Speaking across divisions: A citizen-science data campaign

Local Bagamoyo stakeholders united in their mission to create a “World Without Waste.”

By Deanna Cook, Administrator, Bagamoyo Beach Lovers

Unusual for this small coastal town in Tanzania, government officials, artists, school principals, nonprofit directors, fishermen and business owners filled the courtyard of an eco-hotel. Divided by status, education and environmental awareness, a citizen science data campaign brought them together to map and collect trash.

The main event of the evening was a presentation hosted by Bagamoyo Beach Lovers, introducing the community to World Cleanup Day, and outlining the various ways to get involved. World Cleanup Day is a global movement striving to be the biggest civic action in human history: millions of volunteers from more than 150 countries joining together to clean up the world. Started in Estonia in 2008, World Cleanup Day uses citizen science to map and collect data about trash, identify and clean illegal dumping sites, and propose and implement solutions to the broader issue of waste management.

As the regional lead for the World Cleanup Day campaign, Bagamoyo Beach Lovers was tasked with bridging divides that separate local stakeholders and uniting them in support of a common goal: using citizen science to gather statistics about waste in the area, and then using that information to build a cleaner, more sustainable society. On a high level, community-sourced data collection can be incredibly effective, and helps to aggregate facts and opinions from across social, political, and economic spectrums. Practically, however, there are so many other considerations to take into account when engaging such a diverse range of participants.

One major challenge was accounting for varying levels of background knowledge and understanding of the topic. Some of the event guests were fairly familiar with concepts like renewable energy and zero waste manufacturing, while others had never even heard of recycling. The government official and the subsistence farmer likely have very different views on waste and the environment, for example. The official might be preoccupied with the industrial waste blocking storm sewers in the town center, while the farmer is worried about people illegally burying household waste in his fields. Both are symptoms of the larger, systemic problem of waste management in Tanzania, but the objective is to meet the audience where they’re at and to present the information in simple, neutral terms that everyone can relate to and understand.

Getting such a disparate group of people into the same room is often the biggest obstacle in planning a campaign of this nature. Bagamoyo Beach Lovers had been building community relationships for years with government, private and public actors. These were very helpful in the hectic weeks leading up to the event. The team brainstormed and sought insight on a guest list that would bring together some of the most significant networks in the community based on personal observation of how informal and formal decisions were being made in the community on environmental issues.

We wrote official invitations in English and Swahili and had them signed and endorsed by both Bagamoyo Beach Lovers and the District Environmental Officer. Receiving the endorsement of the local government was necessary to provide a safe space for participants to gather. Local volunteers delivered the invitations to the guests in person, and recorded their contact numbers in order to send event reminders and confirm RSVPs by phone, text or WhatsApp. Tapping into local networks, gaining the support of key community leaders and following up once or twice with each participant were all crucial tools in getting people through the door.

By then framing the issue in terms of its potential for impact and emphasising each individual’s unique role in the solution, it became possible to break down long-held cultural barriers and create a sense of global solidarity. For the fisherman, the proper disposal of nylon fishing nets and picking up waste along the coastline could mean healthier fish populations and better yields. For the hotel manager, a cleaner town and the preservation of historical sites makes for a more appealing tourist destination. For the school principal, incorporating environmental education into the curriculum empowers teachers and students to take care of the school grounds and to become stronger, more well-rounded citizens. The ability of the event participants to acknowledge these differences while celebrating their shared humanity was inspiring, and is a critical component in effecting real, lasting change. Unlike previous campaigns hosted by Bagamoyo Beach Lovers, the goal with this was to be more inclusive and representative of the local community, raise more awareness about waste management and the environment, and foster connections and partnerships that would long outlast the event itself.

The evening ended on a note of camaraderie and cautious optimism. Everyone pledged to do their part in the upcoming World Cleanup Day and to be ambassadors for greener, more sustainable waste practices. Those with smartphones formed a local campaign-focused WhatsApp group to open up future communication channels and to create a space for further discussion. As a whole, the event was a learning experience for both guests and hosts, and illustrated that despite the challenges, citizens wanting to make positive change in their community can use citizen-science projects to bring diverse stakeholders together.

Bagamoyo Beach Lovers is a small community-based organisation in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Founded in early 2016 in response to the devastating amount of trash piling up along the shore, the organisation is now the leading beach management unit in the coastal region. Today, they work with local, national and international partners to achieve their goals: cleaning the beaches and oceans, advocating for sustainable consumption and waste management practices, and engaging and educating the community about the environment.

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. DataShift is a multi-partner initiative to support civil society organisations to effectively produce and use citizen-generated data to monitor sustainable development progress, demand accountability and campaign for transformative change.

Attendance at the World Cleanup Day Introductory Event

Type of Organisation Role for World Cleanup Day
Nonprofit
  • Tanzania national coordinator
  • Guide and mentor smaller local nonprofits outside of Dar es Salaam to host World Cleanup Day
Nonprofit
  • Bagamoyo regional coordinator
  • Raise awareness, build trust and relationships to coordinate Bagamoyo activities
Hospitality
  • Host/sponsor
  • Provide financial and logistical support to Bagamoyo Beach Lovers and host all related activities on site
  • Connect to tourist network
Government
  • Government sponsor
  • Provide logistical support, endorsements and advice
  • Connect to local government and environment networks
Business
  • Sponsor
  • Provide support via in-kind and monetary donations
Arts/Recreation
  • Promoter/entertainer
  • Create media specific to World Cleanup Day and perform at the event
  • Connect to local artist network
Hospitality
  • Participant
  • Connect to tourist network
Business
  • Participant
  • Connect to local women’s entrepreneurship network
Business
  • Participant
  • Connect to fishing industry
Nonprofit
  • Participant
  • Connect to youth and artist networks
Nonprofit
  • Participant
  • Connect to vulnerable and at-risk girls
Arts/Recreation
  • Participant
  • Connect to local athletic network
Arts/Recreation
  • Participant
  • Connect to local artist and athletic networks
Business
  • Participant
Bank
  • Participant
Education
  • Participant
  • Connect to college and artist networks
Business
  • Participant
Tourism
  • Participant
  • Connect to tourist network
Tourism
  • Participant
  • Connect to tourist network
Hospitality
  • Participant
  • Connect to tourist network
Education
  • Participant
  • Connect to primary school network
Nonprofit
  • Participant
  • Connect to vulnerable and at-risk youth
Business
  • Participant
  • Previous sponsor of Bagamoyo Beach Lovers’ waste bins along the beach
Education
  • Participant
  • Connect to primary and secondary school network
Business
  • Participant
  • Connect to artist and beach networks
Government
  • Participant
  • Connect to fishing industry
Government
  • Participant
  • Connect to fishing industry and beach network
Business
  • Participant
Business
  • Participant
Hospitality
  • Participant
  • Connect to tourist network
Hospitality
  • Participant
  • Connect to tourist network

Bagamoyo Beach Lovers is a small community-based organisation in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Founded in early 2016 in response to the devastating amount of trash piling up along the shore, the organisation is now the leading beach management unit in the coastal region. Today, they work with local, national and international partners to achieve their goals: cleaning the beaches and oceans, advocating for sustainable consumption and waste management practices, and engaging and educating the community about the environment.

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