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Employing information systems for waste collection management in Bogotá

22 minute read
Bogotá has adopted several models to manage waste in the last decades, but it faced many challenges. Therefore, the city had to think outside the box and form a new information model to manage and control the high-quality services that citizens need.
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Bogotá has developed a new waste management system that relies on information, stemming from its willingness to improve the city's waste collection and recycling plan. It has achieved unprecedented development in the way it meets the needs of citizens and manages its waste. This initiative also enhanced the transparency of procedures of public and private entities, intensified cooperation efforts to provide the best services, and enabled efficient citizen engagement.

Innovation summary

Bogotá has adopted several models to manage waste in the last decades, but it faced many challenges. Therefore, the city had to think outside the box and form a new information model to manage and control the high-quality services that citizens need.

The new waste management model was formed in a way that divided the city into five specific waste collection zones, each one with a dedicated operator. The best operator is chosen for each region through a bidding process. This division mechanism highlighted the need to integrate the information of the five operators into one unified operation, while each operator was assigned to a different zone. 

The advantages of adopting an efficient and versatile scheme led to two additional challenges: ensuring that citizens have access to high-quality and equal services, and making sure that citizens perceive the district public administration as an "integrated unit," regardless of the operator that serves the area.

The new waste management model is based on a system called SIGAB (Bogota Waste Management Information System) in which operation, financial, commercial, and service information was standardized. Each concessionaire has its own information systems for service provision and other personal information related to waste collection and cleaning services. These transactional systems were integrated through an interoperability platform that combines all the standardized information, thus forming a large district-wide operation.

SIGAB collects and verifies the necessary information to control the quality of the services provided and offer information to different entities through a specialized electronic information portal, a transactional portal, and control and management dashboards that concessionaires and the public entity can use, and a mobile application for citizens which ensures data transparency for all stakeholders, including academic and national institutions, the local government, and the general public.

Assigning specific roles to each waste management operator was essential to supporting Bogotá's transformation into a city with an open government in the fields of cleanliness and waste management.

The role of the district government: formulating the high-level technological organizational structure and instructions, performing its organizational role, offering incentives, and encouraging the use of the organizational structure. In general, it is the force driving the transformational process.

Concessionaires: designing detailed technological solutions, reusing specific components, developing SIGAB, creating coordination technologies, and ensuring continuous development and innovation. In general, it is the force driving the development of technological capabilities.

Citizens: Staying informed about the services, leveraging the digital media, ensuring interaction to enhance services, and fostering a supportive culture to become role models.

The key element of this initiative was in the funding of the entire new plan, including SIGAB, through a tariff charged to citizens. This means that the Special Administrative Unit for Public Services (UAESP) will not use financial resources from its budget. During the eight years of receiving the necessary license, the operator is guaranteed the provision of services and the use of SIGAB.

The challenges of the past have been definitely resolved. The standardized information is currently available in a timely manner through the value chain of service provision. Moreover, services have been activated to enable citizens and encourage public entities to manage the city's resources and services.

The initiative has complied with government laws and instructions in terms of digital government, information security, corporate organizational structure, and the instructions imposed by the districts regarding cartographic information management and open data.

The initiative has adopted cutting-edge technologies, including the Internet of Things: this technology was used in the direct monitoring of vehicles across the city; Big data: to analyze and standardize millions of data received daily to improve and ensure compliance with the route schedule; Data analysis: data analysis mechanisms are used and indicator dashboards are developed; Cloud computing: all services have been implemented in AWS and Azure Clouds; and Mobility: a mobile application has been developed to enable citizens to check their services, track the vehicle that will collect the garbage from their homes, and take a picture when a collection service is needed and send it through their mobile phones to notify the concerned operator.

What makes your project innovative?

In the last two decades, the city of Bogotá tested the efficiency of several waste management models to provide efficient services. However, it only found partial solutions and was unable to formulate a concept to control and develop the service continuously.

The city has resorted to several options, including hiring service providers from the private sector and establishing specialized operators. In 2012, the city managed to allocate sufficient financial resources to build a monitoring center equipped with technological infrastructure that works as a platform to monitor the vehicles and staff for the purposes of maintaining the quality of services. After several months, the system did not achieve any concrete results and the resources that were dedicated to its creation were wasted due to the lack of high-quality and timely information.

Aware of the need to adopt another model, UAESP seized the opportunity to integrate data exchange and open data services at all stages of service provision and integrate it fully into the control and management mechanism.

Participating entities

UAESP, the mayor, and staff designed the conceptual model, while 5 service providers participated in the data flow organization within the transactional systems and provided the necessary technological knowledge for service provision. The license auditor monitored the compliance with SIGAB and the technology operator led the development and implementation of platforms. In turn, citizens participated in the co-creation of sessions to determine the needs they wish to be met through the mobile application and the website. 

Users, stakeholders, and beneficiaries

UAESP public employees, the Mayor's Office, service providers, and five companies: PromoAmbiental (Zone 1), LIME (Zone 2), Bogotá Limpia (Zone 3), Ciudad Limpia (Zone 4), Área Limpia (Zone 5), the technological operator, the license auditor, citizens, and monitoring entities.

Results and impacts

Waste management information is integrated, standardized, and delivered on time and in real time to support the decision-making process. The routes and costs were optimized in order to provide higher-quality services. UAESP owns the required and integrated information to facilitate management. Citizens are informed of the process and are given access to methods that will enable them to interact with the new waste management plan. SIGAB has become a public good. Disruptive technologies are employed, such as IoT, big data analysis, cloud computing, and the use of mobile phones. Citizens can now learn how to recycle through the mobile application. SIGAB has been presented as a successful case in the international conference on governance in the era of data and other governmental plans. The first version of SIGAB was implemented in a record time of 8 months. Results have been measured by consolidating and analyzing open data in the waste management system. We expect that most Bogotá citizens will use SIGAB for recycling purposes and will cooperate to receive high-quality services.

Challenges and failures

1. Technological infrastructure: SIGAB requires a standardized and organized technological infrastructure that ensures readiness, security, and interoperability between stakeholder information systems. 2. Consolidation of stakeholder efforts: SIGAB requires the consolidation of efforts of all actors involved in waste management. Permanent information exchange and active use of information technologies have allowed UAESP and concessionaires to consolidate their efforts and ensure continuous improvement and higher quality in public waste collection services. 3. Communication with citizens: SIGAB is meant to empower citizens. Therefore, different services have been activated so that citizens can be informed, participate in, and interact with the city's new waste management system. However, there is no guarantee that citizens will be receptive to the new system without offering an appropriate product and instructing them on how to use the services. 4. Citizen needs: SIGAB is required to incorporate and satisfy citizen needs.

Conditions for success

UAESP General Director and the mayor played a leadership role to encourage the creation of a solution for the challenge. UAESP has used the specialized knowledge of concessionaires and experts, which created an environment conducive to innovation that promotes the participation and collaboration of all parties. Service providers participated and collaborated to ensure coordination and readiness to provide the best information, and engaged in new methods to collect waste although they were accustomed to working in a certain method for a long time. Human resources from all actors have sought to improve the living conditions of the city and provided technical expertise and contributions. An operating entity has been established in the field of information technology to be solely responsible for enabling the platforms and coordinating between all actors. Citizens have been very interested in the initiative, facilitating the decision-making process aimed at meeting the needs of citizens, enhancing the quality of services, and providing them in a timely manner.

The possibility of replicating the experience

This new waste management plan can be replicated in other cities, like Colombia, Latin America, etc. This innovation has proved its ability to resolve monitoring and informational challenges and enabled citizen engagement. 

Over the following years, UAESP will establish itself as an institution that employs information and provides knowledge on waste management services.

This new model will support regulatory reforms to improve waste management plans in Colombia. Therefore, we will provide an example so that regulators can improve the systems and provide high-quality, information-based services.

Lessons learned

The formulation of public policies is based on three clear points that should be handled adequately: initial feasibility studies, viability, and sustainability.

Initial feasibility studies: aim at assessing potential methods to achieve the transformation, analyzing suitable and unsuitable conditions to make the transformation a reality, and identifying interests and incentives provided and received by actors. Moreover, initial feasibility studies are aimed at establishing a regulatory framework and allocating resources and real possibilities to realize the transformation in operational procedures, and most importantly, understanding the reasons behind the failures or successes while trying to make the transformation a reality. In this phase, key parties should be convinced of the idea.

Viability: to determine how the transformation can be implemented and guarantee its achievement through contracting mechanisms involving stakeholders, as well as ensuring suitable incentives and staff. This may happen in a radical way in some cases and sometimes in a gradual fashion. Dynamics are driven by deadlines and human teams who believe that transformation is important. At this stage, you must motivate those who are willing to lay out practical components that will ensure the success of the transformation.

Sustainability: it is important to motivate citizens and individuals working in public and private entities to perceive the transformation as a daily experience in order to use and accept the innovation. At this stage, you must motivate everyone with facts and encourage them to take advantage of the transformation’s positive impacts.

We would like to stress the importance of imagining and predicting those three stages from the beginning. If they are not in the early stages, uncertainties and risks will take over and affect the development of the government's innovation.

If we had the opportunity, the only thing we would have done differently is to present bolder designs that require more technologies, but the current regulations did not provide us with sufficient information to determine whether concessionaires would accept these conditions. Since we have already faced major challenges in the past due to the nature of waste management issues, we thought it would be best to lower our expectations to ensure the success of the transformation, even if it did not involve cutting-edge technologies. We preferred to negotiate the essentials and relinquish some unnecessary points. However, we have now realized that we could be much bolder. We are now facing the challenge of protecting the interests of all parties.

SIGAB has successfully unified the efforts of all actors in the field of waste management. Since the beginning of the bidding process for the preparation and implementation of the new plan, the permanent exchange of information and active use of information technologies consolidated the efforts of UAESP and concessionaires and maintained the quality of waste services provided by the government, which is an unprecedented event in Bogotá.

SIGAB has successfully empowered citizens as different services have been activated to introduce them to the city's new waste management system and encourage them to participate and interact with it. This development has transformed the new waste management plan and SIGAB information system into a citizens-driven innovation that benefits them at the same time.

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