Civil Servants’ Perspectives of Creativity in Multi-Stakeholder Urban Food System Transformation


Marjoleine G. van der Meij
Athena Institute, VU University Amsterdam,De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam
Sharon D. Zandbergen
Athena Institute,VU University Amsterdam,De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam
Jonathan Luger
Athena Institute, VU University Amsterdam,De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam


Purpose – This paper presents preliminary outcomes of an explorative research into perspectives of creativity among civil servants in their role as urban food system transformation facilitators, through which we aim to generate recommendations for boosting creativity in the public sector when tasked with comparable multi-stakeholder system transformations.

Methodology – We interviewed 18 civil servants of 10 municipalities that are engaged in FUSILLI, an EU project (2020-2024) aimed at fostering urban food system transformation through multi-stakeholder experimentation and policy making in Living Labs. As researchers we are part of the EU project team as well, and collaborate closely with the civil servants, for which we could have open and reflective conversations with them about creativity. Qualitative analysis of anonymized interview transcripts, supported by sensitising concepts, resulted in the identification of preliminary themes in the perspectives of creativity that were present among the civil servants.

Value – In the context of (facilitating) system transformation, perspectives of civil servants regarding creativity have been marginally studied. Our preliminary findings show that the civil servants who participated in this study considered and had experienced creativity merely as a fussy, flexible, open-ended process of generating ideas, and not so much as analytical-systematic idea consolidation. In that sense, our findings may align with earlier research into creativity in various contexts, however this congruence has specific implications for system transformation contexts wherein creativity is often longed for to guarantee the development of solutions and policies that are likely to positively disrupt systemic barriers and patterns. To contribute to this desire, we derive recommendations for dealing with creativity in large system transformation projects, as well as for research into 1) training that builds on the creativity-related expertise of civil servants to develop ownership over creativity in the public sector, and 2) climate strengthening exercises to foster creativity in multi-stakeholder system transformation processes that balance holistic and relationship oriented approaches with the desire for pragmatism and goal-orientedness that is often present among stakeholders who want to or are engaged in system transformation.

December 18, 2023
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