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.

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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.

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