The Summit Dialogues Method

Food Systems Summit Dialogues provide an opportunity for diverse, purposeful and respectful exchanges between food systems stakeholders. The Dialogues convene a diversity of stakeholders; at all times taking into account the principles of engagement of the Food Systems Summit. This page details key aspects of the Dialogues method, however, please refer to the Reference Manual for Convenors for more details.

The method proposed for the Dialogues is designed to ensure that each Dialogue:

  • Engages a diversity of participants from across various sectors with Food Systems;
  • Uses a standardized format, enabling purposeful and productive discussions;
  • Has a clear focus and offers topics for discussion that relate to the objectives of the Summit;
  • Leads to the collation of qualitative and quantitative outcomes which are fed back to the Summit secretariat.

Each Dialogue event has:

  • A Convenor who is responsible for planning, organizing and executing the Dialogue. The Convenor is ultimately responsible for the final submission of the official Dialogue Feedback form.
  • A Curator who presides over the event including welcoming participants, introducing high-level guests and describing the purpose of the Dialogue. The Curator will subsequently summarize the outcomes from the different discussion groups.
  • A Facilitator per discussion group ensuring that all participants have an opportunity to contribute meaningfully and have their perspectives listened to by others.
  • Participants engage purposefully with open exchanges and are expected to listen to each other and be open to the co-existence of divergent points of view.

Diversity of Participants in each Dialogue

A Dialogue is run in a way that promotes the inclusion of all stakeholders and reflects the reality that food systems affect all people. A Dialogue should involve a variety of invited participants, drawn from different groups of stakeholders who have a range of roles within food systems. The Convenor’s main task is to bring together groups of people who reflect this stakeholder diversity and engage with purpose.

Within each locality, Dialogues build on the experience, knowledge, interest and initiatives of the stakeholders. They expand and enrich existing processes and explorations. They are moments for participants to meet together and make connections with other stakeholders who have different perspectives ways to address on food systems challenges.

The Convenor appreciates that the perspectives of participants may be influenced by many factors including their nationalities, communities, enterprises, livelihoods, associations, professions, responsibilities affiliations, and more. The Convenor ensures that there is space available in the Dialogues for those who might not normally expect to be at such events.

The format of a Dialogue event

A Dialogue event features two core elements:

  • Discussion Session when discussions take place in smaller groups
  • Summary Session by each group Facilitator for all participants

Although there is no optimal size or duration, the objective should always be meaningful exchanges between all participants.

  • Recommended duration of event: 2.5 – 4 hours (with at least 60-minutes for Discussion session)
  • Recommended number of participants: 30 – 100 but can be more depending on the type of event.
  • Recommended size of Discussion Groups: 8-10 members per group.
  • Recommended frequency of Dialogues: Dialogues are most valuable when there are several in a series.

Click here to understand what to expect from a typical Food Systems Summit Dialogue event

Facilitating purposeful discussion

During each Dialogue participants are encouraged to explore how their food systems should function by 2030. They do this in Discussion Groups. The participants in each Discussion Group are carefully selected with a view to ensuring diversity. The Discussion Groups each receive a Discussion Topic which indicate a vision of food systems in the future.

Members of each Discussion Group are offered some questions to prompt their discussions. These prompt questions encourage an emphasis on what should happen in the coming three years to achieve the vision of the future as set out in the Discussion Topic.

If the participants in a Discussion Group are meeting face-to-face they sit together around a small table at the Dialogue event venue. If they are meeting virtually, they can take advantage of the breakout room facilities available in internet-based video-conferencing services (such as zoom, teams or similar.

At a Dialogue event each Discussion Group meets for at least 60 minutes. Members of Discussion Groups discuss, debate and explore issues related to the Discussion Topic.

A Dialogue Facilitator is appointed to support the exploration and exchanges in each Discussion Group. The Facilitator ensures inclusive participation and encourages the development of Dialogue outcomes. The role of the Facilitator in the Discussion Groups is important to ensure all voices are heard and respected.

Discussion Topics

The Discussion Topic given to each Discussion Group is usually a statement which briefly indicates how food systems will function in 10 years’ time. It is an ambitious projection of the future and it cannot be achieved through immediate action. It provokes the participants in the Discussion Group to think beyond the current situation and to imagine something that is altogether better. The Discussion Topic acts as a common objective for all the participants in the Discussion Group, encouraging them to move beyond their current affiliations and preoccupations. It offers a common challenge to members of the Discussion Group and helps encourage a shared purpose.

Without an ambitious and forward-looking Discussion Topic there is a risk that participants in a Discussion Group will simply recycle existing thoughts and restate well-established positions. Considering pathways to a better future can, at times, be uncomfortable. It is, however, a vital step in shifting existing patterns of thought and identifying actions that are necessary.

A few examples are presented below:

  • National agriculture and food policies promote the production of affordable nutritious, sustainably produced food while remunerating fairly all farmers and food workers.
  • Comprehensive traceability systems and appropriate labelling ensure all consumers have access to clear, reliable information about how and where food is produced, empowering them to make informed choices.
  • Nationally Determined Contributions to climate action (NDCs) are based on nature-positive agriculture practices that are developed and tested by farmers
  • Fair, safe and sustainable supply chains ensure a responsible use of natural resources and
    a reduction of food loss and waste, making sustainability the easy choice for consumers.
  • Trade policies (import and export) facilitate access to affordable, safe and nutritious food for all, while contributing to countries’ economic and commercial objectives, as well as resilient livelihoods for food producers.

Prompt questions

Prompt questions are designed to help members of a Discussion Group explore their Discussion Topic. They encourage participants to identify the actions which, if implemented in the next three years, will have the greatest impact in achieving the future state (as set out in the Discussion Topic). The prompt questions help the Discussion Group to focus on what can be achieved in the current context. Without the prompt questions and careful facilitation, the members of a Discussion Group may find themselves talking at cross purposes or caught up in hypothetical scenarios. Examples of prompt questions are presented below:

A few examples are presented below:

  • Who will need to be involved?
  • What actions might be needed?
  • How will these actions come to fruition?
  • What impact could these outcomes have throughout the whole food system?
  • How could my organization support these changes?
  • What are the tensions we have identified and how can we manage them?

Summary Session: Sharing reports of Discussion Groups

By the end of the Discussion Session, members of each Discussion Group will have started to identify the actions that, if implemented in the next three years, will have the greatest impact on achieving the future state that is set out in the Discussion Topic. They will also consider how to assess progress towards this vision, who needs to be involved in getting there and the kinds of challenges that will need to be navigated along the way. At the end of the Discussion Session the points of agreement will be shared with the other Discussion Groups. Points of divergence will also be identified and shared. The Facilitator prepares a report of what was discussed in the Discussion Groups using the Facilitator Discussion Group Template.

A recommended rule for open discussion

When a certain level of anonymity can be promised, people speaking are more likely to be open and honest with what is said. This is important for the richness of the discussion and the value of the Dialogue. Therefore, information disclosed during a Dialogue event may be reported by those present, but the source of that information many not be explicitly or implicitly identified.

This rule is sometimes referred to as the “Chatham House Rule”.

The Convenor decides if this rule is in place at their Dialogue event and it should be communicated on the day to all Participants by the Curator.