Co-designing a Sustainable Food Justice System with Blockchain Futures

Project Lead

Sara Heitlinger, Lecturer in Computer Science, City, University of London


Alex Taylor, City, University of London 

Lara Houston, City, University of London 

Supporting Partner(s)   

Spitalfields City Farm, Ruth Catlow – Furtherfield and Gaia Foundation


To grow food successfully, humans require the help of other organisms – for example bees, or soil micro-organisms. How can we use new technologies to recognise and value their contributions, to help avoid problems like soil degradation and bee extinction that threaten life on earth?

This project explores how new algorithmic technologies could be used to create a fairer and more sustainable food system.

Speculative participatory design

This project explored an algorithmic approach to creating a sustainable food justice system through co-designing blockchain futures with urban agricultural communities in London.

They used a speculative participatory design (SPD) approach to explore futures that are grounded in the values, needs and challenges of real communities.

They drew on the expertise of Furtherfield, a London-based arts organisation, who have developed an award-winning programme of engaging non-technical participants in blockchain futures. The approach is interdisciplinary, drawing on methods from art and design, STS, and computer science, in order to ensure that the project generates futures that have been examined both practically and critically. The activities included a multispecies Live Action Role Play (LARP), and paper prototyping of new blockchain-based systems.


The methods and approach developed in the project have been adopted and reused in the work of Furtherfield, as part of their programming and through their work on the EU-funded Creatures project. In this work they continue to engage with diverse citizens in issues of equality, participation, and ecology.

The perspectives around more-than-human governance in cities, creative speculation and role play have been developed in further funded projects, including the project More-than-Human Data Interactions in the Smart City, which Sara and Alex are investigators on (funded through an EPSRC HDI Network+ grant).

The project has informed further community work and engagement in workshops held in 2021.

Future Directions

The project builds on prior successful partnerships with urban agricultural communities in London, to work with people from low-economic and culturally diverse backgrounds, who may be out of full-time employment. 

It will contribute to social impact through a more sustainable food justice system. A novel method of inclusive engagement with blockchain will be developed and tested with diverse urban growers and capacity will be built within the community for economic resilience in ways that are more nourishing to each other and the earth.   


Algorithmic Food Justice: Co-designing More-than-human blockchain futures for the food commons. CHI ’21: Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference.