You might reasonably ask just how far into the future can we look before we’ve gone from the ridiculous to the sublime? For an answer, I’d like to pose another question…How long does it take for something to go from concept to reality in your community? It really depends on what you’ve got in mind, how great a departure it represents from the way things are done at present, and what the cost is relative to the benefit. If you’re talking about replacing existing carts with similar equipment and the issue for all intents and purposes is cost, then the factors affecting lead time come down to: (1) doing the analysis, (2) selling the decision makers, (3) implementing the change. Though by no means a trivial effort, still this kind of project can be accomplished in a reasonably short period of time.
But what if in conjunction with replacing existing carts, your object is to initiate an automated collection system? What kind of lead time are you looking at then? Starting from scratch, could you complete the transformation by 2015? Maybe you could propose its completion by then, but I wouldn’t bet the farm or your daytime job on it. Why? The more variables you throw into the game and the more aspects of community life you touch, the longer things take. You may think, for instance, that since a lot of communities have already adopted automated collection, you should be able to cookie-cutter their experience into yours. Think again. For every situation in which such plagiarism works there are a dozen in which local differences make it quite a challenge. Then there are the myriad details to be tied down, many of which involve compromise and trade-offs. But even when you think you’ve put all of the mechanical and operational issues into an irresistible package, you’ve got to sell the program…not once, but invariably again and again. And each of these will involve revisions that range from “cosmetics” to major surgery. With each iteration, undoubtedly you will be reacting to new information and perhaps even different goals until what you end up with may bear little resemblance to what you started with.
Each June we do what we call our Elements issue, in which we ask SWANA’s Technical Divisions to peek beneath the future’s veil and tell us what they see, and this year’s collection is as thought-provoking as ever…perhaps even more so in light of the challenges that confront us on every front.
While 2020 may appear to be a long way out there—admittedly too far for most of the activities that fill your day—once you accept that where substantive change is involved, you’ve embarked not on a project but rather a process, it’s closer to the effective horizon than you might think.