In the last months of APPLAUSE, the consortium published a brochure on lessons learned and the Project playbook, which summarise the generated knowledge and the main aspects to take into account if another local authority wishes to develop its own circular model for the management of IAPS. Out of these, I would like to focus on the following aspects:
One of the most important lessons learned, and a central aspect of the project, has been the need for genuine cooperation. Compared to linear models (take-make-use-dispose), circular models with their multiple loops to recover and reuse materials are more complex by nature. All partners involved must cooperate to cut through this complexity and achieve optimal results, from an environmental, social and economic perspective. In the case of APPLAUSE, its circular model for the management of IAPS follows 6 steps: plant identification, biomass harvesting, processing & storage, value recovery, final production, and the launch of the products and services to the market. All these steps are divided into smaller sub-processes which vary as well depending on the type of IAPS to be recovered (out of the 25 selected) and the products to be developed (paper, wood, dyes, organic pesticides…). The partners involved in each of these steps are very different, from the botanists and green area managers involved in the first stages, to the creative people responsible for designing the prototypes or the business specialists who assess the product-market fit. Such diversity was a challenge at the beginning and learning to work together took some time.
The leadership showed by the City of Ljubljana at all times was crucial for its success. The team in Ljubljana was composed of people from different departments (environment, EU funds, IT, communications…). Working across departments is part of the City of Ljubljana’s DNA. And such organisational arrangement within the urban authority was successfully replicated at consortium level. In practical terms, it translated into monthly meetings and regular reporting of the achieved milestones. This helped partners, especially those with smaller roles, to stay connected to the project. Also, the City of Ljubljana had enough dedicated staff (2 full-time and 5 part-time employees) to assist, motivate and inspire the other partners at all times. This was particularly important during the COVID-19 first wave when many partners had to rethink and adapt their activities to the pandemic measures. The team in Ljubljana also made an effort to support and educate other employees indirectly involved in the project, for example, the workers responsible for pruning and trimming the trees, so that they could also understand the value they brought to the project.
As a result of this cooperation, the consortium managed to develop a shared vision for the project, meaning that all partners “spoke the same language”. Now that the project is over, there is a sense of fulfillment among the partnership and a real willingness to continue collaborating in the new business models as well as in some events such as the annual IAPS festival.
The APPLAUSE project puts the citizen at the centre of the circular model. It has developed its own participatory model and encouraged citizens to engage at 3 levels (Do it Yourself - DIY, Let’s do it together or Handing over) depending on the interest and capacities of different audiences. For more information on APPLAUSE citizen engagement approach, please check the Zoom-in 2 report.
During the first two years, the project organised many activities with and for citizens, such as the harvesting campaigns or the hand-craft paper workshops, which were part of the “let’s do it together” level. The consortium soon realised that the hands-on workshops worked really well, especially with school children and the elderly. However, the organisation of voluntary harvesting campaigns was more challenging. These involved some physical work and sometimes the weather was not helping. For these, the groups that showed more interest were high schools and students from the Forestry department of the University, so halfway through the project, the APPLAUSE team decided to focus these campaigns on these target groups only.
One of the main lessons learned on citizen engagement has taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, when planning the last round of “let’s do it together” activities, everything had to stop due to the pandemic. That’s when the “Do it yourself (DIY)” pillar took off. The rationale behind this pillar was to provide citizens with all the resources they needed to harvest and use IAPS without expert assistance. At the time, the consortium had already produced a DIY catalogue with instructions on how to make handcraft paper at home, build a wood birdhouse or prepare homemade formulations of organic pesticides using IAPS as raw material. They had also produced a few videos which are available on YouTube. Until then, the number of people using these resources was limited but the pandemic reversed this situation. Citizens had to stay at home and that’s when they went online looking for activities they could do. The success factors of APPLAUSE DIY resources were: their simplicity, they could be set up alone or with the family; they were fun, such as building a xylophone or cooking a recipe with Jerusalem artichoke; and helped to take care of the planet, by removing a harmful element such as IAPS and turn it into something useful. During 2020, the project invested a lot in the production and promotion of new DIY videos, some of them reaching more than 40,000 views on YouTube. The experience and successes with the DIY citizen engagement strategy can now be applied to other city campaigns. Also, the team has realised that while promoting APPLAUSE, they have managed to support citizens in remaining active while staying at home, improving their wellbeing, and empowering them to take action in difficult times.
The last level of citizen engagement, “handling over” encouraged citizens to bring the IAPS they harvested to collection points located in the city’s collection centres where they were correctly disposed of. This followed the more conventional approach to recycling which requires less involvement. Unfortunately, little quantities have been collected and not always were properly sorted. While collection points are easy to set up and require fewer resources to manage, APPLAUSE has demonstrated that citizens are more interested in active campaigns such as workshops or DIY.
Technologies, inventories and protocols
As a pilot project, APPLAUSE had the opportunity to test several methodologies for IAPS identification. These included traditional fieldwork as well as the application of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence for plant recognition or the use of satellite imagery in combination with aerial photos for IAPS widespreadness analysis. The project has made considerable advances in the use of these technologies for IAPS management and some of the results obtained such as the algorithms for automatic IAPS detection are now being used in agriculture, forestry or maritime applications. Now that the project is over, it is difficult to continue developing and finetuning these technologies to serve the purposes of APPLAUSE. Nevertheless, one of the great gains of the project has been to develop a wealth of data on the presence of IAPS in Ljubljana. It was a huge investment to build such a complete inventory with 30,000 data entries for 121 plant species. However, a repository of data itself is not valuable unless it is used. APPLAUSE has developed a new digital platform where data is stored, maintained and analysed to support the work of green area managers in maintaining the inventory, arranging biomass collections and organising deliveries to those partners developing IAPS paper or wood products. To develop this platform, APPLAUSE partners spent the first year testing and optimising the processes for IAPS identification, harvesting, pre-processing and delivery (the protocol can be found in APPLAUSE Journal 1). Then these processes were designed into the online platform which provided access to the inventory and managed the orders of biomass. Before APPLAUSE, green area managers spent lots of time preparing the list of locations and eradication maps, now this is done in half the time and the work is organised through the online platform. This is a considerable improvement in the delivery of public services.