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Tool 5:
Ecosystem Mapping

Explore the problem space

Time A group of 2-5 people
Participants 40-45 min

Map out the actors in your network and use it to become more circular

Why you should use this tool

The purpose of this tool is to help you get an overview of your stakeholders and potential new collaborators. This is crucial in order to build (and mobilize) a network of both existing and new possible partners and actors. Unlike traditional stakeholder mapping, this tool addresses the motivations, resources, and capabilities that are valuable for the overall network you are a part of.

Many businesses benefit from this tool by first mapping their current network. When that’s done, you use the tool again to map out how your ideal network of partners and actors looks in order to support your new circular solution.


  • Ecosystem mapping (size A1)
  • Actor Cluster cards (A4)
  • Post-its 
  • Pens 

How to use the tool

Step 0 · Preparation · 5 min
Print out the ecosystem canvas (A1) and hang it on the wall or place it on a table. The team has to be able to gather around it.

Print out the Actor Cluster cards (A4) and keep them close for the last part of the exercise.

Step 1 · Actor brainstorm · 10-15 min
Do a brainstorm of all the actors that influence your business. Be as specific as possible by writing down organizations and companies – or even individuals. Use post-its.

When brainstorming we recommend that you do it individually in silence and set a timer to 5 minutes, to begin with. When time is up, you can share your post-its and if necessary repeat the process by having a second brainstorming session and sharing again. Sometimes, you get inspired by others’ ideas and insights and new inputs will come to your mind. 

When brainstorming, try to think not only about your existing business relations but also to identify relevant ‘unusual suspects’. These could for instance be influencers, investors, community leaders, researchers, lobbyists, and policymakers.

Step 2 · Place the actors · 15 min
Take a close look at the different actor roles on the canvas. Then, place your post-its on the canvas according to their role.

Now, all relevant actors are mapped out on the canvas and you have an overview of your network. 

Some actors might be difficult to place because they have a role that’s in between what’s on the canvas or maybe even a double role. Place them where it feels the most intuitive. You can always rearrange later. Alternatively, mark a difficult actor with a dot or a different post-it color. 

Step 3 · Cluster your actors · 15 min
Identify the three-five most important actor clusters in your ecosystem in order to organize your actors. Fill out the actor cluster cards and reflect on their individual motivations as well as the resources they provide to your ecosystem.

The following questions can be used as a starting point for the clustering of actors: 

  • Q1: Which actors contribute to your circular solution? Who is critical to partner up with? 
  • Q2: Who could potentially contribute even more to your circular solution? 
  • Q3: Are any of the actors critical to leave behind in order to have a more sustainable business in the future?
  • Q4: Could we think of completely new actors (even from other industries) that could play a potential role in our circular transition? 

It is up to you, whether you would like to use the questions above or have another take on the discussion session. 


What now?

After mapping out your existing network, you can do the exercise again and have the following in mind: What does our ideal circular ecosystem look like?

Having mapped out the actors of your ecosystem, you should now move on to start visualizing the value-creating system of your circular solution. We recommend that you take a look at Tool 06: Value-Creating System.

Go to Tool 06: Value-Creating System

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