Pittsburgh Waste Management System

Systems Thinking - CMU Design Spring 2019

Duration: 6 Weeks
Skills: Systems Thinking, Information Architecture, Graphic Design

Collaborators: Youie Cho, Mia Tang, Sammie Kim, Elizabeth Han, Charmaine Qiu
Role: For this project, I conducted background research, iterated on mess maps, and developed the final poster's visual identity and data coding system.

01 / Overview

In this project, we sought out to better understand Pittsburgh's waste management system. Working in a team of six, we strived to dissect and map out the flow of waste and the social-technical problems within the many processes. As a wicked problem, the issues with Pittsburgh's waste management doesn't have a clean-cut solution; through research analysis and complex mapping, we attempted to pinpoint a specific location of plausible intervention.

Wicked Problem (n.) - a wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.

Image by Allyson Ruggieri - 90.5 WESA

02 / Initial Mapping

To begin the research process, we began mapping with post-its and sharpie. We structured the map to branch radially, starting with broad ideas to more specific nodes.

03 / Secondary Mapping

In our next iteration of mapping, we further refined the existing map, adding stakeholder relationships and deeper analysis into key problems.

Futures Thinking

Throughout this process, we refined our complex map with the intent of eventually designing an intervention that would alleviate the issues within the waste management system. To do so, we utilized futures design thinking: that is:
1) Mapping out what the current situation and features that are dominant and dormant.
2) Projecting the best case scenario of what Pittsburgh would be like if all issues were solved.
3) Tracing back from the projected scenario to the graph's middle point, that is how we can potentially bridge the present and the future.

04 / Mess Mapping

With much of the research done, our team of five began mess mapping the waste management system on Kumu, a collaborative idea mapping platform. The map on the left illustrates a number of physical sources and destinations that Pittsburgh's waste travels through. The map on the left connects the sources of waste to the core social practices that allow these issues to exist.

05 / Graphic Representation

From here on, my team and I began compiling all our information into a cohesive and systematic manner. This part of the process involved further research, a high level of collaborative organization, and hours of pixel pushing. The final product, shown below, was a 24"x36" poster.

Analysis of Map

We designed the map to illustrate existing policies, sources of waste, and their respective destinations. Each node is linked to its source/ destination with solid black lines. Within these connections, there is a statement defining the type of problem that exists within that relationship. We've defined these problems to fall into the category of missing infrastructure, stakeholder relationships, or systematic, awareness, and economic lackings.

Map Legend
Sources of Waste
Destinations of Waste
Government Policies

06 / Designing an Intervention

In addition to constructing a waste management map, we also conceived potential interventions that could alleviate the issues with Pittsburgh's existing waste system. When looking at leverage points, we wanted to intervene on a a deeper, more engrained, level. This meant avoiding band-aid solutions and instead changing the existing system from a habitual and educational level.

For us, we decided to intervene on the university level. This meant implementing a system that:

1) Rewarded individuals depending on the type of trash they threw away through a digital app system
2) Integrated scanners onto existing garbage cans around campus
3) Sticker labels that indicated the significance of material

For a deeper understanding of what we proposed, check out our slides decks on this entire project.