Data-driven approach to waste management in Amman
Between 2004 and 2015, Amman’s population more than doubled from approximately 2 to over 4 million1, thus putting pressure on outdated urban infrastructure and overburdened public services. Driven largely by the Syrian refugee crisis, Amman has also absorbed 1 million new residents over the past three years.2 Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) is directly responsible for delivering a number of services to this growing and evolving population, from waste management to road maintenance to licensure.
One of the biggest challenges such cities face is effectively managing solid waste in light of this kind of rapid growth. In the case of Amman, improving solid waste management presented a unique challenge due to its particular spatial limitations, as well as infrastructure, human and financial resource constraints. Poor solid waste management at every stage—from street sweeping, household pickup, to disposal in landfills can undermine citizen confidence in government and has the potential to disrupt economic growth. In some cases, the inability to deliver basic waste services can trigger economic or political instability, as seen recently in Beirut, Lebanon.3 Many cities are facing similar challenges.
The next three decades will see a rapid change in urban demographics with the emergence of “megacities” and the rise of secondary cities, which are facing even greater challenges with population growth, combined with poor infrastructure, lack of investment and insufficient capacity.4 The United Nations (UN) estimates that 66 percent of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050.5 How Amman is using a Smart City approach to address this problem can be a guide for other urban centers struggling with booming populations.
Amman produces nearly 900,000 tons of solid waste annually. The GAM manages this service for residents throughout its entire lifecycle across 22 administrative districts. Prior to implementing its Smart City solution, waste management operations were inefficient, with trucks not completely filled while others skipped stops due to volume limits. There was also little direct oversight of service provision, and GAM lacked a rigorous system for using data to identify problem areas in delivery and adjust with varying demand.6
To tackle this challenge, the Mayor’s office launched a pilot program called CityPerform in 2015, which drew inspiration from Baltimore’s municipal management innovation, CitiStat. The aim of the CitiStat model is to gather data on an array of performance indicators, including response times for things like pothole abatement, trash collection, and snow removal, as well as the prevalence of problems such as illegal dumping, vacant buildings, and sewage overflows. Once collected, this data can be analyzed with the assistance of computerized databases and geographic mapping to target areas of underperformance.7
GAM’s CityPerform was implemented in multiple phases. Phase one focused on an overall understanding of the institutional, financial, and technical aspects of solid waste services under the GAM’s responsibility. Phase Two involved refining a performance management framework, with defined indicators and targets with a focus on usability. GAM already had large number of datasets, but many were disorganized, unreliable, and not available in a shareable format.8
In subsequent phases, a process was established so that the mayor could meet with the heads of the various departments periodically, discuss progress against performance indicators, and resolve to take action to address problem areas. Executive management dashboards using data and visual graphics helped in tracking areas such as route optimization, wait time, customer feedback, collection efficiency and staff utilization on a real-time basis. For instance, the dashboards gave a breakup of waste tonnage by district, distribution of the number of complaints resolved, and a graphical depiction of the efficiency of the workforce. These meetings were a great way to promote internal accountability, and redirect resources to improve performance in underperforming areas.9
The CityPerform pilot in solid waste management resulted in a practical, adaptable, and locally sustainable process that made best use of available data in improving efficiency in solid waste services. A new fleet tracking system and updated maps helped to meet operational needs more efficiently. The daily field reporting of tonnage collected helped to identify collection issues before they became critical. A data driven management model, combined with enhanced technological capabilities, has been driving positive results for Amman.
“Through this model, the city hopes to realize results in improved and more efficient solid waste services, and apply the same model to other sectors gradually, for the sake of continued development and improvement of services provided to citizens,” states Amman’s Mayor Aqel Biltaji.10