Édition #5

Restoring regions:the doughnut recipe

Fiona OTTAVIANI Associate Professor at Grenoble École de Management Co-Holder of the Territories in Transition Chair Research Coordinator UNESCO Chair for a Culture of Economic Peace
For many years now, we have been looking at what form a different development model could take in the regions. An English economist, Kate Raworth, did some research and discovered the recipe for living well in her kitchen… in the form of a doughnut!


What is a doughnut? It is a compass for the economy, linking planetary and social boundaries. The planetary boundaries refer to the nine planetary frontiers identified by the Stockholm Resilience Center. Social boundaries refer to the way we respond in a relevant manner to social needs. The doughnut is based on seven principles:
1. Meet the needs of all within the means of the living planet.
2. See the big picture.
3. Nurture human nature.
4. Get savvy with systems.
5. Design to distribute.
6. Create to regenerate.
7. Be agnostic in terms of growth. It is a telling visual formalisation of what would be a fair and safe space for humanity between the planetary and the social boundaries.

More than thirty regions around the world have already adopted this approach (Brussels, Geneva, Tampere and Nanaimo, amongst others) for a variety of uses.


There are many uses for the doughnut and they need to be tailor-made to correspond to the challenges encountered by a region’s players.

First of all, the doughnut can be used to draw a portrait of the region in terms of the social and environmental sustainability issues and is therefore a way of gaining knowledge and alerting people to social and environmental thresholds that have been exceeded. It can be used to fuel a regional discussion on interdependencies, in particular through the four lenses of good living:
» Lens 1 – local social: what does “living well” mean for the local residents?
» Lens 2 – local ecological: what would respect for the natural habitat mean for the region?
» Lens 3 – global social: what would “living well” mean for everyone worldwide?
» Lens 4 – global ecological: what would respecting the natural habitat mean for the planet?

Next, like other benchmarks of good living, the doughnut is a useful tool for fuelling discussions on foresight (Grenoble, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Amsterdam, Brussels). At a time when many regions and businesses are drawing up roadmaps to promote sustainability and seeking to align themselves with the constraints imposed by the 2021 Climate and Resilience Act, foresight is being put to use in organisational planning.

“The doughnut can also be a tool to fuel joint initiatives between regional players.”

The doughnut can also be a tool for fuelling joint initiatives between regional players, along the lines of the “doughnut deal” developed by Dutch researcher Anne Stikjel, Director of the International Institute for Inclusive Science. The doughnut deal allows a group of organisations in the region to work simultaneously on questions from both inside the doughnut (strengthening the social base) and outside it (respecting the ecological ceiling). This approach can generate valuable synergies between different sectors of activity, as shown by feedback from Amsterdam¹.

Finally, within the organisation, the doughnut coinvestigation approach tested in Brussels can accompany a transformation of the business model by providing a process for questioning the organisation’s goals, governance, networks, finances and ownership.

One of the great advantages of the doughnut compared to other existing approaches is that it is a benchmark that can be used by both public and private organisations, providing an easy basis for discussion and action on the issues of social and environmental sustainability.

“One of the most interesting aspects of the doughnut is that it can be used as a reference by both public and private organisations, providing an easy basis for discussion.”


The doughnut is a useful reference, but it does not provide turnkey indicators at local level, or a recipe for linking social and environmental sustainability. This is why, in order to put the doughnut into practice for steering purposes, we need to think about how it complements other existing work on how to live well².

To create common initiatives in regions and organisations, the SPIRAL³ method, used in over 300 locations in some twenty countries has, for example, proved its worth in stimulating collective discussion in organisations and local areas based on three key questions: What in my region gives me a feeling of wellbeing? What on the other hand gives me a feeling of malaise? And what am I prepared to do to contribute to collective wellbeing?

As far as “indicators” are concerned, it is important not to restrict ourselves to the existing administrative data, in order to produce knowledge that is useful to the local players. Generally speaking, the existing data (sometimes wrongly described as more “objective”) provides more information about what an area is offering than what it needs. There is a risk of using indicators that are out of line with the issues faced by players: for example, employment rate indicators, where the challenge for the players may be more to question the experience of work, its quality and the aspirations of employees. To enhance our knowledge of a region, there is no substitute for the participatory development of a survey on the issues of wellbeing and sustainability. The approach of Regional Sustainable Wellbeing Indicators (IBEST – Indicateurs de Bien-Être Soutenable Territorialisés)4 used in the Grenoble area and in the Isère department, and partially reused in the Relational Capabilities Indicator (RCI) in other areas, has demonstrated its usefulness in increasing players’ knowledge of invisible aspects of the region (mutual aid, relationship with time, relationship with institutions, quality of the work experience, relationship with natural areas, etc.). This type of survey, based on a shared frame of reference, makes it possible to move away from existing representations of the region, to renew the terms of the debate on regional issues5 and to consider the responses to a region’s needs in a more cross-disciplinary way.

So, nurturing collective approaches, cooking a doughnut as a collective and tasting the indicators of good living are undoubtedly ways of restoring territories to their true purpose.

1 According to the authors of this experiment, 107 projects were created in connection with the doughnut deal on food, consumer goods and construction: www.energy-cities.eu/fr/voyage-au-pays-du-donut/
2 www.capbienvivre.org/
3 www.wikispiral.org/tiki-index.php?page=New%20Homepage%20EN
4 www.theconversation.com/comment-concevoir-collectivement-le-bien-etre-soutenable-141469.
IBEST is already a multi-use tool and is now being used for knowledge, action design, discussion of sustainability thresholds and evaluation purposes.
5 The Grenoble metropolitan area’s Council for Development has used IBEST to enrich its evaluative questioning of the Intermunicipal Local Urban Development Plan (PLUI), the Plan for Territorial Urban Development Coherence (SCOT) and economic policies.

Fiona’s research focuses on the construction and use of regional indicators, assessment and development. Focusing on the socio-economic transition of regions and the results of socio-economic organisation (well-being, sustainability, common good, economic peace, social impact/usefulness), her work contributes to rethinking collective dynamics in favour of transition.