Identifying a shared vocabulary and relevant stakeholders are essential in developing a circular approach

Circular economy developments often focus on technology. To be successful, we need to define a common vocabulary and involve the right stakeholders, according to Stefania Munaretto, PhD, scientific researcher, KWR.

The concept of a circular economy, in particular with water, is still in its infancy. Scientists, governments, water utilities and environmental professionals worldwide are still figuring out what it means from a technical perspective.

Identifying a shared vocabulary

So what needs to happen? With any collaboration, it is essential to identify a common vocabulary and a shared understanding of the problems at hand. For example, for the EU Horizon 2020 B-WaterSmart project, we started building the concept of “water smartness”.

The project brings together different backgrounds, knowledge, cultures, and social structures through various stakeholders. Therefore we need to co-create a shared concept. ‘what does water smartness mean to you?’ A concept in which all stakeholders can recognise their perspectives, while active in the central collaboration.

Understanding the history and cultures where we aim to embed new, circular water solutions is also vital. Past events may continue to erode the trust of the local communities today. They may affect the understanding and acceptance of new technologies and solutions, making it difficult for stakeholders to come to a shared vision and plan of action.

The key is understanding your audience first by listening to it. ‘Who are you talking to?”, ‘What are you trying to communicate in that location?’. ‘What are their problems?’. ‘And what are the background and history of the people you are talking to? Only then you can build a shared understanding and related language to communicate effectively.

Stakeholders and citizen engagement

It is equally important to identify the right people to involve in defining a shared vocabulary and language. After all, these stakeholders will accompany you on the journey for four years, in the context of the H2020 projects! An important stakeholder group is the public. However, public outreach and engagement are still at an early stage. A key concern for end-users remains access to reliable, safe, and clean water from their taps. Energy and cost improvements or technological development, often associated with the circular economy, do not resonate with the public much, at least not just yet. To connect with the public, we need to demonstrate that robust science and safe processes are at the basis of new technologies.

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to communicate with the public, together with empathy. Knowledge of the audience, their fears, doubts, or needs helps build a narrative and a story that connects. Short videos and engaging infographics are usually well received.

We are at the start of a circular journey. It is now the right time to address all the pieces in the process. Next to the scientific and technical elements, we also need to consider the equally important vocabulary, stakeholders and public.

Stefania Munaretto