Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Using data to engage households as “citizens of the circular economy”

  Stephen Parkinson (Parky) (2023 cohort)   earthwatch.org.uk/team-member/stephen-parkinson

The concept of a circular economy is proposed as a solution to many of the environmental challenges society currently faces. The transition to a circular economy requires a complete reimagining of the predominant economic system and relies on actors at every stage of a material’s life-cycle: producers, manufacturers, retailers, (re)users, disposers, and waste managers. When confronted with such significant change, important questions are raised around the efficacy and equity of any solution(s). Who gets a say in (re)designing the economy? Who gains and who loses out? How are these risks and benefits distributed across different actors and segments of society?

My PhD aims to contribute to these discussions around responsible research and innovation within the circular economy looking specifically at how households can successfully be engaged as “circular citizens” (active participants in the transition to the circular economy) and to what extent digital technologies and (personal) data can play a role in this process. More specifically, my research will explore how households currently perceive the circular economy and how this compares with other actors’ perceptions including NGOs, local authorities, and businesses. The findings from this research will be of importance to many organisations currently struggling with how to achieve ambitious targets around the circular economy. The research is therefore timely as lots of discussions and decisions around the transition to a circular economy are already in progress or will emerge in the coming years.

The overall objectives of my PhD are: (i) to demonstrate that, with the right support, households can make a more effective contribution to the circular economy than the current system allows; (ii) to highlight the potential role of digital solutions in this process; and (iii) to explore how households and communities can negotiate and share collective responsibility alongside other actors such as businesses.

Research Questions:

  1. How do households perceive the transition to a circular economy and what role do they imagine digital technologies and (personal) data could play in this process?
  2. To what extent can digital technologies and (personal) data empower communities to take a more active role in the definition of the circular economy?
  3. What are the challenges and trade-offs surrounding the use of digital technologies to collect (personal) data on waste and influence behaviour within households?