Outcome-oriented multi-stakeholder network design: four innovation spaces to accelerate food system transformation



Multi-stakeholder networks fulfil crucial functions for transforming our food systems in the face of climate change, but there is scant research on how the form of these networks is connected to particular aims. Based on interviews with leaders or founders of 15 multi-stakeholder networks, we build a framework on outcome-oriented network design: We identify four different network designs, which emerge from a framework of ten design variables, each with different characteristics. We coin these network designs ?innovation spaces? and observe the main challenges and trade-offs among and between different sets of design variables. These, as well as the networks? main trajectories over time, lead us to introduce a simple innovation space grid model along the axes of structure and permeability. Each space accommodates a different type of stakeholder interaction which leads to the desired change dynamics and network goals. The concept of innovation spaces provides a differentiated view with regard to how multi-stakeholder networks innovate and learn. We also identify a space for an as yet neglected group, self-organized social movements. The innovation spaces concept can cater for long-term as well as short-term multi-stakeholder initiatives, and reflections on inclusivity and addressing power inequalities. It can help designers and leaders of new and existing networks to take improved decisions on how networks could complement their respective innovation processes, thus accelerating food system transformation.


Author Biographies

Jana Koerner, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT

Jana Koerner is Global Innovation Manager in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and senior member of the CGIAR-GIZ Task Force on Scaling, a group of CIM-Integrated Scaling Experts that are placed in International Agricultural Research Organizations by the Fund International Agricultural Research (FIA), a programme of the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH (GIZ ) on behalf of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Philip Thornton, International Livestock Institute (ILRI)

Philip Thornton is a Flagship Leader in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Honorary Professor in the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh. He has over thirty-five years? experience in agricultural research for development. He has contributed to several global assessments of agriculture and food systems, including WG2 of the IPCC?s Sixth Assessment Report.

Laurens Klerkx

Laurens Klerkx is Full Professor of Agrifood Innovation and Transition at the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group of Wageningen University, the Netherlands. His work advances the innovation and research agenda of academia, international policy organizations (e.g. the World Bank, the EC, FAO, OECD, UNCTAD) and practitioners, with more than 120 peer-reviewed publications, as editorial member for a number of scientific journals on agriculture and sustainable development, and advising international research and innovation projects, programs, panels and associations.  


Barrett, C. B. et al. (2020) ‘Bundling innovations to transform agri-food systems’, Nature Sustainability, 3(12), pp. 974–976. doi: 10.1038/s41893-020-00661-8.

Béné, C. et al. (2020) ‘Five priorities to operationalize the EAT–Lancet Commission report’, Nature Food, 1(8), pp. 457–459. doi: 10.1038/s43016-020-0136-4.

Bittner, E. A. C. and Leimeister, J. M. (2013) ‘Why shared understanding matters - Engineering a collaboration process for shared understanding to improve collaboration effectiveness in heterogeneous teams’, Proceedings of the Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, (March 2015), pp. 106–114. doi: 10.1109/HICSS.2013.608.

Bourouni, A., Noori, S. and Jafari, M. (2015) ‘Knowledge network creation methodology selection in project-based organizations an empirical framework’, Aslib Journal of Information Management, 67(1), pp. 74–93. doi: 10.1108/AJIM-08-2014-0106.

Cankurtaran, P. and Beverland, M. B. (2020) ‘Using design thinking to respond to crises : B2B lessons from the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic’, Industrial Marketing Management, 88(May), pp. 255–260. doi: 10.1016/j.indmarman.2020.05.030.

Chavez-Tafur, J. et al. (2020) ‘The unusual suspect ? The private sector in knowledge partnerships for agricultural and rural development’, 15(2), pp. 1–11. Available at: https://km4djournal.org/index.php/km4dj/article/view/496.

Chen, P. and Karbowska, N. (2018) Assessment tools can strengthen social movements by bringing activists together. Available at: https://www.openglobalrights.org/assessment-tools-can-strengthen-social-movements-by-bringing-activists-together/.

Conway, R., Masters, J. and Thorold, J. (2017) ‘From Design Thinking to Systems Change’, RSA Action and Research Centre, (July), p. 32. Available at: https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf.

Creech, H. and Ramji, A. (2004) Knowledge Networks : Guidelines for Assessment, Working Paper. Available at: www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/networks_guidelines_for_assessment.pdf.

Cummings, S. et al. (2017) ‘Critical discourse analysis of perspectives on knowledge and the knowledge society within the Sustainable Development Goals’, Development Policy Review, 36. doi: 10.1111/dpr.12296.

Cummings, S. et al. (2019) ‘The future of knowledge brokering: perspectives from a generational framework of knowledge management for international development’, Information Development, 35(5), pp. 781–794. doi: 10.1177/0266666918800174.

Danse, M. et al. (2020) ‘Unravelling inclusive business models for achieving food and nutrition security in BOP markets’, Global Food Security, 24(January). doi: 10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100354.

Dentoni, D., Bitzer, V. and Pascucci, S. (2016) Cross-Sector Partnerships and the Co-creation of Dynamic Capabilities for Stakeholder Orientation, Journal of Business Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s10551-015-2728-8.

Dick, R., Ciampa, V. and Liang, S. (2017) ‘Shared Identity in Organizational Stress and Change.’, Current Opinion in Psychology. doi: 23.10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.11.005.

Dinesh, D. et al. (2018) ‘Facilitating change for climate-smart agriculture through science-policy engagement’, Sustainability (Switzerland), 10(8). doi: 10.3390/su10082616.

Doten-Snitker, K. et al. (2021) ‘Developing a Shared Vision for Change: Moving toward Inclusive Empowerment’, Research in Higher Education, 62(2), pp. 206–229. doi: 10.1007/s11162-020-09594-9.

Fazey, I. et al. (2018) ‘Ten essentials for action-oriented and second order energy transitions, transformations and climate change research’, Energy Research and Social Science, 40(April 2017), pp. 54–70. doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2017.11.026.

Fonseca, X., Lukosch, S. and Brazier, F. (2019) ‘Social cohesion revisited: a new definition and how to characterize it’, Innovation, 32(2), pp. 231–253. doi: 10.1080/13511610.2018.1497480.

Fuchs, C. (2006) ‘The Self-Organization of Social Movements’, Systemic Practice and Action Research, 19, pp. 101–137. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-005-9006-0.

Gaitán-Cremaschi, D. et al. (2019) ‘Characterizing diversity of food systems in view of sustainability transitions. A review’, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 39(1). doi: 10.1007/s13593-018-0550-2.

Gamache, G. et al. (2020) ‘Can living labs offer a pathway to support local agri-food sustainability transitions?’, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 37, pp. 93–107. doi: 10.1016/j.eist.2020.08.002.

Gladstein, D. L. (1984) ‘Groups in Context: A Model of Task Group Effectiveness’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 29(4), pp. 499–517. doi: 10.2307/2392936.

Glasbergen, P. (2010) ‘Global action networks: Agents for collective action’, Global Environmental Change, 20(1), pp. 130–141. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.09.002.

Gliedt, T., Hoicka, C. E. and Jackson, N. (2018) ‘Innovation intermediaries accelerating environmental sustainability transitions’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 174, pp. 1247–1261. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.11.054.

Grossman, P. and Pupik Dean, C. G. (2019) ‘Negotiating a common language and shared understanding about core practices: The case of discussion’, Teaching and Teacher Education, 80, pp. 157–166. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2019.01.009.

Haman, M. and Hertzum, M. (2019) ‘Collaboration in a distributed research program: Islands of intensity in a sea of minimal interaction’, Journal of Documentation, 75(2), pp. 334–348. doi: 10.1108/JD-05-2018-0078.

Hao, P., He, W. and Long, L.-R. (2018) ‘Why and When Empowering Leadership Has Different Effects on Employee Work Performance: The Pivotal Roles of Passion for Work and Role Breadth Self-Efficacy.’, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 25(1), pp. 85–100. doi: 10.1177/1548051817707517.

Hartwich, F. and Tola, J. (2007) ‘Public-private partnerships for agricultural innovation: Concepts and experiences from 124 cases in Latin America’, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology, 6(2), pp. 240–255. doi: 10.1504/IJARGE.2007.012706.

Hekkert, M. P. et al. (2007) ‘Functions of innovation systems: A new approach for analysing technological change’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 74(4), pp. 413–432. doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2006.03.002.

Herrero, M., Thornton, P. K., Mason-D’Croz, D., Palmer, J., Bodirsky, B. L., et al. (2020) ‘Articulating the effect of food systems innovation on the Sustainable Development Goals’, The Lancet Planetary Health, 5196(December). doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30277-1.

Herrero, M., Thornton, P. K., Mason-D’Croz, D., Palmer, J., Benton, T. G., et al. (2020) ‘Innovation can accelerate the transition towards a sustainable food system’, Nature Food, 1(5), pp. 266–272. doi: 10.1038/s43016-020-0074-1.

Holland, S., Gaston, K. and Gomes, J. (2000) ‘Critical success factors for cross-functional teamwork in new product development’, International Journal of Management Reviews, 2(3), pp. 231–259. doi: 10.1111/1468-2370.00040.

Jagers, S. C. et al. (2020) ‘On the preconditions for large-scale collective action’, Ambio, 49(7), pp. 1282–1296. doi: 10.1007/s13280-019-01284-w.

Janus, S. S. (2016) Becoming a Knowledge-Sharing Organization. A Handbook for Scaling Up Solutions through Knowledge. Washington D.C., USA. Available at: http://library1.nida.ac.th/termpaper6/sd/2554/19755.pdf.

Johnson, A. (1998) ‘Functions in innovation system approaches’, DRUID Summer Conference, Deparment of Industrial Dynamics, Chalmers Institute of Technology, Sweden, (October 2011), pp. 1–19. Available at: http://www.druid.dk/conferences/nw/paper1/a_johnson.pdf.

Jung, T., Harrow, J. and Leat, D. (2018) ‘Mapping Philanthropic Foundations’ Characteristics: Towards an International Integrative Framework of Foundation Types’, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 47(5), pp. 893–917. doi: 10.1177/0899764018772135.

Kilelu, C. W., Klerkx, L. and Leeuwis, C. (2013) ‘Unravelling the role of innovation platforms in supporting co-evolution of innovation: Contributions and tensions in a smallholder dairy development programme’, Agricultural Systems, 118, pp. 65–77. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2013.03.003.

Kivimaa, P. et al. (2017) ‘Towards a Typology of Intermediaries in Transitions: A Systematic Review’, SSRN Electronic Journal, (January). doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3034188.

Klenert, D. et al. (2020) ‘Five Lessons from COVID-19 for Advancing Climate Change Mitigation’, Environmental and Resource Economics, 76(4), pp. 751–778. doi: 10.1007/s10640-020-00453-w.

Klerkx, L. and Begemann, S. (2020) ‘Supporting food systems transformation: The what, why, who, where and how of mission-oriented agricultural innovation systems’, Agricultural Systems, 184(August). doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2020.102901.

Klerkx, L. and Rose, D. (2020) ‘Dealing with the game-changing technologies of Agriculture 4.0: How do we manage diversity and responsibility in food system transition pathways?’, Global Food Security, 24(October 2019), p. 100347. doi: 10.1016/j.gfs.2019.100347.

Koerner, J. et al. (2020) Accelerating innovation development and scaling processes for agricultural transformation. CCAFS Info Note. Wageningen, Netherlands: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Available at: cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/106949.

Koerner, J., Dinesh, D. and Nagano, A. (2020) Designing knowledge-matching facilities for scaling climate-smart agriculture A proposal for accelerating food systems’ transformation in a changing climate. CCAFS Info Note. Wageningen, Netherlands: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture a. Available at: cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/107866.

Kolb, D. A. (1984) ‘Experiential Learning: Experience as The Source of Learning and Development’, Prentice Hall, Inc., (1984), pp. 20–38. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-7506-7223-8.50017-4.

Krajcsák, Z. and Gyökér, I. (2013) ‘How to increase workplace commitment’, Periodica Polytechnica Social and Management Sciences, 21(1), pp. 39–44. doi: 10.3311/PPso.2155.

Lamers, D. et al. (2017) ‘Compositional dynamics of multilevel innovation platforms in agricultural research for development’, Science and Public Policy, 44(6), pp. 739–752. doi: 10.1093/scipol/scx009.

Lin, H. and Hwang, Y. (2014) ‘Do feelings matter? the effects of intrinsic benefits on individuals’ commitment toward knowledge systems’, Computers in Human Behavior, 30, pp. 191–198. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.07.056.

Loboguerrero, A. M. et al. (2020) ‘Perspective article: Actions to reconfigure food systems’, Global Food Security, 26(September), p. 100432. doi: 10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100432.

Mamadouh, V. (1999) ‘Grid-group cultural theory: An introduction’, GeoJournal, 47(3), pp. 395–409. doi: 10.1023/A:1007024008646.

Manning, S. and Roessler, D. (2014) ‘The Formation of Cross-Sector Development Partnerships: How Bridging Agents Shape Project Agendas and Longer-Term Alliances’, Journal of Business Ethics, 123(3), pp. 527–547. doi: 10.1007/s10551-013-1853-5.

Mansfeld, M. N., Hölzle, K. and Gemünden, H. G. (2010) ‘Personal characteristics of innovators - An empirical study of roles in innovation management’, International Journal of Innovation Management, 14(6), pp. 1129–1147. doi: 10.1142/S1363919610003033.

Manzanedo, R. D. and Manning, P. (2020) ‘COVID-19: Lessons for the climate change emergency’, Science of the Total Environment, 747(January). doi: https://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.scitotenv.2020.140563.

Martela, F. (2019) ‘What makes self-managing organizations novel? Comparing how Weberian bureaucracy, Mintzberg’s adhocracy, and self-organizing solve six fundamental problems of organizing’, Journal of Organization Design, 8(1). doi: 10.1186/s41469-019-0062-9.

Meyer, A. (2013) ‘Emerging Assumptions About Organization Design, Knowledge And Action’, Journal of Organization Design, 2(3), p. 16. doi: 10.7146/jod.15576.

Meynard, J. M. et al. (2017) ‘Designing coupled innovations for the sustainability transition of agrifood systems’, Agricultural Systems, 157, pp. 330–339. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2016.08.002.

Moore, C. and Kovach, K. (1988) ‘Task force: a management technique that produces quality decisions and employee commitment’, Am Diet Assoc., 88(1), pp. 52–5. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3335718/.

Nayyar, S., de Cleene, S. and Dreier, L. (2018) ‘Innovation with a Purpose: The role of technology innovation’, World Economic Forum, (January), pp. 1–42. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Innovation_with_a_Purpose_VF-reduced.pdf.

Pereira, L. et al. (2020) ‘Transformative spaces in the making: key lessons from nine cases in the Global South’, Sustainability Science, 15(1), pp. 161–178. doi: 10.1007/s11625-019-00749-x.

Pérez Perdomo, S. A. et al. (2017) ‘Testing the effectiveness of network governance mechanisms to foster ambidexterity of agricultural innovation networks in East and Central Africa’, International Journal on Food System Dynamics, 8(2), pp. 81–95. doi: 10.18461/ijfsd.v8i2.821.

Pettinicchio, D. (2017) ‘Elites, policy, and social movements’, Research in Political Sociology, 24(November), pp. 155–190. doi: 10.1108/S0895-993520160000024006.

Pigford, A. A. E., Hickey, G. M. and Klerkx, L. (2018) ‘Beyond agricultural innovation systems? Exploring an agricultural innovation ecosystems approach for niche design and development in sustainability transitions’, Agricultural Systems, 164(April), pp. 116–121. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2018.04.007.

Provan, K. G. and Kenis, P. (2008) ‘Modes of network governance: Structure, management, and effectiveness’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 18(2), pp. 229–252. doi: 10.1093/jopart/mum015.

Pugh, K. and Prusak, L. (2013) ‘Knowledge Networks Designing Effective Knowledge Networks THE LEADING’, MIT Sloan Management Review, 55(1), pp. 79–88. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298122023_Designing_Effective_Knowledge_Networks.

Reypens, C., Lievens, A. and Blazevic, V. (2021) ‘Hybrid Orchestration in Multi-stakeholder Innovation Networks: Practices of mobilizing multiple, diverse stakeholders across organizational boundaries’, Organization Studies, 42(1), pp. 61–83. doi: 10.1177/0170840619868268.

Sande, M. (2005) ‘Self Financing of Non-Profit Organizations Self Financing of Non-Profit Organizations’, in Franke, S. and Sande, M. (eds) Empowering NGOs in Drug Demand Reduction. CARE, pp. 140–146. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/302591393_Self_Financing_of_Non-Profit_Organizations.

Sartas, M. et al. (2018) ‘Effects of multi-stakeholder platforms on multi-stakeholder innovation networks: Implications for research for development interventions targeting innovations at scale’, PLoS ONE, 13(6), pp. 1–20. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197993.

Schaffers, H. et al. (2007) ‘Exploring business models for open innovation in rural living labs’, in 2007 IEEE International Technology Management Conference, ICE 2007. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/7458702.

Schut, M. et al. (2018) Innovation platforms: Synopsis of innovation platforms in agricultural research and development, Encyclopedia of Food Security and Sustainability. Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-08-100596-5.22197-5.

Schut, M. et al. (2019) ‘Innovation platforms in agricultural research for development’, Experimental Agriculture, 55(4), pp. 575–596. doi: 10.1017/S0014479718000200.

Setola, B. and Leurs, B. (2014) ‘The Wild, the Pub, the Attic and the workplace: A tool for negotiating a shared vision on creative learning spaces’, Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education: Design Education and Human Technology Relations, E and PDE 2014, (October), pp. 178–183. doi: 10.13140/2.1.3784.9600.

Tapscott, D. (2014) ‘Introducing Global Solution Networks: Understanding the New Multi-Stakeholder Models for Global Cooperation, Problem Solving and Governance’, Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, 9(1), pp. 3–46. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/inov_a_00200.

Thornton, P. K. et al. (2017) ‘Responding to global change: A theory of change approach to making agricultural research for development outcome-based’, Agricultural Systems, 152, pp. 145–153. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2017.01.005.

Timonen, V., Foley, G. and Conlon, C. (2018) ‘Challenges When Using Grounded Theory: A Pragmatic Introduction to Doing GT Research’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 17(1). doi: 10.1177/1609406918758086.

Waddell, S. (2012) ‘Design Guidelines to Address Global Challenges: Lessons from Global Action Networks’, Journal of Organization Design, 1(3). doi: 10.7146/jod.1.3.6339.

Waddock, S. (2013) ‘The Wicked Problems of Global Sustainability Need Wicked (Good) Leaders and Wicked (Good) Collaborative Solutions’, Journal of Management for Global Sustainability, 1(1), pp. 91–111. doi: 10.13185/jm2013.01106.

Weber, H. et al. (2020) ‘What are the ingredients for food systems change towards sustainability? - Insights from the literature’, Environmental Research Letters, 15(11). doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ab99fd.

Winter, S., Bijker, M. and Carson, M. (2017) Multi-stakeholder Initiatives : Lessons from agriculture, CR Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School. Available at: https://dalberg.com/our-ideas/multi-stakeholder-initiatives-lessons-agriculture/.

Woltering, L. et al. (2019) ‘Scaling – from “reaching many” to sustainable systems change at scale: A critical shift in mindset’, Agricultural Systems, 176(May). doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2019.102652.

Wurzel, R. K. W., Liefferink, D. and Torney, D. (2019) ‘Pioneers, leaders and followers in multilevel and polycentric climate governance’, Environmental Politics, 28(1), pp. 1–21. doi: 10.1080/09644016.2019.1522033.

Yazdizadeh, B. et al. (2014) ‘How can we establish more successful knowledge networks in developing countries? Lessons learnt from knowledge networks in Iran’, Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 12(1). doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-12-63_old.







Most read articles by the same author(s)