Five key insights from user-centred evaluation and design thinking sprint of a recycling start-up in Côte d’Ivoire

More than five million tonnes of waste is generated each year in Côte d’Ivoire, a number that is expected to double by 2030. Less than half of the current waste is collected, and only about three per cent is recycled. The rest ends up primarily in open landfills or streets, clogging drains, contaminating water and posing danger to citizens’ health and the environment.

In 2017, Coliba launched a mobile-supported plastic recycling solution to address these challenges, protect the environment, create jobs and improve public health in Côte d’Ivoire. The start-up formally employs waste pickers who collect plastic bottles from businesses and households. Households receive reward points in exchange, which can be redeemed to buy mobile data credit or other rewards. Coliba converts the plastic waste into pellets in its local factory and resells them to local and international companies to manufacture products.

In November 2018, Coliba received a grant from the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund (supported by UK Aid from the UK Government) to develop a mobile app and deploy Coliba’s plastic collection service in 10 districts in Abidjan.

In January and February 2020, GSMA’s Monitoring and Evaluation team commissioned a formative evaluation to help Coliba review their customers’ experience with the service. We then used a design thinking approach to ideate, prototype and test solutions to enable adoption. The purpose was to help Coliba understand how to get consumers to regularly recycle their plastic (i.e. change behaviours) and subsequently increase the amount of plastic Coliba collected from households. This blog and the accompanying evaluation snapshot details key insights and recommendations obtained from the evaluation.

  • Evaluation insight 1: Testing assumptions early on in the design sprint helped uncover important behaviours and attitudes towards plastic recycling that informed the rest of the design process. For example, Coliba thought that people considered dealing with waste a problem for the government rather than the people; instead, they found that many people considered waste management their responsibility but were simply unaware of the recycling options they could use.
  • Evaluation insight 2: Users are not a single homogenous group. They have different identities, come from different age-groups and income levels, and have different levels of interest and understanding about environmental issues.  Treating them with empathy and truly attempting to understand their life experiences helped the team identify how the solution will need to address different types of customers, for instance, across low and high resource settings.
  • Evaluation insight 3: It is important and strategic for tech-led social enterprises to understand social norms and incorporate traditional agents (informal waste collectors in Coliba’s case) in their strategy. This is often better than competing with traditional agents, reinventing the wheel or leaving them behind in the push to digitise. In this case, potential ways of including community based informal waste collectors in Coliba’s model were explored.
  • Evaluation insight 4: Asking people about their life priorities and preferences (instead of making assumptions) helped inform the design of a rewards scheme that was grounded in evidence, increasing the likelihood of uptake. For instance, existing rewards such as home and beauty products were appealing only to a small segment of the user base, whereas vouchers for restaurants and fuel or electricity proved more popular with a wider group of users.
  • Evaluation insight 5: Prototyping and testing solution ideas was a low-cost and efficient process. The team prototyped and tested a new kiosk-based bottle collection model as well as marketing material. It helped the team uncover important insights around the user journey, such as which communications material appealed to users the most, what could make queueing more comfortable, and what incentives they preferred.

Top three evaluation recommendations

  1. Start-ups should leverage networks and social capital built by traditional informal waste collectors.
  2. Prototype early and frequently as new features are added, and the product is iterated.  Prototyping can be achieved with everyday items (such as a fold-out table and some printed pages) and doesn’t need to be costly.
  3. Check your assumptions. This is a critical first step in designing a behaviour change plan, including influencing behaviours towards the environment (such as recycling and minimising waste).

Download the short infographic below for more detailed findings.

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This initiative supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the GSMA and its members.

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