Food platforms interoperability: setting up a space to support a multi-actors dialogue

Image source: Kirill Ignatyev - Creative Commons license

How can we switch from a silo logic to a network logic?

Myriam Bouré
6 février 2017

My name is Myriam. I’m not a tech girl. To be honest I prefer growing carrots than being behind a computer screen :-) But as I wanted to create a food hub in the coworking space I was working in, I hit a wall. I just wanted to enable my folks to buy with me products from different producers. For that we needed an online shop and we wanted to use the Open Food France platform to set up our buying group shopfront. We had found an organic vegetable producers association ready to supply us, but they were already using a platform to manage their products and an online store to sell them. We found no possibility to connect the platforms so that we could propose their products in our shopfront…

This is stupid. It’s not even a logistic question. Our platforms just couldn’t talk to each other to exchange information on products and orders. How can we switch from a silo logic to a network logic?

Image credit: Anthony Arrigo

So I took my pilgrim’s stick and started talking about that issue with people I met in some food-related events. And I realised we were all facing the same issues:

1- The producers we work with don’t want to manage themselves their products inventory as they work with various platforms and can’t fill in their inventory in 5 different platforms all the time.

2- We miss opportunities because our platforms are not able to cooperate (see case above).

3- We don’t know how to optimize the logistics for local and small scales based food systems.

On the third point: today every food hub, most of the time, manages his logistics on his side. In a silo mode. But imagine: if we could know, whatever the platform, what products need to be moved, when and from where to where, wouldn’t that make it possible to offer mutualized logistics solutions… thus reducing the logistic costs and carbon footprint for everyone?

So here we are. Data Food Consortium is a circle of food platforms sharing the same challenges and willing to cooperate to solve them together.

Yes, the topic concerns hundreds of players all over the world (see the Food Dashboard initiative). And yes, adopting a standard for the profession doesn’t happen with only 10 people around the table, but before a flower grows and blooms, the seed needs to germinate and grow slowly in the soil.

Inspired by the lean start-up approach, we are starting small, with a few actors around the table. Here are the first steps we have started to make together:

The first meeting happened end of January 2017.

We got to know each other, and aligned around shared challenges (what problem do we want to solve together?) and a shared intention that we formulated as such:

“Implement infrastructures and processes enabling to gather the different players of the food system who can, together, by cooperating, transform and open the door for a new system to emerge: both decentralized and efficient, respecting the soils and life in general, ensuring food security and sovereignty, and enabling the contributors to live with dignity”

Technologies and technical solutions are only tools that should be at the service of an intention. Too often we think that technologies are going to solve our problems. They won’t. Bees are dying and some biotech companies propose to create GMO bees that would become pesticides resistant… Is humanity becoming so dumb? So we are careful about first formulating our intention, and what challenges we want to solve together. Technologies are just means we can use to serve that intention.

Next steps

Now that we know why we are here and what we want to do, we need to explore deeper what it means to make our platforms interoperable? How can the semantic web and ontologies help us? What are the technical solutions that could help us? What would be the impacts for each actor? That’s what we are going to explore next!

Want to take part in the discussion ? Contact us or leave a comment !

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