By LCRP & MENA Design Research Centre
How can design be used to find innovative, human-centered solutions to the waste management crisis in Lebanon? The UNDP launched a project with local teams to find out.
The field of design is quickly growing from mere visual representations and artefacts to more strategic processes. Today, organizations are adopting design and innovation as a process to unlock insights and to engage stakeholders in order to solve complex problems. In early 2019, the UNDP, in partnership with the Inter-Agency Coordination, initiated a project to introduce a human-centered design approach to find solutions for the waste crisis in Lebanon. Field officers went to the four corners of Lebanon to reach motivated Syrian and Lebanese participants.
Between March and June 2019, forty teams underwent intensive Design Thinking workshops to examine, understand, and propose innovative solutions for solid waste management in Lebanon. The teams were led through a rigorous process to come up with human-centered and needs-based solutions. They used exploratory and evaluative design research tools and methods to map issues and existing solutions, build personas, and design context-specific proposals to pitch at the Pitch Day.
Why Human-Centered Design?
The term “human-centered systems” was first coined by Mike Cooley in his book Architect or Bee. It proposed thinking about human involvement as belonging to the system solution. By creating archetypal personas and other tools, human-centered design ensures that the right problem is defined and that the solution works for the people who need it most. It achieves this by involving them in all steps of the process. Design Thinking helped the teams frame their solutions by making sure solutions are desirable in the Lebanese market, technologically feasible, and viable from a business standpoint.
Three Winners on Pitch Day
On June 27th, the eight finalist teams presented their ideas in front of a jury composed of members with a specialization in waste management, human-centered design, and development work. Teams were asked to present their evidence-based research and to pitch their local solution, their implementation plan, and the budget necessary to build their prototype. The MENA Design Research Center was a partner in the program, coaching teams on how to deliver a concise and structured pitch. After the jury deliberation, three teams were picked as finalists:
The Schools district project
This team proposed tackling the danger and repercussions of the pollution of the Litani River, which is caused by unnecessary dumping of waste in the river. The team wants to bring different communities together using a positive-thinking approach and building an awarenessraising campaign with the local youth from five neighboring schools to tackle each of the four sustainability Rs through events. (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)
The second team focused on bringing upcycling culture to one of the refugee camps in Barr Elias, especially targeting women. In the absence of proper waste management, people are forced to dump their trash in the neighboring dumps. Team Hamida is proposing to raise awareness on the importance of upcycling and how that can eventually bring financial returns to the women of the camp. By training women to sort and upcycle their waste, Hamida project aims to bring a possible livelihood to women at the camps by organizing events and fairs to showcase their creations.
The corniche by the sea in Saida suffers from garbage dumping. This is due, in part, to restaurants on the corniche, who dump trash into the sea when shifts end at midnight. In the midst of the waste management crisis in Lebanon, the city of Saida was fortunate to have good recycling plants, so the team proposed to take that opportunity to act as a liaison between the restaurants and the recycling plant by partnering up and incentivizing waste sorting for Syrian workers in those restaurants.
Prototyping for Eight Weeks
As a partner in the project, MENA Design Research Center’s role was to embed design methodologies and mindsets into the teams and to create a strategic plan to build their prototypes over eight weeks within the budget. As we met with each team, the excitement from their recent win was evident, but they also knew the real on the ground was just beginning. They had eight weeks to test and prove the viability of their work, and to figure out inventive ways to measure their success and report it back. As ideas were different in approach and systems, we also started identifying together the possible expertise needed, which could be brought to the teams, as well as figuring out possible challenges and how we can design for them.