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Transforming our food systems will require changing our innovation systems, in which organisations on agricultural research and innovation can play a crucial role. Key success factors for change can be organised into three dimensions: designing and managing transformative innovations, culture and structures of innovation organisations, and their engagement with the wider innovation ecosystem. Failures are crucial elements of innovation processes. Rapidly testing, sharing, building on, and learning from successful, and failed, innovations are key. This connects to the paradigm ‘Open Innovation 2.0’, which is widely applied in the private sector but not yet applied and evaluated for research and innovation organisations in the public sector or tertiary education. Four key principles emerge, namely big-picture action-oriented thinking, entrepreneurial organisational culture, close attention to partnerships and contexts, and diverse investment portfolios, with different levels of risk. These also imply—and require—the upstream transformation of funding and incentive systems.
Multiple social, systemic, and structural factors threaten our current food systems. Climate change is pushing us to transform these systems, not only to mitigate its impact but also to ensure food and nutrition security and pursue other ecological, social, political, and economic benefits. Research and innovation have a unique value proposition in the context of food-system transformation. By creating, reorienting, and phasing out aspects of our current research systems, we can realise their potential. We can phase out research institutions, mental models, and incentives that are siloed and that promote top-down silver-bullet thinking. Agricultural research for development can also be reorientated to food system research wherein performance is measured based on benefits to users and the ability to scale rapidly. We can also create spaces and matching incentives to catalyse action, imagine shared futures among stakeholders, and support intergenerational allyship and learning.
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