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Cross-KIC Circular Economy in the Western Balkans: Systems and stakeholders mapping for policy engagement

Better ecosystem understanding is needed in the Western Balkans where governments face the challenge of aligning with the European Green Deal and Circular Economy amid EU enlargement discussions. This project implements an innovation policy for sustainable growth by introducing tools for territorial analysis to support development policies. It is the first regional effort of this kind, positioning existing circular economy challenge owners in a system viewpoint as part of a co-creation process.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Circular economy is considered as a tool for delivering part of the 2050 decarbonisation agenda in Europe, and the Western Balkans Green Agenda has been designed to align with EU Green Deal and guide the whole continent towards the 2030 and 2050 targets. Circular Economy is also of crucial importance in the COVID-recovery phase in the Western Balkans, a region that is pivotal in the discussions for EU enlargement. Nevertheless, the region is currently underperforming in waste management and has a tendency to focus on recycling rates, rather than boosting circular economy and considering the ecosystem as a whole.

Systems thinking is at the heart of the circular economy concept. It is only by truly understanding different actors in the value chains and their connections that it is possible to build up the capabilities required to transition towards circular economy. To truly understand local system needs, EIT Climate-KIC and its partners are carrying out a system and policy mapping as part of a co-creation process in the Western Balkans. The aim is to have a clear picture of what the current ecosystem looks like and where, how and who is involved in specific value chains. It will also be exploring synergies and overlaps in interests, activities and stakeholders through a broader green, circular economy approach. Along with this activity, the project also enables strategic alliances and cooperation with national authorities, managing authorities, policy makers, as well as building synergies with other international organizations and private actors active in the region. Finally, circular economy, being a borderless concept by definition, is going to be a key instrument to support regional cooperation in the Western Balkans.

Evidence-based policy co-design for circular economy is being structured based on the results of the mapping exercise, and will act as the stakeholders’ engagement plan to facilitate a sustained process for co-design and implementation of an actions portfolio. In addition, challenge-led systems mapping workshops are currently being organized. The challenge-led system mapping approach has been developed through the implementation of EIT Climate-KIC activities since 2015 ( The approach was tested in over 40 initiatives in European and Latin American cities, realised in collaboration with EIT Climate-KIC and both policy and scientific actors. This methodology is in constant evolution and should not be considered as an exact formula. It is precisely its adaptability to new environments that has been fundamental to its success. The first experiment with socio-technical mapping by city challenge-owners was introduced by the Pioneer Cities project in 2012, when multiple stakeholders were able to identify solutions on the ground. Since 2015, the EIT Climate-KIC Transition Hub has contributed to these actions with new insights into participatory methods, knowledge management and visualisation. Based on the experience of Transition Hubs and aligned with regional needs, EIT Climate-KIC is fostering a “learning by doing” approach in the Western Balkans through policy co-creation. Local partners are trained and supported by EIT Climate-KIC to run the sessions.

The objectives of the project are therefore quite clear: on one hand, the goal is understanding the system and stakeholders relevant for circular economy through mapping in the Western Balkans, and on the other hand, engaging with managing authorities and stakeholders across the region in active policy-design processes for circular economy. The beneficiaries are many local stakeholders, starting from the local partners identified for the policy mapping and workshop organisations. These local SMEs and non-profit, non-governmental organisations supporting the project will benefit from the tools, methodologies, and expertise that EIT Climate-KIC developed in working on previous projects. Furthermore, the system as a whole will also benefit by catalysing communication between stakeholders (challenge owners) and building a solid base for future policy creation.

In the longer run, these 2 actions will jointly lead to the establishment of a synergies’ platform for regular exchanges with managing authorities and relevant stakeholders (through monthly calls, webinars, mailing updates, etc). To avoid duplication of work this will be done in collaboration with the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and EU bodies present in the region. As an outcome, the project will support the creation of a cross-regional inter-ministerial working group on green, circular economy in synergy with RCC, which will involve national authorities from the region. The scope is to have an organic group covering all the Western Balkans countries.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

There have not been many initiatives, especially in the Western Balkans region, that have approached circular economy through a systems lens. On the contrary, there are many small initiatives that are overlapping scope, not leveraging on cooperation, and resulting in lower impact. The challenge-led systems mapping will be the first stakeholder and systems mapping of this scale in the region. The subsequent policy co-creation workshops will enable a dialogue among different stakeholders. The multi-stakeholder approach enables better information flows and ensures a space for joint discussion and opportunity creation. The challenge-led system mapping methodology has been used in other regions, but not in Western Balkans and it is innovative in itself as it is in constant transformation. Its adaptability to new environments has been fundamental to its achievements, and learnings from the Western Balkans will undoubtedly further contribute to the methodology's evolution and success.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Being the first year of the project in the Western Balkans, the initiative is still at the early stage. Local partners are finalizing the systems mapping and consolidating results. In addition, they are organizing sense-making workshops to test the formats and contents of the policy workshops and get feedback and suggestions from some of the main stakeholders.

After this phase, local partners will be organizing policy workshops with key stakeholders. Based on the results of the workshop, outcomes will be analysed and preparations will start for regional workshops to inform circular economy policies through an evidence-based approach.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The team engaged with local partners (SMEs and NGOs) for the systems mapping to develop local capacities and communicate in local languages. Other stakeholders included: national and local authorities, chambers of commerce, representatives from the private sector, local and international development organizations, and EU bodies. The goal was to have different perspectives for the policy co-creation workshop, with the aim of identifying challenge owners and their role in system transformation.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Challenge owners (national and local governments and industries) are the main beneficiaries. The mapping exercise will help them understand the ecosystem and their role. The policy co-creation workshop will serve as a platform for beneficiaries to prototype actions based on evidence-based information on circular economy. The mapping will be used to mobilize other stakeholders, namely development organisations with similar ambitions as EIT Climate-KIC to exchange and have a joint impact.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

First result is a comprehensive, clear mapping of the state of the art for circular economy in the region to inform policy discussions and drive the pathway towards Green Agenda goals achievements. It will inform policy and actions, as well as investments and decisions for Innovation actors as KICs based on what the ecosystem is already offering and to fill in the gaps in innovation, through evidence-based qualified methodology.

In terms of KPIs for the mapping exercise, we aim to identify a minimum of 2000 actors across the region and 250 initiatives active in circular economy. We plan to have 6 policy co-creation workshops in the region, as well as at least 6 sensemaking sessions before the policy workshops (although there are likely to be several as they are concentrated on small focus groups) + a regional integrated workshop, leading to 10-15 prototype actions at national and regional scale.

Challenges and Failures

Scattered information has been a challenge as finding the right information in the plethora of resources available has been challenging. We have also found many regional differences – although this has been expected to a certain extent, and even welcome in terms of understanding idiosyncrasies, it has created a challenge for data comparison and creating conclusions on a regional level. Finally, the systems themselves are complex and their understanding will be tough and might create difficulties in defining further actions. Finally, circular economy is widely associated to waste management, hence is difficult to distinguish initiaitives which are relevant for circular economy, but not explicitly referring to it.

Conditions for Success

One of the key enabling factors is finding local partners that are reliable and engaged in developing the project together. Close relationships with them is a key success criterion. The team organised regular meetings to foster these relationships and ensure that the partners were aware of all the tools and methodologies available to them. Collaborative agreement is also crucial: allowing partners to be creative and to perform the work in their own way, respecting local needs, rather than imposing a strict and inflexible work structure. This has enabled mutual trust for long-term collaboration.


Being still a work in progress, the Western Balkans project has not been replicated yet. Nevertheless, it was itself based on the challenge-led system mapping approach that has been developed through the implementation of different EIT Climate-KIC activities since 2015. Key insights were originated as part of learning processes embedded in several EIT Climate-KIC projects, such as Pioneer Cities (2012-2014), Transition Cities (2014-2017) and Circular Cities (2018-2019), as well as the EIT RIS Programme. The approach was tested in over 40 initiatives in European and Latin American cities, realised in collaboration with EIT Climate-KIC and both policy and scientific actors.

Lessons Learned

EIT Climate-KIC’s practical experience gained through providing effective guidance on system mapping in different regions has allowed the team to move forward successfully, co-creating practice-based knowledge with communities seeking to initiate actions towards set targets as part of their own policy plans.
The initiative in the Western Balkans is still at an early stage, nevertheless a key lessons learned so far is the importance of understanding the concept of ‘challenge-owners’, including their role, priorities, willingness to collaborate and capabilities.


  • Identifying or Discovering Problems or Opportunities - learning where and how an innovative response is needed
  • Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

15 September 2021

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