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Zero Waste, Maximum Partners

Tel Aviv And Austin Used Insights To Promote Recycling

Tzlil Vaserman
Tzlil Vaserman
April 20, 2022

Waste is waste… The same collection of material most of us choose to distance from ourselves as much as possible. Every home has their own habits, and although grandma says habits are worth keeping, in the case of most of us change is what is needed. If we just do it, we will discover that waste is worth a money. A lot of money.

But how do you do it the right way and effectively? One of the advisers to the PM of Britain wrote that citizens are the most unused resource today. And he is right: changing habits is a personal decision. If it is taken seriously, we will all benefit. But “orders from above” don’t always lead to the desired outcome.

In 2010, then Minister of The Environment, Gilad Erdan, led a decision, as part of which the Ministry of The Environment allocated 500 million NIS in order to encourage half a million citizens to recycle their organic waste. This was a huge change in policy not before seen in this field. But what do you do with the money?

Sharing The Planning – Not Only In The Implementation

kfar saba roundtable
The First Round Table in Kfar Saba, Led By The Mayor, Yehuda Ben-Hemo

Meir Elkayam, the manager of the Kfar Saba Department for the Environment, was the first to act differently. From stage one, it was clear to everyone that organic waste was smelly. Imagine leftover potato peels living in one garbage can with leftover hummus. Why should anyone keep those?

The road towards making recycling a reality must include the residents in the planning, not only in the implementation. This was also understood by Gil Oroyo, head of the department of sanitation in Tel Aviv’s city hall, and Kerry O’Connor, the head of innovation in the city of Austin.

But how do you lead widespread public change? How do you leave the frame of control groups or public polls, and create a city-wide thinking process? This was the challenge that stood in front of every city and government trying to lead a shared process, out of the understanding that the citizens have the knowledge.

Here, came along Insights technology, allowing Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv, Austin and other cities to speak with their residents – not only send them messages. Instead of planning the implementation in a closed room, the three cities decided together with their residents on how best to act.

Reaching Residents in Different Ways

The process is simple: City hall defined the challenge, residents raised their insights and at the end of the day each participant received a summary of their contribution to the action plan. All the knowledge contributed by the residents was gathered in a website that each city can open for free. Asking the citizens was done through different channels:

As part of the process, representatives of city hall went to residents homes, and asked: “What more can we do to get you and your
neighbors to separate your waste?”
City hall used the phone numbers of citizens to present them with questions about recycling in accordance with the data from each building. The response was also sent in text messages!
Residents received phone calls and were asked to offer solutions. All the knowledge collected was managed in the cities consultancy website, so they could understand what was going on.
In Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba, they did roundtable gatherings with key factors in the city, including businesses, resident’s unions and social organizations. What was said was transcribed and uploaded to the website.
In Austin, the city organized several events with residents of different groups where the challenge and data were presented. Residents replied directly via text messages.

Insights technology enabled to receive, in real time and through different channels, practical insights and “what works”. Instead of doing qualitative research, using focus groups and consultants – residents are the ones who brought the biggest value to the thinking process. Zero waste, maximum participation.

What Did They Learn In Austin, Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba? 

The work with residents proved itself. While consultants always approached the problem with the same “recipe” (Educational work and city-wide advertising) – residents produced different insights, more interesting and unique. Here are three of the most prominent ones:

austin texas is using insights

Austin learned that the problem was logistical first: The recycling bins are taken away every two weeks, and they overflow. Those who don’t recycle doesn’t experience it. But those who do - suffer.

tel aviv is using insights

Tel Aviv understood that the religious leaders could cause many of the residents in the neighborhoods of Nave Eliezer and Livne to recycle, by talking about the subject in the synagogues and producing a Halachic ruling of the cities head rabbi.

kfar saba is using insights

Kfar Saba learned that the location of the recycling bin in the garbage room was key to success. It’s important that the recycling bins would be first and prominent so that those who recycle could see them first.

The ability to plan change and implement it with residents created real change in how people think about recycling. City hall no longer “directed” the change, but it was planned together. City hall defined where they wanted to go (increasing recycling) and residents thought with it how to do it with the existing budget.

Closing The Circle: The Importance of Giving Personal Feedback to Residents

request from citizens to recycle
The Ad Published By Tel Aviv City Hall

We believe that technology needs to create a “bottom line” to city administrators and allow them to return to each resident with a personal update on their influence. The importance of this was already written about in the White House official blog.

In fact, Kfar Saba was the first city in the world that succeeded in getting back to each citizen with a personal update on their influence. Personal mail messages were sent at the end of the consulting process to residents. Tel Aviv was the first to go on a city-wide ad campaign thanking citizens for their ideas.

The personal feedback was sent to each resident, making them equal partners in the city-wide effort. Unlike a poll or a focus group, communicating with the city is not a one-way street, but a two-way street: we asked you, you responded, and here is what we decided to do.

Zero Waste, Maximum PartnersTzlil Vaserman
Tzlil manages the Digital division in Insights. She studied Public Policy at Tel Aviv University.