Thesis opportunity: Effective strategies for civil society engagement in global food security governance

New Thesis Opportunity with Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University

Proposed title: Effective strategies for civil society engagement in global food security governance: An analysis of CSO interventions in the Committee on World Food Security

Key words: Food security; civil society; policy; global governance; Committee on World Food Security; Civil Society Mechanism; theories of change

Context: The world food price crisis of 2007/08 shook global food governance. Pressured to find solutions for unprecedented prices increase of led to the development of new global initiatives and the reform of old ones.  One of the most promising actions was the reform of the United Nation’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS), who transformed itself from “the most boring UN body of all” – in the words of an experienced diplomat based in Rome – to the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for food security, with substantive participation of different actors including member states, civil society and private sector.

That was 2009 and there was a general sense of urgency in addressing claims that over 1 billion people were going hungry worldwide. The reformed CFS was well positioned in this debate, by giving voice to all actors, notably those most affected by food insecurity, and transitioning from an inactive talk-shop to a leading intergovernmental body. There is near unanimous agreement that the initial success of the CFS is due to the active participation of civil society actors who have organized themselves autonomously in the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM). The CSM has had many successes in shifting the terms and outcomes of the debates in the CFS. They have also faced some challenges.

Objective: The goal of this research is to identify and understand effective strategies for civil society engagement in global food security governance.

In this thesis, you will:

  1. Collect and analyse the interventions of civil society as facilitated through the CSM to begin to better understand and identify effective strategies for engagement.
  2. Systematise the content of the different interventions and positions identifying:
    1. What are the common positions defended between the different issues, its underlying principles and assumptions?
    2. What are contradictions or unclear points?
  3. Undertake a mapping and analysis of:
    1. where the CSM has been able to influence the CFS;
    2. where it was able to block a proposal the CSM deemed negative;
    3. where it did not have any notable influence.
  4. Identify trends the above analysis.
  5. Conduct interviews with civil society actors engaged in the CFS policy negotiations to validate and nuance the analysis.
  6. Expand analysis making use of sociological theories of change.

On the basis of this analysis, you will be expected to deliver concrete outputs.


  • Develop a clear reference document outlining the different positions taken by the CSOs at the CFS
  • Develop an analysis of what CSOs have accomplished at the CFS.
  • Present an analysis of what strategies and tactics worked, and which did not, so as to support CSM actors in with their long-term strategizing.
    • Summarise key lessons learned.
  • MSc thesis conforming to the criteria and quality indicators of the Rural Sociology Group.

Start date:  January or February 2016


  • You are registered in one of the following MSc programmes:


  • You have an interest in participatory policy making, civil society, food security and food sovereignty
  • You have some knowledge about theories of change
  • You have completed at least 2 RSO courses (or relevant social science courses)
  • You are fluent in English (French and Spanish are a plus)

Supervisor: Dr. Jessica Duncan (RSO)
With support from Thierry Kesteloot (OXFAM Solidarité)

If you are interested, please email Jessica Duncan ( ) with a short letter of motivation.


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About FoodGovernance

Jessica Duncan is Associate Professor in Rural Sociology at Wageningen University (the Netherlands). She holds a PhD in Food Policy from City University London (2014). Jessica’s main research focus concerns the practices and politics of participation in food policy processes, particularly the relationships (formal and non-formal) between governance organizations, systems of food provisioning, the environment, and the actors engaged in and across these spaces. More specifically, she maps the diverse ways that actors participate in policy-making processes, analysing how the resulting policies are shaped, implemented, challenged, and resisted, and she theorizes about what this means for socio-ecological transformation. Participation and engagement is at the core of her approach. In turn, she is active in a broad range of local, national and international initiatives with the aim of better understanding participation processes with a view towards transitioning to just and sustainable food systems. She is involved in several research projects including ROBUST, HortEco & SHEALTHY. Jessica is published regularly in academic journals. She recently co-edited the Handbook on Sustainable and Regenerative Food Systems (2020). Her other books include Food Security Governance: Civil society participation in the Committee on World Food Security (2015) and an edited volume called Sustainable food futures: Multidisciplinary solutions (2017). Jessica has received several awards for her teaching and in 2017 she was awarded Teacher of the Year for Wageningen University (shortlisted again in 2018 and 2019, longlisted in 2020). With the funds she has received for these awards she launched a story-telling workshop for students and faculty, with storytelling trainer, Emma Holmes. Jessica is on the Editorial Board of the journal Sociologia Ruralis and is an advisor to the Traditional Cultures Project (USA). She is a member of the Wageningen Young Academy and sits on the Sustainability Board of Experts at Wageningen University.