Case Study

Waste Watch

This third Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories sharing the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“How do we actually know what’s working?”

Waste Watch inspires and helps people to live more whilst wasting less.  Set up 24 years ago, it put recycling on the national agenda and led the country towards today’s improved waste policies. With 40 staff, it recently merged with Keep Britain Tidy. The team at Waste Watch have put values-thinking into the heart of the work they do, moving the idea of sustainability from windmills and recycling to a wider question of collective wellbeing and social justice. The video below gives a good sense of how they work with schools, businesses and communities.

I spoke to Tim Burns, Head of Waste Watch, and Morgan Phillips, who works on the Our Common Place project, about how redefining their work has allowed them to break free from a constraining focus, and how measuring broader impacts has improved the way they work.

UPDATE: Read Morgan’s final report on Our Common Place here.

What did they set out to do differently?

The team used to spend a lot of time making interventions, delivering a project and then walking away. Short-term funding projects meant that they’d run a campaign to share best practice, monitor the outputs and immediate environmental impacts without getting a good idea of what was really changing at a deeper level within the community.

Now, Waste Watch is measuring outcomes, rather than just outputs. This means monitoring the impact on the beneficiaries engaged in their projects as well as the wider community by looking at the;

  • Confidence and skills of the participants
  • Sense of connection between volunteers and their community
  • What cross-barrier relationships have been built

Practically speaking, by collecting this data, Waste Watch now has an evidence base from which to apply for new sources of funding. They’re connecting the dots between the environment, mental health and community development – and widening their scope to have maximum impact.

What does that look like in practice?

The Our Common Place project is bringing this values-thinking into the heart of Waste Watch’s work. Engaging with residents living in large blocks of flats across 23 communities in London, Morgan and his team are following the enthusiasm of the residents in deciding what projects they work on. In one case, sewing classes have been set up, in another, a ‘help your neighbour recycle’ scheme. One of the most surprising projects is working with a youth club to look at how sustainability flows through everyday life, in one session young people analysed their favourite song lyrics to see what values they espouse. Morgan explains,

“We found that the best way to start talking about what’s important to people, their values, is to start where people’s interests lie. We’re trying to allow for self-direction in how we work with local communities.”

Nobody in the sector has cracked how to create successful recycling schemes in deprived housing estates, so there is a need for innovative approaches. Morgan will be sharing the results in the summer later this year. A key ingredient to the success so far has been working with local authority partners, in some cases leading workshops on the thinking that the Common Cause report puts forward.

What have they learned?

Leadership on this new approach has come from every corner of the organisation. They’ve found that in order to start to articulate values-thinking in their external work, the Waste Watch team had to first start to transform the way they work internally. This started with a much more inclusive approach to leadership where ideas and contributions came from everyone, as Tim explains,

“At Waste Watch now, everyone has been contributing to our new strategic direction, for example through our business plan or our approach towards change – and as a result there’s a much more inclusive culture. Its not just formally but informally too – there’s a lot of sharing lunchtimes, baking cakes for each other – we’re actually building a community within the office as well as within our projects based upon the values we all live and work by.”

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

There is much to be learnt from how Waste Watch are applying an understanding of values in their work. Other case studies have picked up on the important implications for the culture of an organisation, and this is clearly something to which Waste Watch are responding. What is most exciting perhaps, is how values-thinking is infusing their project work, and opening up possibilities for new alliances with different sectors and organisations.

Importantly, the team understands that intrinsic values are already important in the lives of their audience – the question is how to engage with them, not to tell people how to live. Discussions about ‘sustainability’ aren’t likely to be the best starting point.

Contact

Tim Burns

[email protected]

020 7549 0300

Casper ter Kuile

About Casper ter Kuile

Casper is a campaign strategist and consultant, and the co-founder of the UK Youth Climate Coalition. He has worked with Avaaz, Oxfam, and Futerra Sustainability Communications and joins the Common Cause team after touring through Europe his with vocal ensemble 'Northern Harmony'. He graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in History and Sociology and was named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum in 2011.