When Data Claimed the Day (Post from Dec 2015)

This post had been sitting in our Drafts folder from 2015! We figured it’s about time we release…mostly because the conversation on data in the context of waste management is just as critical today as it was then. Enjoy!


December, 2015

At our core, Citizengage is a data company. We believe information can make each of us more connected to the impact of our decisions and, when delivered at critical moments, allow us to make better choices. We create and distribute information to improve outcomes of civic services like waste management.

A few days ago, we met with a new partner organization to showcase the data we’d captured so a key attendee would help get BBMP clearances for scaling up our efforts. It turned out to be one of our most inspiring days at Citizengage, as data claimed the day!

In this first juicy blog post since we got started, we’d like to take you through the nuances of what we’ve discovered along the way.

1. Waste generation is unpredictable. In the charts below, we’re sharing anonymized waste collection data for a set of 7 restaurants tracked between Nov 15-28, 2015. Each color band is a separate businesses so you can see how much waste that restaurant contributed to total collection, relative to others.

The key points to notice here is how unpredictable the fluctuations in waste production are from day to day across all restaurants. The restaurant in blue is one where we see highest output on Sundays, their busiest day but even other spikes in demand are not easily anticipated. Nov 18th and 25th were both Fridays but the output on the 25th was multiple times more than what was produced on the 18th.


Dry waste, on the other hand, seems to be better bounded in its fluctuations across all restaurants (i.e. the range in smaller) but there is again no pattern that can be attributed to a particular day of the week.



2. Most restaurants are non-compliant on bulk generator requirements. Although this post was written over two years ago, not much has changed in Bangalore when it comes to compliance on segregation and contracts with verification of end disposal of waste, as required by the BBMP since 2015. Less than half the restaurants in our initial study displayed basic awareness of and outcomes on segregating waste at source. Less than 40% even had the adequate number of bins to keep the required waste streams separated. Over 94% were NOT segregating waste at source, though this was required by law and would invite fines for non-compliance.


Today, we work with over 60 restaurants and businesses in Indiranagar where over 95% of their bins show segregation at source. As a result, over 86% of their waste is recycled or reused. We have contracts with all our customers and track 100% of their waste from bin to destination.

In the journey to get here, we were able to light up this public park with restaurant waste. When we started, the 5-ton plant was getting less than 200 kg of properly segregated waste. By choraling the restaurant community in the neighborhood to segregate their waste and take responsibility for where it was disposed rather than just getting it off their property, we were able to demonstrate that change is possible.

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3.  Ward-level averages are a poor estimation metric for planning operations. Shaded in pink below is the ward (112) in which we undertook mapping. Over the past few years, the number of restaurants and bulk generators in this area has boomed, but data at the municipal level is yet to be updated. The area in the black box is where we initially started serving customers. Today, we are spread across Bangalore.

The most shocking aspect of the exercise was that only 30 or so restaurants were listed as being in the ward when the municipality carried out the initial survey that made them believe a 5-ton biogas plant, which converts food waste into a gas that feeds a generator to provide power back up in the park shown above, would be sufficient for this ward. As you can see, there are hundreds of restaurants that populate this area and in our experience over the past few years, we’ve seen anywhere from 10 to 30 restaurants being able to provide 1 ton of waste per day, depending on their size and category (restaurant only, bar, cuisine, etc.).


4. Erratic waste output means operations to collect, transport, and process waste have to adapt in real-time. If there was one epiphany from this exercise that has shaped how Citizengage grew and where we focused in terms of building systems, processes, training, and technology, it would be this. Without a system to “see” what is produced, we don’t know the recycling or re-use potential of waste coming from any location. Once we know this, we can match the different streams of waste coming from a single location to facilities like biogas plants, composting sites, piggeries, and recycling centres that can use that waste. This is how we’ve managed to feed the processing sites in our Network with the best quality of raw materials they can find in the city, reducing labor cost and processing time for them. Very soon, we will be installing our own processing sites and delivering biogas and electricity, produced from waste, to select customers. More on this Waste-to-Resource Grid soon!


Hello everyone,

We’ve been away from blogging working hard and switching up a few of our web and social media configurations. Though we haven’t used this space for awhile, we’re getting reconnected and will resurfacing here. Stay tuned for exciting updates! =)

Creating the Revolution,

Team Citizengage

Not too hi-tech for India: how we build products

There are two reactions to starting a technology company addressing India’s waste supply chain problems we often get:

  1. Isn’t this too hi-tech for India?
  2. Yeah, India really needs something like this. Developed countries do it so much better.

In crafting our response, we realized it would be best to do so across two separate blog posts. Here’s the first part of our response:

1. Isn’t this too hi-tech for India? Apart from the postcolonial inferiority complex diatribe I could go on, I think this speaks to the elitism associated with technology to which the majority of us (albeit, unknowingly) subscribe to. The type of phone you have, whether you have an accompanying iPad is often as much a status symbol as the type of car you drive.

So, understandably, we ignore the equalizing potential of technology, barring a few efforts like the Aadhar programme or startups like Babajobs that were one of the first tech companies to look at engaging blue collar workers through a mobile platform they could actually use. In our minds, technology is always complex, fancy, and aspirational. Sadly, we don’t consider usability, simplicity, and purpose as much as we could. Therefore, access is usually the last thing on our mind.

At Citizengage, one of our core beliefs is in the power of technology, applied at critical junctures, to unleash information flows across people who otherwise make decisions in the blind because they are under-served or ignored by most technology innovations. We flip typical assumptions and product development processes on their head, making “anyone, everyone should be able to participate” our guiding principle.

Our product developers aren’t staring at a screen of code and making up wireframes as we tell them what our technology should do. Our most powerful product engineers are our users who tell us how they use their phones, what information they would like to access, and the easiest, most intuitive, and efficient way to do this. We don’t build anything without prototyping and user testing in the field. We embrace the iterative approach and often find some of our most basic assumptions blown to pieces soon as our users are called upon to play and teach us. Often, we learn far more about how different brains process and interact with information within a few minutes of interacting with our users than we could debating internally for hours. We are surprised on a daily basis. And we love it!

Rather than copying+pasting foreign technology at home as part of our aspirations to “become like them”, we believe in innovating for our local challenges and growing out of this experience to offer something unique to the world. If you follow the next blog post on our favorite waste infographic, you’ll see that we’re building a better platform not just for India but one that will give responsible citizens, businesses, and processors across the world, more control over their waste operations and impact.

Our quest is deeply rooted in the belief that solving hyper-local civic service problems in Indian cities will provide new systems the world can leverage to better manage essential services with higher engagement across the supply chain . We’ve seen myriad cases where attempts to simply adapt technology from elsewhere have ended in utter failure. We’re still talking about technology to process mixed waste that yields 20% value at best when citizens have already shown the aptitude to segregate at source, especially when there’s transparency on what’s happening with their waste after they put it out. Perhaps the need for segregating at source should be a separate blog post but it’s clear that it is the only way forward if we are to manage our waste problem at scale.

And at Citizengage, we’re already demonstrating that model with engaged, responsible people craving for a better system. We were born in the world’s largest democracy. If we don’t build better models for governing public resources, shame on us.

Why we started

Now that so many of you have started asking us this question, we figured it was time to share an answer more broadly + publicly.

Why were the two of us crazy enough to let pass a lot of other opportunities, make a ton of personal sacrifices, and sign up for a few years of ridiculous amounts of risk, struggle, and convincing non-believers that self-managing communities are possible?

Because Citizengage is a culmination of what we believe should exist in the world, what we believe is possible for communities, and who we believe deserves to have meaningful technology.

At a more personal level, it is the result of my life’s desire and commitment to make citizenship mean something real, no matter who our parents are or whether we know how to read or what one’s mother tongue is. You can understand more deeply what I mean by watching this video of how the startup I used to work with created a platform for me to connect with this inner ambition.

There are at least three “timing” reasons that also led to the birth of Citizengage:

1) The need for mobile tools for the majority of mobile phone users: on a daily basis, we used to interact with citizens with whom we tried to speak to over SMS. We expected that in response to sending them pertinent information, they would let us know when this information was wrong. In reality, less than 45% of mobile phone users in India have ever sent an SMS. Every day, we would meet housewives, utility field workers, shopkeepers, retired-but-interested-in-community issues uncles and aunties, and many more people that wanted to talk to us but for whom we didn’t have a viable method. Couched in Mark Zuckerburg’s ambitions for internet.org, you will find a desire to plug-in the next 4 billion people who have access to a mobile phone but don’t use data or the internet on it. The next big challenge is to find enough incentives to bring this people meaningful value through mobile phones. In Citizengage, we see enormous potential to do just that.

2) Swachh Bharat and The Ugly Indian have mobilized over 1,300,000 citizens to take charge of waste in their cities: yet those same citizens lack the ability to devise new systems for managing basic services in the communities where they live and work. We are deeply inspired by the women, men, youth, and children who take to the streets and clean up without any expectation of recognition or remuneration. They self-organize, show up, clean up, and leave. We began wondering about the disconnect these people might feel cleaning up a “blackspot” but having no method of preventing it from arising in the first place. That’s what we wanted to create: system and tools for communities to take charge of the entire waste eco-system that blossoms around them, as soon as they are ready for change. We’ll work with you, customize for you, and help you plug in every person who touches your waste and attempt to transform it into value. All you have to do is choose to change.

3)  A community that took charge and demanded a better system: approached us and asked whether we could help them make their systems less manual and more scalable. This was the result of Devishree Murthy’s tireless work at Shriram Spandana, a community of over 500 apartments in Bangalore. Devishree and her team were able to convince the community to eventually invest in on-site composting facilities and got Unilever to sponsor the color coded bins for each apartment, block, and common areas. If one such community could demonstrate what is possible if we all have a bit of imagination and commitment to make a change, imagine what our cities could look like populated by many such communities.

As a result, Citizengage focuses on building tools and systems that allow communities to self-manage their civic issues. We’re starting with waste in Bangalore but hope to expand to multiple cities and other services shortly.

If you’d like to become a champion community, join or partner with us, just send an email to info@citizengage.co.

We’d love to hear from you!