Towards a circular urban neighbourhood

17 August 2023

Challenging the status-quo – Q&A with an Innovation Challenge Champion

This is the second in a series of Q&As we are publishing with our innovation challenge winners. From their experiences in the incubation and co-learning programme, they have gained unique insights into operationalising their ideas and approaches in the real world and overcoming challenges in the conservation sector. Each interview will capture their inspiring journeys towards disrupting the conservation status quo, shaking things up and making a difference in the conservation space for more regenerative and equitable futures. 

If you missed the first interview, you can read it here.

In focus: Ilias Papagiannopoulos and Sofia Petridou from InCommOn an NGO in Greece that promotes sustainable and participatory urban development
Project title: Kyklos
Themes: Interdependence | Inclusivity
Lens: A world where pro-conservation solutions are delivered by multiple actors (propositions 1 and 14 in our report ‘Exploring possible futures for conservation NGOs’)
Pathway: Involving and empowering local community actors

Team Kyklos is pushing boundaries by challenging the status quo in urban problem solving. Here, they share the invaluable lessons they've learned from a year devoted to scaling their idea in innovative community engagement, promoting active citizenship with an emphasis on circularity, equality and social inclusion.

1. What is your conservation story? 

‘Conservation’ often implies ‘preservation’ or ‘not changing’.  However, for us, our conservation story started with the realisation that change (social, economic and behavioural) is crucial to conserving environments and regenerating the Earth. 

The fundamental drivers of the ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis are undeniably linked to human behaviour and more specifically to the global adherence to a linear model of production and consumption, which is destructive and polluting at every stage. We believe that we need to transition rapidly towards a circular economy model to reduce humanity’s overconsumption of natural and non-renewable energy resources. This shift is  essential not only to conserve habitats but also to regenerate them. Accomplishing this transformative change necessitates a long-term commitment to behaviour change by large numbers of  individuals.

2. What is the change you want to see in the conservation sector? 

We would like to see the conservation sector adopt more holistic methodologies and practices and move away from the piecemeal approach to environmental protection and regeneration. The sector must recognise that the challenges related to conservation and climate change are multifaceted and complex, encompassing not only environmental but also social, economic and systemic dimensions. Our aspiration is to see the conservation sector include human experiences as key aspects of conserving the natural environment and involving local communities as stakeholders and decision-makers in environmental projects. Our interventions prove that when the needs and skills of the community are part of the design of a conservation project and part of the solution to a local ecological issue, the results are more likely to be equitable and lasting, than if an idea is implemented top-down. 

3. How are you working towards that change with your project?

All of InCommOn’s projects are oriented towards supporting all stakeholders within a community aiming to facilitate meaningful changes. All our projects are co-designed collaboratively and focused on local conservation issues, thus  empowering people to become multipliers of change among their peers.

InCommOn’s flagship project, Kyklos, is centred on actively engaging citizens in a range of creative and participatory actions. The goal is to work together towards a ‘circular neighbourhood’ that not only promotes small-scale environmental conservation but also serves as a replicable model for social change.

Kyklos is committed to bringing about systemic change by adopting a holistic approach that places equal weight on  the environmental, social and economic aspects of conservation.  It works from the bottom-up rather than focusing solely on policymakers and attempting to impose change that is only dictated through law. We empower the community to drive change and hope to create a ripple effect that extends beyond the individual action and contribute to wider systemic change.

These local actions include all stakeholders – the residents, local municipal authorities, businesses, formal and informal social and environmental groups – and empower the community to take collective responsibility for their local environment. At the heart of our work lies the focus on community-building activities. These activities include creative, hands-on workshops, discussions, series of collective resource mapping, skills development to support community-led actions, etc. 

We also engage in ‘Participatory Action Research’, which involves turning our community into researchers to collectively explore the concept of a circular neighbourhood. By doing so, we ensure our work aligns with the community's needs, skills, and capacities.

4. What is the biggest challenge you are facing today to effect that change?

One of the primary challenges we consistently encounter in our pursuit of these transformative changes is navigating complex bureaucratic systems. While we are committed to working with local authorities as valued stakeholders, we often face reluctance to embrace  innovation or change, resulting in delays and, at times, hindrance to progress.  

Another significant challenge lies in fostering long-term community engagement and participation. Even though all of our public activities are well attended, it is difficult to secure residents’ committed involvement in sustained actions and change. There is a general pessimism and resignation towards the current state of the environment and the perception that ‘one person can’t make a difference’. Moreover, modern demands on people’s time and the stresses of daily life leave little time or energy for dedicated actions towards circularity and behaviour change. In Greece, we also encounter an additional challenge in the form of public suspicion towards NGOs, with a lot of people distrusting their motives or regarding them as corrupt.

5. What impact has the incubation programme has had on you? Personally, and professionally.

The incubation and co-learning programme was informative and helpful and, at the same time, inspiring and empowering.

While we had already initiated plans, strategies and mechanisms, the programme accelerated this process, supported us in finding additional ways to frame our narratives and it helped us to solidify our plans and approaches.  One significant outcome was the development of a robust theory of change and an impact measurement plan –tools that are key to the future development of the project. 

One of the primary objectives of our project is to establish a ‘circular neighbourhood’ model as a replicable framework for other areas and cities. The programme accelerated the process of creating a methodological ‘toolbox’ for other neighbourhoods and groups aiming to replicate a ‘circular neighbourhood’. 

Additionally, the incubator provided us with a valuable opportunity to connect with other organisations working towards similar goals. Networking with these groups has proven fruitful, as we have been able to share ideas, exchange approaches and explore potential avenues for future collaboration. This has enriched our project and expanded the possibilities for collective impact in our shared mission.

6. What is the one key leadership lesson you have learned?

On an organisational level, we have discovered a paradigm shift in our understanding of leadership. Rather than perceiving leadership as sole decision-making and expecting adherence, we have embraced a new perspective in which true leadership involves modelling ideas and leading by example. We started the project with a commitment to equality, inclusivity and working with the community as genuine partners, rather than adopting the traditional ‘leading from the front’ approach. The incubation and co-learning programme reinforced our belief  that leadership is about fostering community empowerment and facilitating collective change by being an effective coordinator and supporter. 

7. What is the most unexpected thing you have learned thanks to this project?  

That meetings don’t need to take too long to be productive! 

8. What is next for Kyklos? 

Over the coming years, we are fully committed to implementing our comprehensive plan encompassing all the work accomplished during the incubation programme. Our Theory of Change Plan, Action Plan and Impact Measurement Plan, developed and finalised through the programme, will serve as indispensable tools and frameworks for our future endeavours. These tools will help us maximise our impact not only  in the immediate neighbourhood but also across the city, positioning us as a model example of a circular neighbourhood for others to follow.   

We will continue  to develop our methodological ‘toolbox’, which will be made available to other groups, communities and neighbourhoods, both in Greece and across Europe.  

To find more about Kyklos please visit:


Kyklos - InCommOn's Lab

Approach: Focus on people, driven by community engagement, behaviour change
Model: Replicable framework, tools and resources, developing workshops and seminars 
Leadership: Nurturing a collaborative and inclusive environment, striving for participatory decision-making, empowering community members to drive change.

The content of this interview represents the authors' own views and does not necessarily represent the views of Unearthodox or the Future of Conservation NGOs project.

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