Building Consensus: A Look Inside Ag Innovations’ Multi-Stakeholder Work in Sustainable Pest Management

By Aimee Ryan, Senior Facilitator

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation chose Ag Innovations to convene a multi-stakeholder collaborative effort to develop a comprehensive, holistic approach to safer, more sustainable pest management in California.

Pest management, and in particular pesticide use, is a highly controversial and complex challenge in agriculture. Stakeholders on all sides feel passionate about pesticide use: impacted communities continue to voice strong concerns about the health and ecological effects of pesticides; while growers struggle to make a living and produce food for society under the pressures of climate change and a complex regulatory system, among many others. Over time, trust and goodwill have eroded, leading to little capacity or willingness to collaborate and tackle these issues together.

Believing that it doesn’t have to be this way, our team innovated new approaches, drawing from a robust, diverse toolkit, ultimately, bringing together the frameworks of Convergent Facilitation and Systems Practice in order to build consensus with a team of 39 highly diverse stakeholders to develop a 95-page Roadmap that aims to reimagine pest management in California. No small feat!

Our Approach

Convergent Facilitation and Systems Practice are facilitation approaches that stand alone as reputable, effective methods for supporting groups to collaboratively develop solutions to complex problems. However, when put together, we found that even more is possible.

“Convergent Facilitation can serve as a user manual for a world that works for everyone; it shows us not just that it’s possible, but how.”

Convergent Facilitation

Convergent Facilitation (CF), developed by Miki Kasthan, is a collaborative decision-making framework designed to help groups navigate complex and contentious issues and facilitate effective group discussions. Convergent Facilitation helps to uncover shared interests amidst apparent differences, and integrate the needs and values of everyone involved. By shifting the focus from judgements, positions, and strategies to observations, needs, and values, Convergent Facilitation is a powerful tool that helps to foster curiosity, empathy, and trust with even the most entrenched groups. By engaging all stakeholders and diverse perspectives, Convergent Facilitation enhances the quality and sustainability of decision making and empowers participants – regardless of their position or world-view – to come up with innovative, win-win solutions.

“Systems Practice target the underlying structures, relationships, and dynamics within systems in order to develop holistic and strategic approaches.”

Systems Practice

Systems Practice aims to transform complex social, economic, and environmental systems by recognizing their interconnected nature, emphasizing understanding the system as a whole. It advocates holistic approaches, targeting underlying structures, relationships and dynamics.

A representative cross section of leaders from different vantage points in the system are brought together in order to tap multiple perspectives to understand the system’s current state, identifying key dynamics, or feedback loops, and key leverage points for intervention.

By employing this framework alongside Convergent Facilitation, we developed recommendations for real change. Through storytelling, collaboration and relationship building, Systems Practice helps foster understanding amongst stakeholders and offers a roadmap for transformative change toward sustainable outcomes.

The Outcome

The working group we convened on Sustainable Pest Management came together to see the bigger picture and develop solutions that truly work for all. The individual members worked hard to understand each other’s perspectives, to take responsibility for each of their roles in a system, and ultimately to take informed action to advance holistic, collaboratively developed solutions.

“Ag Innovations believes in the capacity of our collective wisdom to transform any situation.”

It’s processes like this that remind us again and again that when people begin to experience and trust that there are ways for everyone to get their needs met, divergent individuals can become an integrated working group making decisions efficiently and collaboratively.

Want to learn more about how Convergent Facilitation & System Practice worked to create the desired outcome?

If you would like to discuss how Ag Innovations can support multi-stakeholder groups you’re working with, please contact us at info@aginnovations.org.