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    Introducing the Food Data Collaboration

    A new food data interoperability project with big potential

    Introducing the Food Data Collaboration
    18/03/2022 Steph Wetherell
    In Blog, News

    A new two-year Food Data Collaboration project funded by The National Lottery Community Fund is starting on 21st March 2022. Here at the Landworkers’ Alliance, we’re pleased to be playing a part in this exciting new work.

    The Food Data Collaboration is building on the work of the Data Food Consortium in France, aiming to create an infrastructure that empowers local producers to list and sell their produce across multiple platforms seamlessly. We are working to nurture diversity at scale, supporting farmer-focussed, community-led food systems, simultaneously reducing barriers to entry and reducing waste.

    What’s the problem – and why now?

    The vast majority of the food that is produced and eaten in the UK is going through highly centralised supply chains dominated by supermarkets – very different to the diverse agroecological food systems that we at the Landworkers’ Alliance support. If our food systems are going to transition towards this more diverse way of farming and distributing, we need to figure out how we can scale.

    At the same time, existing short food supply chains are already coming up against some challenges. Whichever technology platforms producers might be using to manage their farm or organise their distribution, their data is locked in a silo. Currently, producers using multiple platforms are being asked to upload products onto each individual platform, on top of their own internal systems. Distributors, meanwhile, probably know other food businesses around them that they would like to collaborate with but can’t handle the administrative overhead.

    So, what exactly does data have to do with it?

    A good question, and the answer is plenty! The data in question here relates mainly to the sorts of product information – descriptions, images, prices and more – needed to make sales via software platforms. In fact, the real focus of the Food Data Collaboration hinges on data interoperability.

    Interoperability enables actors across the supply chain to more easily share data that will help them to coordinate. It can be achieved most effectively through an agreed common interface between different systems. This means that every system needs only to integrate with one common interface for all systems to be able to share data effectively.

    Data interoperability is an important area of exploration across the food system right now, but conversations aren’t necessarily taking the needs of small-scale producers or community food businesses into account. Given the social and ecological benefits of these types of businesses, the risk is that these groups will again be left behind while large-scale industry dominates.

    “It’s about creating an open-source commons that benefits the sector as a whole, rather than any individual corporate business – with the potential for huge benefits to wider collaboration as well.”        

    Lynne Davis, Open Food Network UK

    There is now a real need to ensure that community food businesses can keep up in the upcoming data revolution of food and farming. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the vital role of community food businesses in ensuring community resilience. This collective resilience depends on ensuring that people, communities and sustainability are prioritised and technology must be designed to this end.

    Learn more about data interoperability in the context of the food sector in this explainer.

    What does it take to start building this in practice?

    • Governance – processes around rules for data sharing are managed and agreed
    • Operations – business operations of platforms, distributors and producers
    • API and standards – an agreed framework and ontology for data sharing

    The first stage of this work involves bringing together a trusted group of actors who can work together to develop the governance and processes required. Technology operators that serve the sector are the natural first partners as their technical expertise will help to create a strong basis for pilot and roll out. Governance, meanwhile, will require representation across the agroecological food sector.

    So, who else is on board?

    The project brings together technical platforms (Open Food Network, Ooooby, Big Barn, Boxmaster) engaged with short supply chain food sales to implement a data interoperability framework with organisations and individuals from across the agroecological space (Sustain, Better Food Traders, the Landworkers’ Alliance) and local food producers and distributors to begin the journey of creating a commons governance process to manage the data space created by the technical workstream.

    Tony Little from the Landworkers’ Alliance said “This has the potential to open up huge opportunities for small scale agroecological producers, helping widen their marketing and reach with very little additional cost and effort. But more than that it’s a strategic necessity. If we are ambitious for local and short supply food systems – if want to feed 10s of millions of people through them – then a high degree of cooperation is absolutely essential. This project plays a very important role in enabling that to happen.

    The project is also linking up with the Data Food Consortium, who have been pioneering a food data interoperability initiative involving multiple platforms in France since 2018. Their work has laid impressive foundations for the Food Data Collaboration project here in the UK.

    How is the project being funded?The Food Data Collaboration is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund for a period of two years, beginning 21st March 2022. In total, just under £500,000 in funding, made possible thanks to National Lottery players, will be used to support the project.

    The National Lottery Community Fund works to support people and communities to prosper and thrive, having distributed over £1 billion to charities and community organisations in 2020 alone.

    This initial two years of National Lottery funding will enable the Food Data Collaboration to develop a common interface that allows producers to effectively communicate about stock across platforms. It is hoped this will pave the way for future developments such as order consolidation across different enterprises and platforms, and even the potential for logistics partners to be introduced, too.

    Keen to learn more?

    You can explore more about the Food Data Collaboration project by:

    You’re also warmly invited to contact Food Data Collaboration directly here and subscribe to the dedicated project mailing list here.

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