De Bepaalbak (Ballot Bin)

Waste as a ballot

De Bepaalbak2

How can you engage residents in democracy?

Democracy often limits itself to the election period and referendums. Citizens don't usually think beyond that about political issues. Or about the choices made on their behalf by the national, provincial, or local government. With the Bepaalbak, a mundane action—throwing away waste—suddenly becomes a way to make a statement. A public statement because others see what you choose.x

The Reuringdienst and Daan Wubben developed the Bepaalbak on behalf of the Province of North Brabant in a What if Lab. The central goal was to narrow the gap between citizens and the government. Especially during elections for the Provincial States, the turnout is consistently low. By presenting statements to citizens in the lead-up to the election day, they feel more engaged. The Bepaalbak has been traveling around the country for years and is located, among other places, in the station areas of Vlissingen and Eindhoven. Overseas, the bin has also found success: an American real estate developer bought two installations to survey citizens on social and civic issues.

De Bepaalbak1

About The Reuringdienst

The Reuringdienst makes large, abstract social issues tangible. In a playful way, this Eindhoven-based social design collective entices people to be part of societal issues that also concern them. They bottom-up generate involvement in challenging topics and explore what matters to future users of, for example, a residential area, square, or station. The Reuringdienst always works with physical installations that provoke thought or elicit a response.

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‘‘The Bepaalbak playfully triggers people to think about a subject and publicly express an opinion. This sparks conversations.’’
Pim Bens | Designer, The Reuringdienst

About the initiative

For years, voter turnout numbers for elections have been declining. This is especially true for provincial elections. Understandably so, as many citizens are unsure about the role of a provincial government. This was reason enough for the provincial government of North Brabant to participate in a What if Lab in 2018 with an open call for designers: How do we bridge the gap between politics and citizens?

In a What if Lab, Dutch Design Foundation connects companies or governments with designers. Together, they explore a question and come up with innovative solutions. The provincial governement of North Brabant did this with The Reuringdienst and Daan Wubben.

It didn't stop at just stirring things up around the provincial elections. The Reuringdienst now regularly uses the Bepaalbak for other projects. It is a good tool to draw attention to subjects among users of an area. And to initiate conversations. By using the Bepaalbak, you publicly cast your vote. This means others can ask you about your choice. And that is precisely the intention. In Eindhoven, the Bepaalbak is stationed at the Stationsplein for a year. Every two months, a different statement appears, all related to the extensive renovation taking place in the station area over the next decade. It is a playful and interactive way to inform people about upcoming changes and empower them with the opportunity to vote. During Dutch Design Week 2023, statements about national elections took center stage.

About the process

The idea

There's almost no daily activity more commonplace than throwing away trash. We do it several times a day. What if such an innocuous act suddenly serves as a ballot? The threshold to vote would be extremely low. Everyone can, no, must vote.

And that's where trash and voting—two things that don't have much to do with each other—intersect. Involving more people in voting is achieved by linking behavior to an everyday action. An action that takes place in public space, is simple, and appeals to everyone: regardless of age, education level, or other characteristics.

The plan

A trash can is just a trash can. That's why the designers deliberately chose two iconic Capitol waste bins for their installation, the Bepaalbak. Clear and recognizable for everyone. A frame around them and a sign with a specific statement, and voilà: the prototype of the Bepaalbak was ready. In the bin, the designers placed a sensor, which they developed with students from the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e). This way, they could remotely track the number of 'yes' and 'no' votes.

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The result

Next, the designers tested the effect of the bin. They placed the installation in various locations in Eindhoven: places with a lot of ongoing discussion. For example, near the airport and in a location where drug waste is often dumped. But also in neutral places, like a park or a square in the city. The Bepaalbak was also present at the Dutch Design Week in 2018. With nine different subjects from the provincial elections of 2015—ranging from regional transportation to wind farms—they tested the Bepaalbak. Interested parties followed the real-time data on a specially designed website.

The test phase clearly showed that the Bepaalbak stirred something in the people who used it. Some people first walked to the trash can and only then realized it was a voting bin. There was someone who walked away with their waste in hand, unable to choose. There were also discussions in front of the installation between people curious about each other's votes. And a man who took his partner's trash from one bin and put it in the other.

What the bin achieves in the short term (a vote, discussion, or thinking about a subject) is only part of the story. Ultimately, the Bepaalbak is a tool to initiate further conversation. Take the station area in Eindhoven. Users are taken through the statements on the Bepaalbak, involving them in the significant developments in the area. By allowing people to vote themselves, they reflect on what's happening. They form an opinion. And they express that opinion. Instead of the area being developed without their input, they actively become a part of it.

Meer weten?

De frisse blik van een ontwerper zorgt voor verrassende oplossingen voor de meest uiteenlopende uitdagingen. Wil je meer weten over de mogelijkheden van ontwerpkracht voor jouw project?

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