Multicriteria assessment and communication of effects of organic food systems (MULTI-TRUST)

This project will provide analyses, methods and prototypes of multicriteria assessment, to help organic actors and stakeholders develop, document and communicate balanced overall assessments of the effects of organic food systems on society and nature.

The project will carry out interdisciplinary analyses of existing methods for multicriteria assessment and communication; establish a framework for how to develop such methods for organic food systems and relate them to the organic principles; and test prototypes in practice. This shall help sustain an integrated development of the organic production, contribute to open and credible communication about the benefits of organics, and thereby support long term growth.

2012: Progress and activities:

In 2012 the desire to increase participation of users of the research led to the planning of an interactive ’design by doing’ process on the development of prototypes for communication of multicriteria assessment of food systems, where animation will be an integrated part.

Publications and international cooperation
In the first phase of the project, work has been done to clarify and summarize the theoretical basis for making and communicating multicriteria assessments. Five reviews and analyses have been prepared which focus on, respectively, economic valuation and multicriteria analyses; normative aspects of multicriteria assessment; management, business and trust; media construction of credibility and trust, and communication, participation and learning. The analyses have been published in separate reports, some of which are in English, and others that will or have been elaborated into scientific papers.

In 2012 a crossdisciplinary report has been elaborated, which presents the five perspectives on challenges and possibilities for multicriteria assessment and communication of organic food systems in relation to the three main key challenges of the project (see Figure 1).

The perspectivist method has also resulted in crossdisciplinary papers on issues such as values, motivation and trust, which were presented at a well-attended and successful workshop on the international IFSA 2012 conference entitled ”Balancing and communicating overall assessments of food systems” ( The workshop was organized by MultiTrust together with four of its international partners. It provided valuable input to the project, and furthermore resulted in the acceptance of a special issue on ”Multicriteria assessment of food systems sustainability” in the acknowledged journal Ecology & Society. The special issue, which is expected to be published in 2013, is edited by three MultiTrust participants together with the New Zealand partner Henrik Moller.

Further description of the project and a link to its publications can be found on the project homepage (

2011: Progress and activities:

Preliminary results
It is a great strength for the project that private and public users and user representatives are partners within the project, and that there are university partners from social, human and natural sciences. As planned and expected in such an interdisciplinary and participatory project, we have used quite some time and resources on learning to understand each other and our different approaches and expecta-tions to the project. A concrete example of this is that each project partner, including the regions and municipalities, has prepared a ‘self-description’ of their own perspective on the project.
Apart from helping us to better understand each other and cooperate within the project, these self-descriptions are also a first exercise in rendering visible and handling the different perspectives on the field. The project applies a perspectivist approach, which works deliberately and openly with the differ-ent scientific and stakeholder perspectives and what aspects of organics they are able to observe. This perspectivist approach to cross-disciplinary research has been described and published in an interna-tional article (Alrøe and Noe 2011a).

Three key challenges
One of the first tasks for the project has been to identify the key challenges in developing balanced overall assessments of organic food systems. The project has identified three pivotal challenges: knowledge, values and communication.

  • Some effects of organic food systems are well known and can be measured in a fairly simple and precise manner, while others are poorly known and difficult or expensive to investigate. The first big challenge in making overall assessments of organics is thus to keep the balance between the different types of knowledge, and to avoid that what is most precise or easiest to measure gets the most weight. At the same time it is important to understand how the different effects are connected within the system.

  • Multicriteria assessments depend on indicators, which are selected and constructed based on certain problems and goals. For instance, emissions can be measured per hectare or per kilo produce, and this does not necessarily lead to the same assessment. The second big chal-lenge is therefore to render visible the built-in values in the assessment tools and how they re-late to the ethical principles of organic agriculture, societal goals, and other interests.
  • Organic agriculture wants to be measured on the many considerations it takes into account, but more comprehensive overall assessments necessarily become more complex. The third big challenge is how such complex assessments can be communicated in an effective and participatory way. They are to be used by both scientists and stakeholders with many different perspectives, and media also play a large role when credibility and trust is constructed and ne-gotiated. It is necessary to reduce complexity, for example by way of visualisation, but it is critical where and how it is done.

Presentations and international cooperation
The project has been presented at the IFOAM world Congress in Seoul, South Korea in 2011 (Alrøe and Noe 2011b), and in New Zealand where the project leader has been Visiting Academic with sup-port from OECD, and there has been a great interest in the project from many sides and offers to enter into cooperation.
The project is taking part in the organisation of the international IFSA 2012 conference in Aarhus, 1-4 July 2012, and is responsible for a workshop on ”Balancing and communicating overall assessments of food systems” together with three of the international partners in the project (

Reviews and analyses
In the first phase of the project, a range of reviews and analyses have been prepared to clarify and summarize the theoretical basis for making and communicating multicriteria assessments:

  • A literature review and critical exposition of approaches to assessing organic food systems with special focus on economic valuation and multicriteria analyses.
  • An analysis of the normative aspects of existing multicriteria methods, compared with the ethi-cal principles, values and goals that characterise organic production and consumption.
  • A review of how to reduce the complexity that organic food systems and sustainable develop-ment involves in order to promote communication, participation and learning.
  • A literature review on the construction of credibility and trust in the media and among media users with regard to a more comprehensive assessment of organic food systems.

Project leader

Hugo Fjelsted Alrøe
Aarhus Universitet
Blichers Allé 20, Postboks 50
DK-8830  Tjele

Tel: (+45) 87 15 77 68

Find publications from project in Organic Eprints