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Policy making for global food security in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world

Amir M. Sharif (Faculty of Management and Law, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK)
Zahir Irani (Faculty of Management and Law, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK)

Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy

ISSN: 1750-6166

Article publication date: 16 October 2017




This paper aims to explain the uncertainties associated with food security and, in doing so, classifies them within the context of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). In using this lens to frame the challenges of food security, the viewpoint proffers the need to be even more sensitive to heightened levels of uncertainty and highlights the need of governments to be prepared to meet a wider variety of external forces, risks, opportunities and threats to mitigate food insecurity.


This research constructs a novel morphology of food security and food waste policy futures based upon a range of scenario types based on contextual narratives relating to constraint, collapse, growth and transformation. In doing so, offering a representation that suggests order, complexity and chaos occur across a range of four domains of interaction: known (repeatable cause and effect); knowable (cause and effect separated over time); complex (cause and effect are unique and non-repeatable); and chaos (no cause and effect relationship perceivable). This orientation is represented in the form of a novel morphology that can be used to support decision-making and policymaking/consideration.


The authors have presented and identified a combination of a structured and unstructured methods to develop and hence classify a range of food security scenarios. Using the VUCA worldview and classification, the authors subsequently identify seven underlying and seven United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)-derived factors, which when combined with the Institute for the Future (IFTF) four food security scenarios in a pairwise manner led to the generation of a further 16 subsequent VUCA-inspired scenarios composed within a morphological grid. These were subsequently reclassified against three sets of stakeholders and then finally mapped to the Cynefin framework as a set of ten scenarios to show the potential of making greater sense of the VUCA nature of food security.

Practical implications

The paper proposes a novel conceptual approach to framing and understanding the wider holistic aspects of explaining and providing foresight to the complexities of food security. Hence, this paper provides policymakers with two contrasting, yet complementary, food security scenario planning techniques (VUCA and Cynefin), which envelope 16 narrative food security scenarios which can be used with stakeholders and advocacy groups in facilitating discussion about complex, messy and “wicked” interlinkages within the food security domain.


This is the first time in the extant literature that a combination of structured and unstructured, problem-based versus mess-based, contrasting perspectives have been brought together and developed, with the intention of creating a normative family or portfolio of narrative-driven food security scenarios. The authors present and extend four existing scenarios from the extant food security literature, and subsequently, through interpreting these scenarios via a dual and combined lens (notably using UN SDG and VUCA elements), a grid of alternative food security scenarios is produced. By then using applying the Cynefin complexity framework to these new configurations, a thematic categorisation of alternative futures is presented, which may aid policy and decision-makers when considering this topic.



Sharif, A.M. and Irani, Z. (2017), "Policy making for global food security in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world", Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 523-534.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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