The first step in collaborative governance of planning is not planning: Local Food Action Plan, Columbus, Ohio, USA

June 2019

By Jill Clark

What would it look like if a local government shared power with a food movement organization to plan the community’s food system? And why would they do that in the first place? Two local governments in Columbus, Ohio, USA decided to do just that. My chapter, “Collaborative Governance: The Case of Local Food Action Planning” in, Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance, explains why this happened and gives the reader an understanding of what collaborative governance looks like in practice. I focus in particular on the decision-making and its impact on the planning process.

In November 2014, the Columbus City Council and the Franklin County Board of Commissioners initiated the Local Food Action Planning (LFAP) process. Local Matters, a food movement nonprofit organization, was contracted to help with the process at the request of the city legislative lead. At the time, the mission of Local Matters was “to create healthy communities through food education, access and advocacy.” In part, they did this by building trusting and long-term relationships with other community organizations and neighbors that share their values. A unique partnership developed to create a community plan for “a fair and sustainable food system that benefits our economy, our environment, and all people.” Typical food plans include city planners, other governance department staff, and private, for-profit consultants. 

The case of the LFAP illustrates that an informal network built on trust and a common commitment empowered a food movement organization can be an equal partner in a co-governance arrangement. This suggests that the first step in a collaborative governance planning process is not planning, but should be focused on building relationships, trust, and shared values. The commitment of the two local governments to legitimize, enable, and structure the opportunity for this governance arrangement was just as important as the planning process.  These governments recognized both the skills of their existing staff in the city health department, the county economic development and planning department, and the expertise in the community.  As such, they incentivized a collaborative arrangement within which co-learning could take place and power sharing was expected. It is important to note that while collaborators in the arrangement were committed to co-learning and power sharing in the decision-making process, this arrangement did come with costs, namely time and energy to devote to the process.

Being a collaborator in the planning process is not the same as being a partner in the implementation process. Therefore, because Local Matters was an equal partner in the design of the planning and decision-making process, their values were embedded throughout the LFAP process. In this case, those values included social justice and community empowerment lenses. Figure 1 illustrates three ways that community members are engaged in the implementation of the plan, through the food board, the food council, and the project teams. 

Figure 1. Local Food Action Plan implementation governance structure

The Local Food Action Planning process resulted in an expanded community network and an innovative governance structure for implementation that includes reciprocal relationships between local government, the private sector, and a grassroots civil society coalition.  Consequently, the capacity of the network in the city of Columbus and Franklin County to tackle wicked food system problems has been increased.

If you want to take a look at the Local Food Action Plan, you can find the award-winning plan here.

Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance is an open-access book. You can read it online or download for free here.


Jill K. Clark is an Associate Professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. Her research interests include food policy and practice, centering on community and state governance of food systems, the policy process, and public participation.




Clark, J. K. (2019). Collaborative governance: The case of local food action planning. In Andrée, P. Clark, J.K., Levkoe, C.Z., Lowitt, K. (Eds.). Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance(164-182). London: Routledge. DOI:

The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Previous posts in the series: