants, but the facilitation of the BSC team helped the participants to fulfil the task quite well. The presentations of the three constellations of action stories was quite fascinating, and later on we were able to distil some common threads, focussing on promoting the following:

  • Inclusive, learning-by-doing education for school-goers on food system and healthy nutrition;
  • Increased collaboration between municipalities, caterers and producers;
  • Review of the amount and distribution on the public funding for school meals;
  • Effectively adjusting the public procurement for increased participation of local producers;
  • Balancing the advice of nutritionists and the school-goer preferences in school meals.

3 Downscaling EU scenarios to the level of Latvia and school meals
The groups worked on three scenarios: RetroEurope, the Price of Health and Fed-up Europe. The scenario descriptions were adapted for easier understanding, and the group participants started with individually considering their scenario, then discussing the way it might translate into Latvian context (post-its in one colour forming the outer, context, ring on large flip-chart paper), and then – how that context might translate into the state of the school meals (post-its in a different colour forming the inner ring on the paper). It must be admitted that the possible school meal futures turned out to be quite controversial, containing both mainstream and niche developments. Overall, imagining these futures seemed to alert participants both to the interrelatedness of European and local systems, and the strength of local traits, especially the close links between the urban and the rural characteristic for Latvia.

The second scenario workshop is scheduled for May, which will pick up some of the elements from this first workshop: We will ‘crash-test’ the back-casts (step 2) with the use of the downscaled scenarios (step 3).

Authors: Mikelis Grivins, Ilona Kunda and Talis Tisenkopfs of the Baltic Studies Centre, Latvia


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