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Planning for change: Transformation labs for an alternative food system in Cape Town, South Africa

Pereira, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-4996-7234, Drimie, S., Zgambo, O. & Biggs, R. (2020). Planning for change: Transformation labs for an alternative food system in Cape Town, South Africa. Urban Transformations, 2(1), article number 13. doi: 10.1186/s42854-020-00016-8


There has been a call for more participatory processes to feed into urban planning for more resilient food systems. This paper describes a process of knowledge co-production for transforming towards an alternative food system in Cape Town, South Africa. A ‘transformative space’ was created though a T-Lab process involving change-agents advocating for an alternative food system, and was designed to discuss challenges in the local food system from a range of perspectives, in order to co-develop potentially transformative innovations that could feed into government planning. In this paper, we describe and reflect on the T-lab in order to consider whether its design was able to meet its objective: to initiate an experimental phase of coalition-building by diverse actors that could feed into the provincial government’s strategic focus on food and nutrition security. Our findings indicate that T-labs have the potential to be important mechanisms for initiating and sustaining transformative change. They can be complementary to urban planning processes seeking to transform complex social-ecological systems onto more sustainable development pathways. However, as with all experimental co-production processes, there is significant learning and refinement that is necessary to ensure the process can reach its full potential. A key challenge we encountered was how to foster diversity and difference in opinions in the context of significant historical legacies of inequality, whilst simultaneously acting for ‘the common good’ and seeking ways to scale impact across different contexts. The paper concludes with deliberations on the nature of planning and navigating towards systemic transformative change.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Co-production; Food systems; Governance; Participatory approaches; South Africa; Sustainability; Sustainability transformations; T-labs; Transformative space
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
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