Suttam: Cleaning Horticulture Markets in Chennai, India

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This project personally is of quite some value to me as this is the market I have been visiting this market regularly ever since I was a boy and have been questioning the waste management there and how can it be controlled in such a complex market which is extremely busy on every day of the week. As a requirement in our course, Social Complexity and Systems Thinking, we were required to identify a complexity in the society and use systems thinking methodologies to design specifications for a social change using digital technologies.


To deep dive into this complexity and understand the functioning of the market's stakeholders and their role in the waste generation and management, I, along with two other peers, conducted a field research study in a specific horticulture market in Mambalam area, Chennai, India. The results from the research and learnings from our Social Complexity and Systems Thinking course as part of International Institute of Information Technology, we designed a prototype of a mobile application, Suttam (meaning clean in Tamil) as a design intervention for the project.

Project Timeline

17 FEB 2021


8 apr 2021



22 mar 2021


 We were able to conduct field research studies at Mambalam horticulture, one of the busiest horticulture markets in the city of Chennai, India, albeit of being in the middle of coronavirus. The research methodologies we used for this study included semi-structured qualitative one-one interviews, field observation and literature review.

We visited the field site four times in all - the first time to check the feasibility of the study and then the next three times (two in the morning, one in the night) to conduct the research study. Each of the latter three visits included research interviews with the stakeholders and a 30-minute field observation.  We developed a questionnaire for the qualitative research interviews which broadly covered the focus of the market’s stakeholders towards waste management and their problems (if any) with respect to keeping the market a clean and hygienic environment. We also tried to understand through our research about how the waste gets disposed of, whether there are any costs incurred in the waste management process and if there is any scope for any digital innovation/intervention that the stakeholders would find useful.

The market had four groups of stakeholders - sellers, buyers, cleaners and the General Chennai Corporation (GCC which is the municipal corporation in the city of Chennai). In the two day visits, we were able to interview sellers but the buyers, being busy, didn’t want to be interviewed. We weren’t able to find anyone representing the GCC. The cleaners were interviewed during the night field visit. 

Among the literature review, a case study was done on a similar design intervention - an application called Trashman - which was a waste collection platform designed for the collection of any kinds of wastes such as paper, bottles, metals, kitchen wastes, etc. This platform was implemented in nine different zonal areas in and around the city of Chennai.

Stakeholder Analysis

From our research study findings, we developed a stakeholder analysis tp understand the relationship between the different individual stakeholders of the market, and also understand their problems, needs and requirements towards the waste management in the horticulture markets. The analysis of the four stakeholders group is shown in the map below.

Soft Systems Methodology

While we were conducting our project, we were also learning about some theoretical frameworks of systems thinking in complex human situations. We encountered Peter Checkland’s paper from 1985. In this paper, Achieving ‘Desirable and Feasible’ Change: An Application of Soft Systems Methodology, Checkland emphasizes the need of a well-defined methodological framework for future iterations of any rational design intervention (in human affairs) to be made more effective. 

He provides Soft Systems Methodology (S.S.M.) as one such framework and describes the methodology’s theme as taking purposeful action in problematical human situations. The model is used in problem situations to provide structure to debate about what changes could be desirable and feasible to the situation, soon after one arrives at some changes. Once these desirable and feasible changes are defined, then the new problem situation includes implementation of these changes, which in turn may also be tackled using S.S.M. (which Checkland describes as doubly systemic). In such a case, the learning cycle (a seven-stage process as shown in the figure below) of the system can begin again as a reiterating process.

Taken from Checkland (1985)

Applying Soft Systems Methodology

After studying Checkland’s paper, we could visibly connect our project’s problem situation as a situation which could be addressed using Soft Systems Methodology (S.S.M.) and so, we came up with a structured problem to the problematical situation and defined some of the relevant human activity systems (shown in the table below).



  • Waste and Waste management have low economic priority: Sellers.

  • Dynamic waste generation - Dynamic Segregation and Dynamic Disposal mechanisms : Cows and other animals can ingest wastes if not cleaned regularly. 

  • Municipality, Sellers and Cleaners as key stakeholders - they will be the users and drivers of any digital intervention. Further - municipality will be the framing authority  but the cleaners and sellers are the major users and actors.

  • Cleaning must be a dignified function resulting from and in, a clean and dignified environment for all.

However, from the rich picture and our observations, we understood that S.S.M. is not entirely applicable in our case - the reason for this being the requirement of a certain degree of cohesion and communication among the heterogeneous entities - the cleaners, the sellers and the municipality. 

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Final Prototype

We thought that a digital intervention is still desirable and feasible and that developing a digital platform could enable the system to be transparent and lucid - a one that will help regulate the working in the market and keep labour right protection and social discrimination to check. 

Hence, we designed the low-fidelity prototype of an application called “Suttam” (meaning clean in Tamil) as a digital solution which we believe could help the management of the cleaning process better and bridge the cohesion and communication between the key stakeholders to some degree. The prototype of the application is shown below:


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