LET’S SORT IT OUT
This analysis focuses on the collaborative project between Camden Environmental Services and CSM’s BA Product Design course facilitated through the Public Collaboration Lab (PCL) to look at how product design can create behaviour change around waste to increase recycling rates on two council housing estates. The core actors were the students and the residents. A number of other stakeholders including Environmental Services officers, bin manufacturers Greenleaf and Taylors, and Veolia, Camden’s refuse contractors, as well as CSM teaching staff were also involved in provided input and feedback.
The true ‘heart’ of the collaboration was in the personal encounters that were created between students and residents. Considerable effort went into ‘opening the doors’ for these encounters to take place through the programme of events organized by the PCL with Camden and teaching staff. It is the relationship of trust that was created between students and residents during the more formal meetings on the Estates (co-discovery, co-creation) that led to the students being invited back into resident’s private spaces, their homes, and sharing with them their personal approaches and attitudes to waste. It is these more intimate encounters that sparked the ‘aha’ moments that most inspired and drove the student’s design process.
It should be said in this reflection that these encounters were not all positive. At the constructive end, residents actively participated in solving their problem with them. At the more negative end of the spectrum students were exposed to a ‘culture of blame’ and barriers by residents. They had to learn to navigate the boundary of empathy as a positive tool so as not to let themselves be overwhelmed by the negativity.
The immediate result for the community of people involved in these encounters was sensitization to the problem of cross contaminating waste and the importance of recycling – particularly residents and students. Finally, the extensive insights from the research and tangible design solutions developed by students represent a valuable reference source for future action by the council.
THE ROLE OF DESIGN
Design created the passport or the neutral ground for opening conversations around a very endemic problem – the lack of understanding and ownership of the waste we generate. The design process of co-discovery and co-design drew together residents and students leading to more personal encounters and the most transformative moments for all who chose to engage. From the point of view of design education, opening doors for students to have these more intimate conversations with other citizens (in this case residents) and other actors (in this case, Camden Council) ultimately gave them belief in their designs and the value they can create.