SHIFFT: Supporting Holistic “Innovation” and the diFFusion of Agroecolgical innovaTion

Funder: British Academy and the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience

Project Team: Chris MaughanColin Anderson and Michel Pimbert


Beginning in January 2018 (and running to December 2020), this project will look at how processes of ‘innovation’ in agroecology and food sovereignty – what does it look like, is it different from other innovation approaches, and how do agroecological innovations spread around? The goal is to support farmers, communities and social movements in developing approaches to innovation that can help to develop agroecology as an alternative paradigm to corporate-industrial agriculture (see ‘The Nyeleni Declaration’ 2015).

Agroecology is now widely acknowledged as a key sustainability development framework, yet the dominant economic system is locked into a narrow theory of innovation, focusing on technocratic, top-down approaches. By analysing the bottom-up processes of horizontal knowledge exchange and interactive innovation in agroecology networks, this project will present a more holistic theory of innovation that can better harness the economic, social, cultural and political processes needed to develop a just and sustainable food system.

In pursuit of this aim, we will:

  1. engage in participatory research with up to four European case studies who are leading agroecological innovation processes to analyse and support grassroots innovation in the context of multi-scale governance;
  2. examine the processes by which grassroots innovations move around or are ‘diffused’ and how they are implemented in different places based on the particular context of that place;
  3. analyse the how innovation is framed and used in agriculture policy and what the implications are for agroecology;
  4. examine bottom up processes of agroecological innovation can be best supported by policy and research.


  1. Develop a new conceptual framework and typology of innovation in agroecology that reflects community economies theory and is inclusive of the wide range of alternative economic, social, cultural, ecological and political innovations in agroecology
  2. Better understand how grassroots agroecological innovations, emerging from the bottom up in community economies, can be nourished, diffused and scaled up through collective learning and innovation networks
  3. Examine how top-down and bottom-up agricultural knowledge systems, including policy and research processes, can interact to support grassroots innovation systems
  4. Use a networked transmedia knowledge mobilization strategy to ensure the outcomes of this research have a significant impact on the policy, practice and science of innovation.

Research Questions

  1. Is ‘innovation’ a useful term for agroecological social movements?
  2. What are the characteristics which distinguish agroecological innovations from innovations in other sectors/mainstream/top-down contexts?
  3. What are the patterns of diffusion for agroecological innovations?
    1. The history of how they emerged?;
    2. What were the mechanisms of diffusion?;
    3. How did these innovations change when adopted in different places?
  4. Where does innovation intersect with other issues of emergent importance to Agroecology (popular education/politics of difference/gender/intersectionality/social justice)?


The European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network (EAKEN)

A precursor to this research consisted of a collaboration with the European Coordination Via Campesina(ECVC) to research the possibilities for, and eventually to establish, a network for agroecological training and learning in Europe. The project was a deliberate response to the Nyeleni Declaration, specifically its recognition that;

Our learning processes are horizontal and peer-to-peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation, research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding

This research culminated in the founding of EAKEN at Nyeleni Europe in October 2016. The Network has met several times since, most notably in Dorset UK in February 2017, during which a declaration on agroecological learning was written (‘The Monkton Wyld Statement’). This Network and its approach to agroecology leanring and innovation will continue to play an important role in the development of the SHIFFT project.

For a research brief on initial findings of the Network click here.

For information about the network see the website managed by ECVC, featuring a map of participating initiatives, and a repository of resources for agroecological learning.


Anderson, C., Maughan, C. Bernhart, A., Friso, J., Thomas, K. (2018). Farm Hack. Agroecology Learning for Transformation – Pedagogies, Tools and Dynamics Series. European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network. Available at:

Anderson, C., Maughan, C. Vizy, M. (2017). Developing a European Agroecology Learning and Training Network. Research brief. Available in French, English and Spanish. Produced by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience and the European Coordination of Via Campesina.

ECVC. 2017. ‘Monkton Wyld Statement on Agrecology Knowledge Exchange’. ECVC.

Maughan, C., Anderson, C., Bernhart, A., Friso, J., Thomas, K. (2018). Learning as a Social Movement Strategy. Agroecology Learning for Transformation – Pedagogies, Tools and Dynamics Series. European Agroecology Knowledge Exchange Network. Available at:

Nyeleni. 2015. ‘Nyéléni 2015 – Declaration Of The International Forum For Agroecology’. Nyeleni – Forum for Food Sovereignty.

TYT Citizen Agroecology Project: The Meaning and Practices of a Community Support Peasant Bakery

The Basics

Are you interested in getting involved in a citizen science project and getting a first-hand experience of research into sustainable agriculture?

Torth-y-Tir (TyT)and the Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience (CAWR) are teaming up to document the development of one of agroecology’s most exciting innovations – heritage bread, grown, milled and baked in Wales, with community support.

This idea is completely new in the UK so we need the community’s support to investigate:

THE PROCESS: how do specific agroecological methods impact on crop yield, biodiversity, and soil health?

THE PRODUCT: how nutritious is the bread and what does it taste like?

-THE EXPERIENCE: what does it mean to belong to and participate in TyT?


What will it involve?

Participants will work together with CAWR researchers to design and implement a research project that will answer important questions about TyT, its farming practices, environmental impacts, bread production, and what being part of a CSA means.

Though the exact details of the project have yet to be set (they will be set by us!), you can expect to get involved in setting research questions, conducting field trials, gathering qualitative data about the meaning and practices of the TyT community, and writing up results.

Why are we doing this?

This project has emerged from conversations with TyT members and directors at the AGM in March 2018 and a participatory research workshop in April. From these meetings the following objectives were identified:

  1. to enact a process of collective deliberation and decision-making (e.g. decisions about agroecological practice, informed by field trial data)
  2. to gather quantitative data on crops, cultivation methods, and their biodiversity impacts
  3. to gather quantitative and qualitative data on the bread produced by TyT
  4. to gather data on what it means to be involved in TyT, particularly centred around the words ‘value’ and ‘meaning’.

Participatory workshop at Torth-y-Tir AGM – March 2018


Citizen science/quantitative component

How can I get involved?

The project will kick off in September, a schedule will then be drawn up then to meet at various other times of the year to gather data and discuss results.

Book your free place here!

The Full Details

This project is the result of a participatory action research (PAR) workshop held by TyT in April 2018. This workshop is the start of a collaboration between TyT and CAWR with the broad aim of exploring the experiences and practices that make up TyT and its community in a participatory and action-oriented manner.

This project will adopt a ‘mixed-methods’ approach, using ‘citizen science’ field trails as a focal point, gathering not only quantitative data on crops and the bread produced from it, but also qualitative data (reflective journals of participants, semi-structured interviews by participants, video, etc.). In summary, the project aims to do three distinct things:

1)to enact a process of collective deliberation and decision-making (e.g. decisions about agroecological practice, informed by field trial data)

2)to gather quantitative data on crops, cultivation methods, and their biodiversity impacts

3)to gather quantitative and qualitative data on the bread produced by TyT

4)to gather data on what it means to be involved in TyT, particularly centred around the words ‘value’ and ‘meaning’.

Following the first full season (approx. 1 year) of data collection we would then reconvene to think about what this data tells us, how we might use it, and possible next steps.

Citizen Science/Quantitative Component

Simply put, ‘citizen science’ is any scientific inquiry undertaken by non-scientists. It is an important component within the PAR methodological repertoire due to its objective of re-centring knowledge production outside of universities. ‘Citizen science’ tends to be fairly straightforward at the level of methodology, but can provide rich results, robust learning processes, and diverse opportunities to collaborate and foster engagement. Some options available to us are:

  • Experimental plots looking at the impacts on yield/biodiversity/soil health of
  1. Biodynamic preparations
  2. Intercropping
  3. Green manures and cover crops
  4. Minimal/no till
  • Crops: a variety of data collection methods, such as
  1. Biomass sampling (of both crops (including yield) and weeds)
  2. ‘the spade test’
  3. Biodiversity surveys
  4. Subjective plot evaluations
  5. Soil/plant samples (to be processed in the CAWR labs)
  • Bread: a variety of data collection methods, such as
  1. Blind taste testing and subjective evaluations
  2. Nutritional analysis of bread samples (to be processed in the CAWR labs)
  • A collective process of setting research questions, choosing and iteratively revising methodologies, and ‘writing up’ results.

Qualitative Component

A strong theme of the contributions during the PAR workshop was the need to ‘tell the story’ of TyT, in the awareness that a range of methods and data would be needed to do so. Happily, the ‘citizen science’ model is highly capable of delivering qualitative data alongside quantitative data.

The group have expressed the desire to focus on the words ‘value’ and ‘meaning’. What is the value of our work to you? What does it mean to be involved? How do we quantify value and are people aware of the value we create? How does cost relate to value?

Some options available to us include:

  • reflective journals of participants
  • semi-structured interviews by participants (of other members, non-members, or ‘experts’, etc.)
  • participatory video
  • podcasts/blogs