Shepherding Community Engagement to Strengthen the Local Food System in Northeast Iowa
AbstractIn this case study, we describe how a multistakeholder collaboration in Northeast Iowa is using a type of systems leadership that we call “shepherding” in order to engage a six-county regional community in creating food systems change. Shepherding is an intentional process of fostering trust, connecting food systems actors, tracking readiness, and making strategic requests to help interested community members define active food system roles for themselves. In Northeast Iowa, “shepherds” usually have been paid staff of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative partner organizations. Some literature characterizes leadership by paid staff as an asset, but such leadership also can foster more limited community engagement and empowerment. We examine some successes and challenges of engaging a regional community using the strengths of paid staff. We conclude that paid staff can offer benefits in terms of connecting local food system efforts by aligning community stakeholder efforts with formalized work efforts of organizations represented by paid staff, which contributes to the compounded impacts of the work. At the same time, relying on paid staff may reinforce existing patterns and power structures.
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