Editor’s Note: Civil Eats Goes Back to School

We’re partnering with Stanford University’s FEED Collaborative to apply design thinking to make our work more sustainable.


As I noted in September, this academic year I joined a cohort of 18 other journalists from around the world at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Fellow. I promised to report back about what I’m learning and on my efforts to make food policy news part of the daily American media diet.

In my first quarter, I was able to attend business classes at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, as well as a class at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (or d.school, if you’re hip to it). I also met with some impressive professors and thinkers on campus and talked to a lot of folks in Silicon Valley, including venture capitalists, farmers, and food-forward thought leaders.

This quarter, I’m excited to be co-teaching a class with Matthew Rothe, co-founder of the FEED Collaborative, where he is an educator-practitioner in design thinking and food system innovation. The FEED Collaborative works with partners and thought-leaders, students, and faculty to collaborate in designing a more sustainable food system. Recent collaborations have included work with Kitchen Table Advisors to develop training tools for the next generation of farmers, and with the San Mateo County Food System Alliance to develop a vision for a local food and farm bill.

Rothe, a Stanford MBA graduate, is the perfect partner on this project, as he was also a fellow in residence at the Stanford d.school, director of Stanford’s Sustainable Food Program, and an operations executive at both Attune Foods and Niman Ranch. With his guidance, we brought together a select group of graduate students to participate in an experimental course that will explore the intersection of design thinking and quantitative data analysis.IMG_1445

An emerging trend and tool being used by notable firms like IDEO, “designing with data” can be a powerful way to develop new insights and potential solutions to tough, messy problems faced by organizations across the spectrum. Design thinking (here’s your very own crash course) is a hands-on approach that focuses on developing empathy for others, generating ideas quickly, and testing rough “prototypes” that can fuel rapid learning for teams and organizations. Some recent applications include: how Airbnb turned itself around; how IBM flipped its traditional technology product development on its head; and how it created design solutions for farmers in Myanmar.

Together, Rothe and I hope to challenge our students to design, test, and recommend innovative new media business models that are economically viable. Our new team will be calling on you, dear readers, to help answer some of the toughest questions about fixing both food and journalism. We’re really excited to be working with these excellent students:

Stephanie Werner has been passionate about food, cooking, and shared experiences since she was a kid. With a background in design thinking and brand and growth strategy consulting, Werner came to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business intent on turning her passion into a career.

Jamie Stark is currently studying for an M.A. degree in Data Journalism at Stanford, specializing in social enterprise and development. He lived and freelanced for the past two years in El Salvador, where he helped co-found a sustainable agriculture project called Farming Hope.

Shruthi Baskaran is a first year Stanford MBA Student and was previously a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Special Assistant to the Director of Innovation & Change Management at the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). She has a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Penn State, and has led student teams developing sustainable, low-cost technological solutions to address food insecurity in East Africa.

You can start helping us now by participating in this first survey. As we move forward, we’ll be involving Civil Eats’ readers deeply in our process. We value your thoughts and ideas and view this as a collaborative project; together we will be working hard to continue to make what Michael Pollan has called “the best online food politics magazine” even better.

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