We view stakeholders not just as subjects, but as key partners in the co-production of knowledge. The goal of this work is to gather qualitative insights into the motivations and barriers that shape the adoption of circular economic policies and practices. We also aim to better understand the logics and power dynamics that underpin circular economy. This approach is based on significant research suggesting that stakeholder-engaged research has benefits, including enhanced perceptions of research credibility and legitimacy leading to greater uptake of research results in decision making processes. During our engagement process we also respond to dominant critiques of circular economy by exploring how issues of justice and equity can be designed into circular economy projects and proposals, from their very inception. Existing research makes it clear that the transition to the circular economy goes far beyond the technical and, if poorly designed, can have negative social consequences. To ensure that Circular Economy projects can avoid exacerbating inequalities or unevenly distributing the costs or benefits of economic transformation, we aim to make these issues a key aspect of our work with a diverse group of stakeholders.
Led by Co-PI Cindy Isenhour, our research engages with stakeholders and decision makers positioned throughout the circular economy, including product designers, manufacturing sector leadership, materials management professionals, governmental representatives, civil society organizations and circular economy thought leaders. Drawing on interviews, focus groups, and surveys, our stakeholder-engaged research is designed to facilitate a deeper understanding of barriers and enablers of circular economies as well as to assess stakeholder support for and perceptions of various policy tools intended to facilitate the transition to a more Circular Economy. Data generated by our team will be used to inform the project team’s models and future research methodologies. The relationships formed through this process will help develop a network among diverse groups and provide guidance on future research areas and collaboration.