Encouraging Recycling Through Digital Innovation

Dr José-Rodrigo Córdoba-Pachón, School of Management

At our college, and in my view, many final year management students could finish their degrees without being able to apply ideas or concepts to solve problems related to their physical surroundings or the realities of what it means to start up a digital company.  Whilst teachers strive to offer them first-hand and up-to- date information in areas like digital innovation, we could be uprooting students from better understanding what goes on in their current and daily lives.   To enable students to learn by experiencing and dealing with a complex issue, an assignment was set in the final year undergraduate course of managing digital innovation.  This course had about 50 students in each year for the years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. 


Assignment Brief


One of the learning outcomes is for students is to be able to propose digital solutions using ideas from paradigms like design thinking.  Aligning with this outcome, a 2,500-word assignment was set.  Students were asked students to identify needs about the issue of recycling in student residences or households.  And from then, following a logic of innovation processes, propose and test a digital solution to address such needs and formulate a business case.  The generic structure for the assignment included:


  • Needs finding
  • Idea formulation
  • Idea testing or validation via a storyboard
  • Idea refining via a business model, financial plan and identification of challenges to make the idea sustainable in the long run. 


To this structure, students were also encouraged to iterate in their definition and design of ideas, something that does not come easily for them or for the specific assessment deadlines and other commitments (i.e. job seeking) in students’ final year.  As educators and students, our mindset would need to change so that we can go back to previously accepted information or assumptions.  During workshops, students were encouraged in workshops to review what they assumed to be ‘true’ about recycling and what could be achieved with digital solutions.  They were also encouraged to go outside the college boundaries and talk to local councils, recycling organizations or bigger private recyclers.  Many students did so and found very valuable information that helped them to review their assumptions and redesign their solutions.  As a lecturer, I continued encouraging students to see recycling both as an area in need of our creativity as well as a source for inspiration for employability and digital innovation. 


Creativity Challenges


The formulation of business cases also presents opportunities and challenges for students.  They could venture to design business models that make the best of digital platforms and enable multi-stakeholder interaction.  Platforms could also contribute to reduce operational costs in the long term.  Costing the implementation of platforms or digital applications however could challenge students to make decisions about which of the costs are realistic as well as tangible and in consideration of what is feasible regarding digital platforms and services.  The same applies to solution benefits.  Empowering students or other stakeholders to assume responsibility for their own recycling and monitor it could be very inspiring, although difficult to quantify.  And there could also be issues related to the gathering and exchange of electronic data from different parties through digital platforms.  Overall, students would need to be directed to think beyond the idea of a digital innovation as an ‘app’.  There is a whole world out there that makes an app work!   




Overall, students felt that they were able to gain valuable knowledge about recycling and digital possibilities to improve it.  Many were surprised to acknowledge how complex recycling processes become once recycled items leave campus.  Students found their assignment different from traditional discursive discussions about management topics; although some academic criteria from engineering education were established to online assess the creative quality of their work, it was not fully possible to directly link these criteria with achieving overall good learning, given that there were very innovative solutions that no creativity criteria would thoroughly pick.  For instance, a criteria set was that the solution would be ‘pleasing to the ‘eye’, ‘work’ in the real world and open new ways of conceiving of a domain (i.e. recycling) (Cropley and Cropley, 2016).  As I marked the students’ assignment, I decided to use the criteria as a reference rather than something set in stone to be achieved.  The creativity of students was surpassing my own expectations. 


Furthermore, and in relation to writing a ‘good’ assignment, students also found it motivating to propose solutions that were to be further assessed by a panel of experts (states managers, sustainability academics, private recycling officers).  Many ingenious and feasible to implement solutions were generated, and this also benefited our college and private recycling companies.  This was communicated to students with just a few days of notice, so that they would not become solely driven by the outcome of their work but also by their process of iterating, stretching their boundaries of analysis and interaction, and learning about recycling. 


In a post-pandemic world, educators and students could conceive of recycling in new and exciting ways.  The use of digital technologies could support both learning about recycling and delivering ideas to improve it.  Recycling as an area of knowledge and education could help all of us to rediscover our physical surroundings, to be more compassionate with ourselves and others, and to create new and meaningful relationships in education and beyond (Córdoba-Pachón, 2020). 




Córdoba-Pachón, J.R.  (2020).  Creativity in Management Education:  A Systemic Rediscovery.  London: Palgrave.  Pivot Series, Forthcoming. 

Cropley, D., and Cropley, A., 2016.  Promoting creativity through assessment: a formative computer-assisted assessment tool for teachers.  Educational Technology 56:6, pp.17-24.




I would like to thank my students for their work, feedback and inspiration. 





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