service design trend 4/5: societal impact

10 Oct 2018

4 min read

Those who are a little familiar with service design may initially think of the ‘classic’ variant in which solutions are steered on the basis of customer journeys, with the aim of, for example, higher turnover and more satisfied customers. What makes service design so suitable for commercial issues is the broad, holistic view with which it looks at problems – as service designers we think about all the factors that influence a decision. This extends far beyond the point at which someone makes a purchase.

better waste sorting thanks to service design

Comparable processes are often involved in societal challenges. Rijkswaterstaat, for example, has to deal with this when promoting waste sorting. Proper waste sorting not only contributes to a sustainable future, but also to a more pleasant living environment for all residents. However, sorting waste is not always a clear option, especially for residents of high-rise buildings – research shows that these residents separate their waste less well than residents of low-rise buildings. Practical reasons for this include lack of space and inconvenience (carrying rubbish down).

The best way to address this problem is through behavior change

At the same time, there is skepticism about what happens to waste and some residents say it is simply not part of their routine. The best way to tackle this problem is through behavioral change, and Rijkswaterstaat has enlisted our help for that. Essense’s holistic vision comes in handy here: if you only look at the moment someone throws something away, you are not there yet – there are many things that precede this: packaging in the store, information provision about sorting, knowledge about what constitutes ‘plastic’ is, accessibility of waste bins, etc.

persona’s of residents

When we look at behavioral change, we first look at the needs, motivations and barriers of residents. It is important to realize that not all residents have the same needs.

When we look at behavioral change, we first look at the needs, drivers and barriers

To gain more clarity about these needs, various personas have been developed for Rijkswaterstaat, namely:

  1. Non-sorters: these residents are strongly opposed, they see the municipality as responsible.

  2. Classic sorters: these residents do separate glass and paper, but they are not very motivated to separate ‘new’ things such as plastic and organic waste.

  3. Well-intentioned: this resident is motivated, but convenience is a requirement. In the face of obstacles, they may be tempted not to divorce.

  4. Supersorters: for these residents, sorting is part of their identity.

  5. Promotors: this super separator also wants to motivate others to sort.

phases of waste separation

After we mapped out the personas, we mapped out the process phases. We could distinguish between the following phases:

  1. Intention to sort.

  2. Having/collecting waste at home.

  3. Actual sorting.

  4. Challenge: how do you store it?

  5. Challenge: how do you dispose of your waste?

how do you change the behaviour?

We then went to see for each phase what the different personas needed to actually sort waste. This not only concerns the means, but also, for example, the personal motives. What motivates the different types of residents to sort waste?

  1. Non-sorters: personal advantage.

  2. Classic sorters: Social norm.

  3. Well-intentioned: Ease.

  4. Supersorters: doing even better.

  5. Promotors: Fun / satisfaction.


Non-sorters are not so easy to motivate with solutions that focus on the sustainable vision. For this group it is important that sorting benefits them personally. This can be done through rewards or by handing out fines. While classic-sorters rather need more convenience (a chute from your house to the waste bin) and improvement of the sorting process (so that they can do it even better).

To gain more clarity in this, we at Essense also use the insights of specialists such as behavioral psychologists. The fact that we have to reward non-sorters is already relevant knowledge, but we also want to know how we can do this effectively.

When proposing a solution for behavioral change, we not only reflect on the current situation, but we also look ahead to what developments can be expected in the coming years. For example, a shift to smaller forms of housing (in cities) would also mean less space to sort waste in the home. You could solve this by sorting waste at the source (in shops) or by having waste processed at home. In addition, it is quite possible that with the rise of the sharing economy there is less and less personal connection with products, with the result that the ‘lessor’ will also feel less responsible. Such perspectives are indispensable for the realization of a sustainable solution.

sustainability is more than the environment

In addition to waste sorting, we are also active in making housing construction more sustainable, designing a recycling center and designing a platform for citizen participation (Collaction.org). However, social impact goes further than just the environmental aspects: it is also about improving youth care or foster care, or, for example, providing solutions for cultural integration.

Contributing to a sustainable society and circular economy fits well with what we stand for at Essense

The fact that we can effectively use our service design expertise gives great satisfaction. We assume that the trend will continue and that the public domain will pay even more attention to the application of service design for social impact. It won’t be up to us.

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