New England food policy councils: An assessment of organizational structure, policy priorities and public participation


Food policy councils (FPCs) are an increasingly common mechanism to improve participation in food system decision-making. Including individuals from under-represented groups can foster greater understanding of their needs and experiences with food system barriers and is an important part of food justice. However, engaging under-represented groups in food systems decision-making remains challenging for FPCs. This paper presents the results from a survey of FPCs and networks in New England to: (1) identify FPC policy priorities, (2) characterize FPCs engaged in policy initiatives based on attributes which, based on the literature, may impact effective public participation: geographic scale, organization type, capacity, policy priorities, and membership, and (3) analyze methods for engaging the public in FPC policy initiatives and demographic groups and sectors engaged. Findings indicate only half of New England FPCs work on policy efforts. Many surveyed FPCs engage multiple food system sectors and under-represented groups through a combination of different public participation opportunities. However, results indicate that New England FPCs could benefit from a greater focus on engaging under-represented audiences. FPCs interested in engaging more diverse participants should commit to a focus on food justice, strive for representative membership through intentional recruitment, and offer multiple methods to engage the public throughout policy initiatives.

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