How We Prototyped a Neighborhood Community
Müllernte (German for: “Litter Harvesting”) is a neighborhood community we founded in Berlin to proactively raise awareness of clean public space in the district of Moabit. What made us special: We applied design techniques and lean processes to a social, real-world context. The following 10 Steps reveal, how Miriam Zanzinger, Nina Komarova-Zelinskaya, Jonas Wolff and I made actual impact in just a few months and even raised a founding by the authorities of Berlin.
1. Analyse the surrounding
Initially we analyzed the neighborhood of Moabit and especially the modern city park that wraps the Center for Art and Urbanistics (ZK/U), who partnered with our university to tackle the littering problems in their area of responsibility. In concerted action we manually collected data by observing and measuring the surrounding and build an interactive map. This helped us to understand the actual problem and discover first pain-points to design for.
2. Do something stupid – as soon as possible
As the Z/KU announced a flea market during the early stage of our project, we grabbed the chance to conduct a first experiment with the audience we expected to be on the spot anyway. Since we didn’t have a concrete idea yet, we forced ourselves to come up with something stupid: We rummaged the basement for reusable materials and prototyped a huge scale out of two former trash baskets. Later we tied the construction on an abandoned swing and encouraged children and families to collect litter against each other. The team who had the most litter in their bag won a freshly prepared waffle.
3. Talk to people
Doing the first experiment early provided us a great opportunity to actually talk to people. We easily found out what they think about the littering problem and what they are willing to contribute. Also the scale we built attracted many visitors and helped us to break the ice. During the whole project we learned that asking for feedback is key in order to generate new ideas and build something, neighbors can identify with.
With these learnings in mind we built on the success of our first experiment, but tried to address an adult target group. Additionally we focused on the social and entertaining part of picking up litter (yes there is one!) and invented a new kind of speed dating, where people get to know each other while doing good for the environment.
Although it was a rainy evening, to our surprise many people showed up and were interested in the “Trash Dating” event we promoted on Facebook. Besides the fact that it was a lot of fun, people engaged with our initiative and motivated us to continue.
5. Get money and support
As the end of our university collaboration approached, we decided to continue the Müllernte initiative. In order to bring it to the next level, we applied for a funding by the district of Berlin-Mitte, which supported voluntary work at this time. With the support of ZK/U, we actually obtained a decent amount of money. In addition to that, a German manufacturer of cleaning tools sponsored us 15 high-quality trash tongs. We learned that many people are willing to help and easy to persuade, if they can contribute to something good.
6. Create a brand
Our name “Müllernte” is easy to remember, totally German and sounds like it already got printed in the dictionary. Connecting our initiative to the term “harvest” was a deliberate decision in order to emphasize that litter is something valuable to pick up. Additionally, it happens regularly and is often being celebrated like at the harvest festival. To promote our brand in the neighborhood, we designed flyers and became more active on social media.
7. Get physical
In our first experiment we learned that a central physical object like the trash scale is very helpful to attract attention and create a visual anchor for participants. With this in mind we decided to build something that looks unique and is mobile enough to use it in our events. By investing the means of our funding we bought a large garbage bin and tuned it with hundreds of mosaic mirror tiles, LED stripes and some bluetooth sound to make it look like a funky disco ball.
8. Don’t be ideologic
That might be our personal attitude, but not being ideologic about the topic was a quite reasonable approach for us. Even though our initiative is focused on environmental commitment, we do not assume that will save the world (alone) and everything we do has to be 100% eco-friendly. We didn’t separate most of the litter we collected from the park, because we found it more important to at least pick up as much as we can in the first place. Also our logo is not the green, but orange. In this way, we successfully attracted new people who weren’t used to actively protect the environment before. But don’t get us wrong, we of course welcome everyone!
9. Get connected
After our first events, we were invited to present Müllernte at an exhibition of local projects next to the town hall, where we placed the disco trash can in front of our booth. During the whole day we had no change to rest, because so many people were interested in us. Even the local major was excited about the project. We think that these kinds of events are great to connect to new people and meet potential partners. To stay in touch, we did send a follow-up newsletter to all the people who gave us their email address.
10. Have fun
This project was extremely fun because each of us could contribute something she or he is good in. We tried out weird ideas and never took ourselves too seriously. However, the most important thing was that we used the principles of good design and applied them to a real-life context. We prototyped events, asked people for feedback and then refined what worked and changed what didn’t.