Challenges of maintaining and diffusing grassroots innovations in alternative food networks: A systems thinking approach

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


Sustainability transitions of food systems are at the core of several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In many regions, grassroots initiatives (i.e., community-led bottom-up initiatives) have emerged to experiment with alternative food networks and change the dominant food regimes. While grassroots initiatives can play a crucial role in sustainability transitions, it is known that actors usually face challenges related to (1) building and maintaining an initiative, and (2) diffusing it to the mainstream. However, the systemic mechanisms underlying these two types of challenges in food systems are still underspecified. Building on previous empirical research, the paper uses systems thinking (qualitative causal loop diagrams) to detail (1) the systemic mechanisms underlying the emergence and maintenance of an alternative food network; and (2) the feedback loops related to organizational and logistics issues that pose limits to scaling. It explains the paradox of diffusion in alternative food networks and concludes that diffusion of alternative food networks to mainstream may be achieved through replication and translation strategies, rather than scaling-up.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128407
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue number317
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 509018 Knowledge management
  • 506009 Organisation theory
  • 501015 Organisational psychology
  • 501011 Cognitive psychology
  • 509011 Organisational development

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