Leaving No One Behind in Understanding Waste Management Challenges

Posted January 28, 2020

Leaving no one behind is a key principle to follow when implementing development interventions to make them inclusive and sustainable

Leaving no one behind is a key principle to follow when implementing development interventions to make them inclusive and sustainable.  For the Accelerator lab in Malawi, this looks like a sensemaking workshop using issue mapping to explore drivers of unmanaged waste with a diverse and inclusive selection of local stakeholders. Our participants, all 82 of them, spread across government departments, statutory institutions (group 1), to private sector and non-governmental organizations (group 2) and finally community members from high and medium density communities in Lilongwe (group 3).

A quick note on the community members and innovation; we identified most of them through their ward councilors and hosted the workshop in vernacular language at a secondary school hall that is conveniently accessible for all residents in the city. It was exciting for us to adapt innovation tools like the issue map into the local language and watch the interesting insights coming out of the participants. Attendance registration and signing out at this workshop was done by swiping participants’ National ID cards to test a meeting registration app developed by the National Registration and Identification System project of UNDP Malawi. We are not just talking innovation; we are walking it!

We held three workshops over a period of a week with each workshop targeting a specific group; and our objective was to understand the real issues that are influencing unmanaged waste in Malawi, and to brainstorm broad solutions that can help reduce this challenge. Using issue mapping, we explored together with the participants key drivers of unmanaged waste from eight categories: Economical, Educational, Institutional, Legal, Political, Social/Cultural, Technological and Other. Some of the common key drivers that came out of this exercise across the groups were; outdated laws, lack of investment in waste management and insufficient bins for waste collection.

In the same groups we also brainstormed ideas of potential solutions that can address the challenge of unmanaged waste. From the identified ideas, each group voted to pick one best idea and one easiest idea. Some of the best ideas included implementing modern technologies for waste management, and public awareness on managing waste, dangers of waste disposal, and benefits (e.g. how to get wealth from waste). The easiest ideas on the other hand pushed for more community action and corporate responsibility in managing waste, and improved collaboration amongst stakeholders to utilize each other’s resources.

All the solutions discussed fell into five broad categories: Awareness and behavioral change strategies; Collaboration platforms to foster linkages; Innovations to avoid, reduce reuse and recycle waste; Policy review and enforcement and Innovative funding models.

At the end of the day, we are happy that these sensemaking workshops were a success! We have connected with several players in circular economy, appreciated the issues around waste management and unearthed categories of broad potential solutions for which we will design experiments to identify solutions worth scaling up, in collaboration with various stakeholders. We were also delighted to see how issue mapping, futures wheel, and brainstorming tools worked well with our participants in both English and vernacular language. As an Accelerator lab, in pursuing our mandate to building learning networks around development challenges, we plan to continue collaborating with diverse stakeholders to ensure we address waste management challenges for all. In our upcoming posts, we will write about a design workshop we held with a diverse group of stakeholders to collectively find and design specific potential solutions from these broad categories and our progress in carrying out experiments, with the community, to test which of these solutions can actually address the challenges of waste management we are facing.