Context and history of the Dutch case study

The Dutch case study explores transformative and transgressive learning (t-learning) in a community initiative in the Hague, the Netherlands, which focuses on sustainability around the  (local) food system. The foundation ‘Local Food The Hague’ was set up two years ago as the formal umbrella for the various activities that were evolving and finding a home in a former gymnastics hall near the city centre. Currently, Local Food the Hague hosts six initiatives in ‘The Gym’: ‘Lekkernassuh’ (translated as ‘Good Munching’), a weekly vegetable market where members pick up a basket with fresh local organic produce; De Volkskeuken (‘The Community Kitchen’), providing a weekly dinner after the market; The Conscious Kitchen, an initiative that raises awareness about food waste by collecting leftover food from the city market and preparing a weekly meal open for everyone (on donation base); Timebank cc, a community currency to share skills, services and knowledge using ‘time’ as the currency instead of money; 7MRP a young theatre group focusing on strengthening society by working on themes such as belonging, cohesion, understanding and tolerance; and Music in Transition, a social experiment combining performances, workshops, music and food. Increasingly the various initiatives within the Gym are collaborating and co-creating events together.

This case study is based on the methodology of action-research, and focuses on all activities taking place in the context of Local Food The Hague. This includes internal T-learning events in the foundation itself, T-learning in the relationship with other actors (local government, farmers, consumers and users of the Gym, as well as T-learning taking place in the Gym as an ‘intentional embodied transformative space’. For more background on the Dutch case see also the full description of the project here and the blogs Lekkernassuh: Where food is an excuse to change the world and ‘Understanding the effect of social systems on food loss and wastage’.

Initial processes of engagement

The coordinator of the Dutch case, Cristina Temmink, has been an active member and volunteer of Lekkernassuh since 2015 and has supported various internal learning and planning processes. She is also a core-team member of the Foundation Local Food The Hague. Her roles as co-facilitator and connector between the various communities and the core team is gradually taking shape in collaboration with other active members of the initiative. Recently, a T-learning team has been set up, wherein the coordinators of Lekkernassuh and Timebank cc (Sebastiaan van Zaanen and Sara Pape) will follow learning through experimenting with integrating the community currency of Timebank cc with Lekkernassuh volunteering. Liane Lankreijer and Heidi van Hoof will do the same in the broader relationships of the foundation with consumers, local government and local farmers. In particular in the latter group we are still in the process of establishing and strengthening relationships for making this learning possible. Also, as members of the core team, Liane, Sebastiaan and Cristina will be reflecting on t-learning events/processes in an experiment with new ways of (self)-organisation within Local Food The Hague and The Gym. Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR) is one of the main partners in the global T-learning project, and will be provided with all material, information and data resulting from workshops and reflections in order to do the more rigorous academic research and comparison with other projects.

Matters of concern and methodologies

Already before the community became part of the global T-learning process, there was an intention to create a City Lab. This was envisioned as a space for experimentation where different models and tools for interaction, collaboration and collective learning are used to prototype ideas for a healthy localised food system based on different (economic) values and ways of relating to one another. Three main lines of interest were identified: transforming the local food system towards a sustainable food system (this could be considered the overarching question and purpose), 2) integrating circular economy principles and new concepts of value creation into this system (as the current economic drivers are considered destructive for both the local food system, the environment and relationships), and 3) transitioning towards fundamentally new ways of organisation (experimenting with participatory leadership, Expressive Change, and Sociocracy, among others). The latter experiment is motivated by the idea that hierarchical systems of governance do not seem to be  facilitating actions to address complex social processes where emergence, trust and learning are crucial to finding sustainable ways forward. A recent article making a link between social dominance theory and views and attitudes towards environmental issues inspires this organisational experiment.

So far, learning has been deeply personal for the core team members. At the end of 2016, some members participated in a short online course exploring the concept of ‘Expressive Change’, which refers to organisational embodiment of vision making (what does it mean to ‘be the change’?) This learning process included online readings, which were combined with offline actions and reflections. What soon became apparent was that hierarchical systems are deeply ingrained in our thinking and actions, which manifests in an urge to ‘control’ others and events. Surfacing and addressing this has been an ongoing painful and sometimes conflictive process. At the same time we are realising that in order to address ‘sustainability’ at the broader societal systems level, we need to unpack this concept as an experience at multiple interwoven levels (from personal to relational, to the space of The Gym, the city, the food system, etc.).

The above is also immediately interconnected with how we organise ourselves and how we manage The Gym: Is this on the basis of trust, opportunity and co-creation? Or fear, control and separation? One of the observations so far has been that some of the core team members are conscious of these questions, are learning about themselves and are having conversations about how to create a space that ‘embodies’ our talk and is inviting for others to step in. At the same time, the wider community of users and visitors of The Gym may have good intentions to take care of the space and to contribute, but in practice they do not always feel free to do so. Partly this seems to have to do with lack of time (they ‘have to make a living’) and with a need to get ‘permission’. Also, core-team members are strained as well in their contributions because of a ‘survival’ mode. The arising circular economy systems are not yet strong enough to compensate the loss of income in comparison to ‘normal work’. This makes the lifestream in the collective weak.

Another observation which has been coming up in meetings and conversations relating to the space has been about ‘collective rules’. How do you make these together and keep them? The desire and intention to be an ‘open space’ makes it uncomfortable for people to address antisocial or undesired behaviour. For example: during the summer groups of users regularly irritated neighbours with making too much noise late in the evening. Although everyone agreed this should not happen, no one seemed to feel in a position to address this on the spot.

Expansive learning potentials

One of the upcoming projects is to learn with farmers and consumers about their relationship through systemic constellations work. In theory, farmers and consumers like to work together and have the same purpose in a short supply chain like ours. In practice, however, the relationship tends to be purely economic: cheap vegetables for consumers and more income for farmers because of higher prices than when they sell to a supermarket. We have approached some farmers who are interested to reflect on what is happening in this relationship and to identify leverage points for change towards more authentic engagement of community supported agriculture. The first step will be to create a small learning circle with farmers and consumers, using a counselling relationship method.