Kolding Municipality has been lately focusing on how to increase citizen participation in waste management decisions. The goal was to enhance public involvement in the upcoming Waste Management Plan. This change of approach in business and procedures is facilitated by Kolding’s participation in the SMART WASTE project. Here is what happened…

The need for a new approach

 During the first year of the project, Kolding team focused on internal aspects such as evaluation, good practices and failures, and discussed how to use this to improve the process of creating waste management plans. 

Mapping of good practices and failures internally was eye-opening. It revealed that the level of involvement of citizens and local businesses, in the creation of waste management plans, and the process of evaluation during execution, did not live up to the standards wanted by the waste department. Why is that an issue? Low stakeholder engagement provides a low level of argumentation for both actions and strategies. Without better stakeholder involvement, projects and strategies risk missing the intended goals, providing solutions to non-existing problems and using vast resources to mitigate problems that affect very few people.

So, how to ensure that projects and activities in future waste management plans live up to certain criteria, are based on real needs, and improve learning within the organization? A new approach was needed.

What is a design approach and what does it mean concretely?

To develop its new Waste Management Plan, Kolding applied a design-oriented approach using workshops and questioners to get feedback from employees, citizens, politicians, and local businesses. Like this, the new Waste Management Plan currently under way addresses the weakness of insufficient inclusion and feedback that was previously identified in the framework of the SMART WASTE project.

Direct feedback has been collected by engaging and talking to people in malls, town squares and outside shops, and through a survey. Kolding advertised the survey and encourage participation on Facebook, in newspaper articles and similar media. It was also sent to already established networks of citizens, with an interest in sustainability but not only, to maximise participation.

More than 300 citizens, 300 businesses and 50 employees from Redux, Kolding Municipality shared input for the development of the new Waste Management Plan. This feedback is currently being analyzed in preparation for the selection of focus and strategy in the WMP.

Open communication has been important from the very beginning of the process. First, to avoid disappointing the participants, the fact that a high level of participation was expected has been made clear and ideas and inputs will be sorted based on benefits/potential and costs. Additionally, Kolding Municipality has been open about forwarding inputs that are outside its scope. Political inputs are sent to the ministries, operational inputs are sent to the managers of daily operations and so forth.

Lessons learned

The new Waste Management Plan is expected to be launched in June 2022, but Kolding Municipality is already drawing some conclusions from its new approach.

Kolding received a lot of data from stakeholders with very varying insights into the field, the organization or the politics behind it. It is inevitable to receive ideas which initially seem unrealistic or farfetched. Nonetheless, although not everything can be included in the Waste Management Plan, it is important to welcome all input. Overlooking some as irrelevant because they do not support the current way of thinking in the field would be a real mistake, as this is probably where the real possibility for innovation resides. If Henry Ford had listened to what people wanted instead of looking at the need behind their requests, he would have focused on training faster horses instead of revolutionizing transportation.

Using a design approach is resource intensive, but not nearly as intensive as when projects miss their intended targets.

When using a design approach to develop a Waste Management Plan, a much better foundation for the initiatives and strategies in the plan is secured. Both political and value-based. The feedback infuses, affects and sometimes challenges the existing thoughts and ideas around what a good Waste Management Plan is. This is important because it makes it easier for the WMP to better address the needs of the public and provide a better service.