The “Guardians del Riachuelo” participatory governance program occurred between 2006 & 2007 near Buenos Aires, Argentina. The program helped identify environmental, sanitary and landscape conditions of the Riachuelo riverbank as well as support and train local community leaders.
Problems and Purpose
The program’s purpose was to improve the environmental, sanitary and landscape conditions of the Riachuelo riverbank with an emphasis on sustainability through the training of community leaders and the construction and consolidation of local networks. The program began with a participatory diagnosis of the workplace and then continued with the planning for the different stages of management. The diagnosis included the following as recurring themes: questions about waste management, a motivation for cleanliness of the place, and health problems associated with the buildup of waste.
Background History and Context
The Fundación Ciudad called residents of the Matanza Riachuelo Basin to four forums between 2002 and 2003. The names of these forums and dates are listed here:
- "Sustainable Development of the Matanza Riachuelo Basin" (2002)
- "Sustainable Development of the Matanza Riachuelo Basin - Lower Basin" (2003)
- "Sustainable Development of the Matanza Riachuelo Basin - Cuenca Alta" (2003)
- "Sustainable Development of the Matanza Riachuelo - Cuenca Medio Basin" (2003).
These forums were initially coordinated by the Fundación Ciudad after years of build-up pushed public interest to a point of action. The participants of these forums generated and agreed upon various proposals to address issues related to waste management, cleanliness and public health. These solutions were in some places effective, and in other places, they were ineffective. As a result, the Guardians of the Riachuelo program was installed - to help identify and improve environmental, sanitary and landscape conditions of the Riachuelo riverbank - through the training of community leaders and the construction and consolidation of local networks.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
This successful program was rooted in joint efforts between private sector individuals, non-profit organizations, government entities and local community leaders. These groups were then accompanied by several key churches, city centers, medical facilities and dining rooms. Outside of local community leaders, the three organizations which originated and financed the program were (1) EcoGuardianes 21(the business cooperative founded by the Guardians), (2) the Fundación Ciudad (the community foundation) and (3) the environment ministry (the government department). It is worth mentioning that EcoGuardianes 21 is the business cooperative set up in 2007 by the Guardians to serve as their institutional form as they continue the program and search for new activities.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Residents of the Riachuelo Basin participated in this program. The program started with 4 Guardians “in charge of predetermined routes in an area that includes 350 families.” These Guardians were selected via targeted recruitment in the neighborhoods of the initial pilot project. Months later, the program expanded to 14 Guardians serving 1000 families. These new Guardians were either self-selected (as surrounding communities had discovered the successes of the pilot project) or they were target-recruited. The initial pilot project and the following projects began with focus groups where a survey was distributed and collected. These focus groups and surveys were built on a mixture of three recruitment methods: voluntary, targeted and self-selected.
Methods and Tools Used
The process started with face-to-face interactions similar to focus groups in Barracas at several key local establishments. This was accompanied with a diagnostic survey. Finally, community members were trained and have maintained their program ever since in the form of a business cooperative, EcoGuardianes 21. The cross-sector approach used (citizens, for-profit organizations, non-profit organizations and government organizations) is a process identified as a best practice for waste and water resource management systems around the world. Scott Fletcher’s “Integrated Water Resource Management” article presents an overarching system which one could envision The Guardians as a model of - although neither case makes reference to the other. Described in Fletcher’s article is a broader look at ecosystems, presented by Tyler Carlson titled “Ecosystem-based Management”. Ecosystem-based management would be the suprasystem to the system presented in Fletcher’s Participedia article which focuses on the cross-sector approach as a recommendation for water resource management - as opposed to being the recommendation for the broader ecosystem.
Some may point to initiatives such as the Vancouver Still Creek project as being similar to the Guardians' program. Upon closer review, however, the situation faced by the Vancouver Still Creek community is comparatively much less complex. While in essence, each case proposes resource and water management as supported by local residents, local organizations, for-profit organizations and government entities, the income disparity, population density, political history and system, and concentration of hazardous material in the respective bodies of water point to the Riachuelo as being a completely different set of problems. In essence, although public health was identified as the motivating factor in this case study which increased public interaction, this was not identified in the Vancouver Still Creek case.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The process started with face-to-face interactions in Barracas at several key local establishments organized by the Fundación Ciudad. This would be similar to the western public service approach of holding focus groups with gatekeepers and their contacts in common public spaces. This was accompanied with a diagnostic survey, and the combination of deliberation and surveys culminated in a participatory diagnosis. Participants were not asked to make decisions in the participatory diagnosis. Following this participatory diagnosis, a more formal group was formed as a system for continuing planning for the different stages of management. This formal group is a business cooperative named EcoGuardianes 21. To the extent described in the literature, this section will identify the systems of deliberation, decisions and public interaction.
In the participatory diagnosis, neighbors and organizations (the Parish of Our Lady of Caacupé, the Love and Peace dining room, the Health Center No. 8 and Urbasur, the collecting company responsible for this area of the city) from Villa 21-24 in Barracas offered their feedback to the following questions:
- Is garbage a problem in your neighborhood?
- What do you think if an alternative collection system uses neighbors from the neighborhood?
A group of professionals from Metropolis of the South worked with the Fundación Ciudad on this participatory diagnosis, and participants were not asked to make decisions. The diagnostic survey revealed themes of waste, cleanliness of the place and health problems. In response to question (1) above, “95% of respondents answered that it is a serious problem in the neighborhood, mainly because they are linked to the diseases they suffer.” In response to question (2) above, “the community expressed great interest in a collection system operated by their neighbors because it guarantees the effectiveness of a work within the neighborhood, improving the quality of life and generating genuine jobs.”
Following this participatory diagnosis, this group of professionals - under the guidance of the Fundación Ciudad - helped to form a business cooperative, EcoGuardianes 21 to serve as their institutional form as they continue the program and search for new activities. The case identifies training to have happened at this stage but fails to offer insights as to the nature of this training. However, the base decisions provided by the professionals and foundation have since enabled community members to become Guardians and make progressively more complex decisions about waste management efforts and expansion of the organization. Initially, in August of 2006, a few people (“Guardians”) served a few hundred families. By November 2006, neighboring communities took note and added ten more Guardians, which ramped the total families served to more than 1000. Regarding public interaction, the case does not address how other residents, who weren’t -and aren’t- participating directly in the program, are made aware of the program being implemented in their neighborhood or how those residents can provide input to the participants about the riverbank management issues. Rather, the case focuses on the formation of the group.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The participatory diagnosis helped the program become received by the community. Because community leaders and local organizations were consulted and trained, the program was both designed to serve their needs and enabled to become sustainable.
The diagnostic survey revealed themes of waste, cleanliness of the place and health problems. In response to question (1) above, “95% of respondents answered that it is a serious problem in the neighborhood, mainly because they are linked to the diseases they suffer.” In response to question (2) above, “the community expressed great interest in a collection system operated by their neighbors because it guarantees the effectiveness of a work within the neighborhood, improving the quality of life and generating genuine jobs.”
Although public health was identified as a primary concern of the community residents, outcomes directly related to improved public health were not mentioned in the case, nor where measures provided to show how the program influenced the public health of community residents. The same can be said of broader environmental influences. Rather, the case focuses on waste collection and the growth of the program past the pilot project (from 4 to 14 Guardians).
To this end, the program collected 556,304 home-sized bags between August 2006 and December 2007. These bags would have otherwise been dumped into the river. What is unknown to the reader is whether these were bags filled with refuse.
Some insights were provided by outsiders who visited during 2008. Ambassador of the United States, Earl Anthony Wayne, had the following to say: “collecting almost 200 tons of garbage per month shows the interest and commitment of the residents to carry out actions joint, concrete and organized that have resulted in a substantial improvement in their quality of life, even more impressive is how the bases are mobilized to improve the environment and habitat conditions in this area of the city.”
As for the evidence of sustainability with the program, the case identifies the Fundación Ciudad’s invitation to present the “Guardianes del Riachuelo” program at the annual ISWA world congress as a sign for the prospects of the program for Urban Management. The 700 participants in this meeting between the 24th and 27th of September 2007 were interested in learning the following:
- The percentage of waste the Guardianes collect, related to the total of the city;
- How the percentage is expected to increase with the expansion of the program;
- What real perspectives of replication of the porgam exist in the metropolitan territory;
- The question of the responsibilities of the State and of the companies in charge of the collection, in such critical areas of an urban area as the one of Buenos Aires.
These questions of sustainability were summarized in the papers of the congress, called the “paper summary book.” Unfortunately, the ISWA World Congress Knowledge Base requires membership, and the summaries identified in the case were thus not obtained. Many resources point to the continued expansion of the program; however, many other sources continue to identify this area as one of the 10 areas of the world with the highest pollution levels. Each of the videos attached in Part II of this report show the current status of the ecosystem as sad situation with a dim future. Perhaps this case is excellent in terms of how to engage the community to do what they can and build trust among eachother, and perhaps it is also an excellent cover for the political, industrial, and economic reasons which so often undermine efforts in community engagement and public deliberation.
Ultimately, the case fails to identify any evidence about the subjective effects of the program. Sure, there is evidence presented about the increased adoption of the program among surrounding communities over a multiple year period; however, the lack of environmental or public health evidence provided leaves room for argument about whether the purpose of the program was achieved. Moreover, any sense of empowerment - trust in fellow residents, trust in the government, sense of community identity or willingness to be involved in the community civically or politically - referred in or from this case stands on unstable foundations as the long- term impact remains negligible.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
A formal evaluation of the entire process and/or the participants’ experience were not referred to in this case. What can be determined from the case is listed below:
- Engaging community leaders from the start is an effective method for addressing social issues and creating sustainable and potentially effective programs -- the participatory diagnosis presented above proved to work well for generating community interest toward the alternative option presented;
- Failing to make significant strides toward environmental-healthy solution cannot be the exclusive benchmark of an effort in public deliberation focused on solution -- although outcomes of public-health improvements and environmental-quality improvements are effective tools for recruitment and community engagement, these outcomes take time and patience. This expectation should be identified, and a focus on understanding how each and every action impacts those long-term objectives needs to be given attention to in such a way which promotes further deliberation - not only about the program at hand but also about how to hold political figures and industrial manufacturers accountable.
Singh, R. P., & Sarkar, A. (2015).Waste management: Challenges, threats and opportunities (Waste and Waste Management). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
The original submission of this case entry was written by Sean Street, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.