The REFLOW Handbook

A tool for cities interested in governing the transition to the circular economy

The REFLOW Handbook – a tool for cities interested in governing the transition to the Circular Economy


The REFLOW Handbook is a tool to help cities navigate the transition to become more circular and regenerative. It includes a compilation of existing collaborative governance approaches, policy frameworks and useful tools to equip cities in their transition to the Circular Economy.

The REFLOW Handbook is designed as an online tool to guide the six REFLOW pilots – Amsterdam, Berlin, Cluj-Napoca, Milan, Paris, and Vejle. The handbook is presented in a practical and intuitive way, providing useful information for any other city interested in governing the transition to the Circular Economy.


What does the REFLOW Handbook contain?

Cities are complex networks, whilst being the main space for the exchange of ideas and goods. They are also hubs for innovation, growth, and experimentation on circular practices. The complexity of urban contexts requires accessible and comprehensive resources that support decision-makers and key actors in working together in the transition towards a sustainable future.


The REFLOW Handbook

  • Provides information and resources on the current European policy frameworks related to sustainability and circular economy.
  • Explores the learning’s from emerging governance strategies within the context of different ‘city concepts’ and visions.
  • Equips cities with useful tools and methods for designing, activating, and fostering the transition to more circular and regenerative urban environments.


Policy Frameworks

The policy frameworks section explores several European urban policies that started emerging in 1987 as a response to environment-related concerns. Policies are the basic background for new governance models, but policies are continuously changing. New narratives and trends don’t only adjust to existing policies but are able to foster new and more innovative ones.

European policies have been continuously evolving, adapting to new urban scenarios. One of the last milestones reached by EU policy, the pact of Amsterdam, is an effort towards the achievement of a European policy for sustainable urban development, including an Urban Agenda for the EU. This kick started a new period of reflection and action around urban matters including multi-level and polycentric forms of governance.

The REFLOW Handbook presents policies, reports, and platforms created by the European Commission related to proposals and strategies that contribute to the shift towards a circular economy, for example, the EU Circular Economy Action Plan. Read the Policy Frameworks section in the handbook here.


Learnings from emerging governance strategies

Over the past few years city ‘visions’ and concepts such as the smart city, the green city, and the sharing city have appeared. These are attempts to reshape cities and their functions in their shift towards sustainable and green growth. The REFLOW Handbook contains a general overview of a number of city ‘concepts’ and models. These models are not seen as boundaries but as paths in which multiple combinations of meaningful insights are possible.

Across these and other many models, we have been assisting the acceleration from governance as a means of participation and consensus, understanding governance as an enabler of co-creation and co-production of the urban systems. Six different city’s models (smart, sharing, green, commons, circular, and fab cities) are examined in this handbook in order to provide relevant indications and inspirations for collaborative urban governance in the circular economy. For each urban model, at least one case study is explored to analyze how municipalities around Europe are adapting their strategies and policies for more inclusive and sustainable urban systems. Read the Learning sections in the handbook here.





Toolkits for assisting cities in the transition to more circular and regenerative models

The REFLOW handbook lists relevant resources to foster the transition towards circular and regenerative cities. This includes existing tools such as the Circular Design Toolkit for business models in the Circular Economy and the Making Sense Toolkit for articulating communities. Read the Toolkit sections here.


REFLOW Collaborative Governance Approach

The REFLOW Handbook includes the REFLOW Collaborative Governance Approach. Building on Manzini’s (2018) infrastructuring concept, this approach provides a basic framework for pilot cities to organize collaboration across three dimensions: strategic, operational, and relational.

REFLOW Collaborative Governance Framework can be read as a pie-chart, in which each section corresponds to the different sectors traditionally governed by cities (mobility, jobs and employment, heritage, inclusion, etc). Three concentric circles describe the three layers of the infrastructuring action: Strategy, Operations and Relational Urban Fabric. A green spiral describes the open-ended transition journey of cities, an iterative process that allows testing circular and collaborative initiatives in one or more sectors, and further expands and scales them up at every iteration. Read the REFLOW collaborative governance framework here.


REFLOW Collaborative Governance Framework (Laura Martelonni).


The REFLOW Collaborative Governance Framework, along with the analyzed policy frameworks, the cities’ approaches on collaborative governance, and the set of practical tools included in REFLOW Handbook, provides cities with useful insights to design and implement their own innovative and tailored urban governance strategies. Decision-makers are encouraged to use this information as inspiration to develop strategic urban frameworks and action plans to approach the circular economy in order to benefit society, businesses, and the environment.

The REFLOW Handbook authors are IAAC and P2P Lab.


Milena Juarez Calvo

Action Researcher for Fab Lab Barcelona

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