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On May 29, 2024, a dynamic one-day pressure cooker session was organised by the Institute for a Circular Society (i4CS) in collaboration with the province and city of Utrecht. This event brought together over 30 participants including a vast array of researchers from our EWUU alliance partners. The aim was to foster transdisciplinary research proposals addressing key knowledge gaps to advance circular solutions within the Utrecht region.

The session, held in Utrecht, was designed to facilitate intensive collaboration and idea generation among participants. The progamme kicked off with the province and city officials who outlined their goals and the specific challenges they face in transitioning to a circular society. By asking questions to the researchers, and allowing for questions in return, challenges including spatial claims for circular regions, digital innovations, biobased materials, upcycling, and measuring circularity in a regional context were discussed.

Researchers and practitioners then engaged in vibrant discussions to explore these challenges. Initially, participants focused on understanding the issues, rather than immediatly focussing on solutions. This was facilitated through a structured interaction between researchers and municipal officials, which used “Clean Language“. This method is designed to prevent assumptions and ensure clear, mutual understanding of the issues at hand.

After lunch, researchers created posters showcasing their expertise and interests, indicating potential collaboration areas and partners. This exercise quickly led to the formation of groups keen on working together on research proposals. By the end of the session, five distinct groups had been formed and had aligned with the needs and priorities of the municipal and provincial stakeholders.

As researchers from various disciplines participated (from spatial planning, to VR, behavioral science and water systems), diverse perspectives and expertise were brought to the table. This diversity was instrumental in developing comprehensive and holistic approaches to the identified knowledge gaps. The province and municipality appreciated the scientists’ approach to addressing their questions, highlighting the value of transdisciplinary academic research. The session was further enriched by the facilitation provided by the Rathenau Institute, which guided the entire process and ensured effective participation. The Center for Unusual Collaborations also played a crucial role in the event’s preparations.

The pressure cooker session was not just about identifying problems but also about laying the groundwork for actionable seed fund proposals. Participants were encouraged to build on their discussions and submit detailed proposals by June 14, 2024. These proposals will be evaluated based on their collaborative value, research quality, and potential impact on society.

In conclusion, the pressure cooker session was a significant step towards co-creating circular innovations for the Utrecht region. It showcased the power of collaborative efforts in tackling complex societal challenges and set the stage for future groundbreaking research that can drive the transition towards a circular society.