Building a circular future – An interview with Jacqueline Cramer

March 02, 2022

Network governance is the way to realise the transition to a circular economy, says Professor Jacqueline Cramer. She received a lot of international interest in her approach from circular hotspots when her book ‘How network governance powers the circular economy – Ten guiding principles for a circular economy’ was launched in 2020. That triggered her to research if and how network governance could work outside of the Netherlands.

To learn more about network governance in different contexts, she interviewed 20 key transition brokers from 16 countries. On March 2, her insights were officially launched in her new book ‘Building a global future; ten takeaways for global change makers’ during the conference of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform.


Why is network governance needed?

Looking at the major task to go from a linear to circular economy, big transitions will need to take place. I call this a system change, in which all sectors in the economy should adapt to new production and consumption patterns. No company, local government of NGO can make this shift alone. All partners involved should be willing to participate in the transition, otherwise, the change cannot be made. The task of the government remains to develop policies and implement government instruments. This is what I call public governance. To put circular economy into practice requires cooperation in networks. I call this network governance. It does not replace conventional public governance but complements it.


Who should take the lead?

The starting point is a ‘coalition of the willing’. This consists of the parties that agree on the fact that a system change is needed and are aware they have to work together to achieve it. The ones that spark the transition, often represent a frontrunner group. When their circular initiative is successful, the challenge is to scale up and mainstream the initiative. An independent third party is helpful to steer the change, ensuring that the different interests are considered, without endless negotiation. The local or national government is also an important partner in the network. Their task is to implement the necessary policy measures.


Can network governance work in every country?

Yes! It can be easier to implement network governance in some countries compared to others, but each context shows opportunities for setting up ‘coalitions of the willing’. Two main questions helped me explore how receptive individual countries are towards circular economy and network governance: ‘How involved is the government in the circular transition?’ and ‘How common is (public-private) collaboration?’

I want to stress that it is not as black and white as scoring well on these two questions or not. The cultural context can make public-private collaboration less natural in some countries over others, but several countries showed to be able to find their own way to set up the essential collaboration. For instance, an NGO can serve as a liaison, or coalitions were formed specifically for the occasion when really needed, even if collaboration showed to be less common.


How did you formulate the ten takeaways to empower global change-makers?

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview key transition brokers actively involved in building a circular economy in 16 different countries. They informed me about the state of the circular economy in their countries and the role of network governance. Their input gave me a clear picture of the role public governance plays in the transition to a circular economy, the role of different actors, the receptivity to network governance and the drivers for governing the circular economy. In chapter 4 of ‘Building a global future; ten takeaways for global change makers’, I share my insights from these conversations.


What do (potential) global changemakers need to know?

Even though the contexts in which circular economy gets off the ground differ, there are always seedlings for innovation that can be the source for initiating and upscaling circular economy. It all starts with ‘coalitions of the willing’ and the next step is to find your way in your local context.


How Network Governance Powers the CE

The first book on network governance by Jacqueline Cramer, in which she shares ten guiding principles for building a circular economy, based on Dutch experiences, was published in 2020. Click the link below to download your free copy.