Whole Measures and Practices for Transforming Communities

This post was contributed by Phil D’Adamo-Damery, a graduate research assistant with the Appalachian Foodshed Project.


In August, I had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop put on by the individuals from the Center for Whole Communities, the Interaction Institute for Social Change, and the now-disbanded Community Food Security Coalition. The event, which was held on a beautiful working farm in Vermont, provided an inaugural venue for the instructors to combine materials from each of these organization to support a curriculum focused on “Transforming communities by measuring what matters most.” I’m going to take this opportunity to share some things I learned (some practices for “transforming communities”) and how they might relate to food security work in central Appalachia.

If you have been involved with any of our three-state meetings, you are probably familiar with the Whole Measures for Community Food Systems.

whole measures

It is a framework, designed by the Community Food Security Coalition, which can be used as a tool for planning, evaluating, and dialoguing about community food security work. One of the “transforming communities” practices we learned about was called seeing the system. The idea is that if we do not see the whole system, we cannot plan for or expect holistic change. The Whole Measures are a way to see the system, divided into six related fields which allow us to see the food system in a way that is concrete. This more readily enables planning for and the evaluation of systems-level change. The six fields are:

  1. Justice and Fairness;
  2. Strong Communities;
  3. Healthy People;
  4. Sustainable (or resilient) ecosystems;
  5. Thriving Local Economies; and
  6. Vibrant Farms.

According to Jeanette Abi-Nader, one of the workshop instructors and an author of the Whole Measures document, the first two fields (Justice and Fairness; Strong Communities) should be viewed as part of each of the other fields even though the authors decided to keep them as distinct fields when developing the tool, so to better “see” them as integral parts of the system.

(I also want to note that Darcel Eddins, a community partner from Bountiful Cities Project, in Asheville, NC, was also an author of this document. Thanks, Darcel!)

The second practice for transforming communities is measuring what matters. One of the things that I like about the Whole Measures is that they are overtly values-based without any illusion otherwise. They are only useful if they reflect values that matter to our community, state, or region. We might ask, “What matters to us about justice and fairness?” or “What will it look like when we have a food system that is just and fair?” The answers to these types of questions can then be used as a basis for developing measures that reflect the group’s values.

As conversations like this progress, we move into a third practice, one that is critical from this stage forward, that of convening conversations that matter. In order for meaningful values-based work to progress, we have to be sure that we are having intentional conversations about what matters. At this stage in the training it became clear to me that these practices are called practices for a reason—they require persistent effort and an ethic of continual improvement.

A fourth practice was that of designing a collaborative process. With the AFP work, the ongoing nature of this practice is apparent. The work in each of the three states is in different stages, but the new project structure and work to increase communication through Dynamic Governance is hopefully a step toward designing a more collaborative process. I know that folks in North Carolina have been working to integrate Collective Impact into their work—I think the collaborative nature of that approach has great potential. It makes me wonder about the synergy that might emerge from the integration of Collective Impact and the practices for transforming communities.


This post was contributed by Phil D’Adamo-Damery.  Phil is a graduate student in the Department of Agriculture and Extension Education working with Dr. Kim Niewolny.  His research is on in the relationship between social justice and consumer-based approaches to community food security