[Insights] CIRCLE IT: views from people involved in setting it up
What are the recommendations for developing CIRCLE IT?
AURÉLIEN BOUTAUD (ABOCO), CONSULTANT AND INDEPENDENT RESEARCHER SPECIALIZING IN ECOLOGICAL TRANSITION POLICIES, TOOK PART IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CIRCLE IT.
In 2005, he conducted a study on the assessment of local public policies in the area of sustainable development in France. He introduced the term “OQADD - outils de questionnement et d’analyse en matière de développement durable (tools for questioning and analysis in sustainable development)” to qualify the tables of criteria and/or questions used by the authorities and some associations. These tools emerged significantly in the 2000s in order to appropriate sustainable development and incorporate it as much as possible into public projects and policies.
What lessons can be drawn from your study for the development and use of CIRCLE IT?
One of the main conclusions is that OQADDs were used too late in the decision-making process, when projects or public policies could no longer be fundamentally changed. The question of the period of application of a questioning and project analysis tool seems to me essential. The whole point is to be able to use it as far upstream as possible when the project is being defined, which then makes it possible to steer it as far as possible along a sustainable development path.
When the tool is being developed, the main challenge is to strike a balance between comprehensiveness and ease of use. How can you be comprehensive without being demotivating? The search for comprehensive questioning means that projects can be examined in greater detail, but the tool then becomes more complex, and in the end the likelihood is that it won’t be used very much. Conversely, tools based on only a dozen generic questions will be used more easily and more systematically, but the analysis will then be more superficial, leaving room for interpretations that may differ from one user to the next.
This last point raises the fundamental question of “Who uses the tool?” Is it the project leader alone? Or the project leader with internal/external stakeholders? In the latter case it then becomes a tool for running the project. Collective use of the tool is undoubtedly the most interesting because it adds depth to the project and brings to light improvement solutions that are more widely shared. But this assumes that the project leader has appropriated the tool and has a certain aptitude as a leader.
Another difficulty comes from the fact that these tools are sometimes intended to be universal and are therefore too generic: their questions may not be relevant for certain projects or types of users. Conversely, more specific tools (such as the “eco-neighborhood” table) targeting highly specific projects or audiences will be more appropriate in their questioning but they will be less versatile to use.
Finally, to facilitate and encourage its use, particular attention must be paid to the ergonomics of the tool. A digital tool that is pleasant to use will obviously be more attractive. The graphics rendering (in the form of radar for example) is also very important because it gives the visual outcome of the thinking. The user manual must also be very clear and sincere from the beginning about the time of use of the tool. Even if it is rather long to use, the fact of announcing this helps prepare the project leader and the way in which he will drive the tool.
All the information listed above can obviously be transferred to the CIRCLE IT design, because the latter is finally a kind of Questionnaire and Analysis Tool in the field of the Circular Economy.
What is special about the development of CIRCLE IT?
The special feature is obviously related to the subject being studied: here, the circular economy. Just as was the case for sustainable development in the early 2000s, the circular economy is a concept that has not yet stabilized and it is not easy to grasp. What scope of the circular economy should be considered? Should we be focussing on material circularity alone? The working group felt that it was unavoidable to open questioning up to sustainable development issues.
What did you find interesting in the development phase of CIRCLE IT? Which point(s) should be improved?
Proceeding in stages, seeking to use what we learnt from tools with the same purpose, building together and going through test phases seem to me the right steps for developing a such tool. On the other hand, people involved in the field were not associated, but rather represented. It would be of interest to keep track of how the tool is used once it is made available to project leaders and consider an upgrade, or even a new version in a few months, once we’ve received feedback.
To use CIRCLE IT you first need to set up an account on the ECLAIRA platform
CONTRIBUTION OF THE TECHTERA CLUSTER TO CREATING CIRCLE IT
Challenges involving resources and proximity: what questions do companies and sectors need to ask?
TECHTERA has created the RECIT club: Recyclage et Economie Circulaire dans l’Industrie Textile (Recycling and Circular Economy in the Textile Industry). It aims to identify and develop industrial textile waste recovery solutions. Through the joint work of its members (manufacturers, technical centres and designers), it aims to foster the emergence of collaborative initiatives helping to structure a value chain with strong local roots.
Clara Potton from TECHTERA took part in the CIRCLE IT working group. She echoed the concerns of the RECIT club. She also acted as "companies and sectors” spokesperson.
What points did you think were important to take into account when designing CIRCLE IT?
As far as content is concerned, applying the tool at different stages of the project is essential as part of a “learn as you go along” approach. CIRCLE IT makes it possible to establish a “zero” point for the situation and to position the project according to the various criteria defined in the tool. It identifies priority criteria by defining the targeted margin for improvement. The purpose is not to achieve perfection in all criteria but to ensure that they are included, and to reassure project leaders that their approach is legitimate.
At a later stage of the project, by re-examining these criteria, the company may decide to give further priority to an area, or even realize that the project has had indirect beneficial effects that it did not expect and that it can now formalize. At the end of the project, the tool can be used to take stock and learn lessons for future initiatives. It is essential to observe how the tool is used over time to make it develop and adapt it to the needs of users.
Concerning the form of the tool, the ergonomic aspect is essential: it must be easy to use. The tool is aimed at people with varying levels of knowledge of the circular economy, so the way the questions are formulated is, in my opinion, an important thing to be careful with. The relevance of the analysis made by the tool derives from proper understanding of the question. It is on this aspect that I wanted to focus testing of the tool.
How can CIRCLE IT interest a network of companies such as TECHTERA?
One of the strong points of the tool is to understand the circular economy approach as a whole. It will be very useful for an organization such as TECHTERA in helping its members to design projects from a circular economy standpoint.
This is because we work mainly with our members on the development of their technological innovation initiatives. But RECIT club actions are not structured solely through technological parameters; social, environmental and societal issues and the way these evolve must be considered.
How do you intend to use CIRCLE IT?
I would really like it to be tool for leading the RECIT club. It will provide support for the process of structuring the sector initiated by the club; as well as the various initiatives resulting from it: in working groups in the area of technological research, or the Upcycling initiative.
It will be used as work progresses, as part of collective thinking. It should allow us to take a step back and question the overall approach initiated within the framework of each working group, by positioning it within its ecosystem. We will then be able to envisage additional support to go further into a criterion and to convert it into solutions. For example, for some social aspects, ARACT could be called on.
Criteria will become collective and then individual questioning reflexes. The ambition would be for the company ultimately to take ownership of the tool and use it autonomously within its own organization.
If the tool were used autonomously by your members, how do you think they would use it?
Large-scale organizations that are used to in-house collective initiatives will be able to use CIRCLE IT as a tool for driving their circular economy actions. In smaller organizations, it will certainly be applied on more of an individual basis via project managers or company directors in particular.
This tool must remain open to all types of people.
WHICH SOCIAL CRITERIA SHOULD BE CONSIDERED IN CIRCLE IT?
Isabelle Fieux from the ARACT Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region helped the CIRCLE IT working group to examine what social added values should be considered in a circular economy project, and why.
ARACT observes how SMEs and VSEs situate the human factor in their business project and encourages them to incorporate it further by providing them with support on a trial basis and with a view to spin-offs. It is looking to incorporate criteria relating to the quality of working conditions, the professional development of employees and the quality and robustness of employment into company projects. To this end, ARACT ensures the simultaneous involvement of employees and managers, and monitors how this cooperation is led. It seeks to combine substantive and methodology criteria.
For ARACT, the circular economy is a vector for changing the way people go about social innovation. It speeds up the company's relationship with its area because it will be linking up with its immediate environment in order to deploy its project. It will identify how the area can be a resource for putting in place its values and adding depth to its company project. The circular economy gives meaning to employees’ actions and helps motivate them because it affects values of commitment, quality of life at work, and sometimes the development of skills. It helps to build bridges between companies and integration organizations through economic activity.
For example, as part of a partnership, Mondial Tissus supplies fabrics to the Tremplin vers l’Emploi, association, whose activities include the collection and recovery of textiles and other products. In this first cooperation, the company entrusted the association with manufacturing clothing for mannequins. These are placed in Mondial Tissus shops and display new collections twice a year. This initiative has had several positive social effects: the development of new skills within Tremplin, a change in the way Mondial Tissus staff perceive a vulnerable public, exchanges of professional practices on a technical level (sewing activities and delivery method for Tremplin) and on the managerial level (for example, about the skills involved in providing support for vulnerable people for Mondial Tissus). Considering the social aspects does not have a negative affect on the company’s performance. On the contrary: it improves it.
As the circular economy is a catalyst for partnership relations, it invites employees, including the most vulnerable, to represent their company, project a good image, know how to talk about the whole company, and so on.
In CIRCLE IT, a criterion about social and managerial innovation has been introduced and it raises the question of new professional and learning practices. What do you understand by that? Why does CIRCLE IT have an interest in considering this type of criteria?
As the circular economy is a globalising, systemic approach, it seems inevitable that new professional and learning practices will be created. These are most often manifested by the decompartmentalisation of the departments and organizations involved, even more participatory philosophies, helping employees to attain more autonomy, the appropriation of meaning, learning to relate to external partners, setting up of experimental groups, etc.
Let's go back to the example of the partnership between Mondial Tissus and the Tremplin association. Working with an external partner encourages the association to organize work in a way more in keeping with the company's requirements. Working with vulnerable people has encouraged a more detailed and formalized approach to placing orders. This change is useful for all and has made it possible to gain in efficiency in a more “human” way. The appropriation of meaning has motivated the different departments of the company.
What should CIRCLE IT ultimately make it possible to achieve?
This tool should be a way to enrich a business project from a circular economy perspective while considering the social aspects and the motivation of the people involved. It must challenge the company on how to blend efficiency, quality of life at work and the social needs of the area. It is bound to facilitate business-to-business work.
1_Association Régionale pour l’Amélioration des Conditions de Travail (Regional association for the improvement of working conditions)-https://auvergnerhonealpes.aract.fr/laract
To use CIRCLE IT you first need to set up an account on the ECLAIRA platform
Source: ECLAIRA - Newsletter No. 10 / March 2018
Newsletter edited by CIRIDD with support from Région Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes
Photo credits: Fotolia - CIRIDD - TECHTERA
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