Air pollution is estimated to cause more than 300,000 premature deaths in the EU per year, of which at least 1,200 are attributed to young people (under the age of 18). To fight this 'invisible killer', the European Parliament recently adopted a position on the Ambient Air Quality Directive which is currently being revised, calling for, among other things:
More sampling points to better understand how citizens and at-risk communities are affected
Better provision of air quality information so that vulnerable groups can easily understand the risks and take appropriate action
Citizen Science, a form of social innovation that leverages the power of the crowd to address common challenges, is well positioned to address these requirements.
Government owned monitoring stations are sparsely spread and as such only provide an average, albeit highly accurate, snapshot of ambient air quality for a region. With calibrated citizen science sensors it is possible to go deeper and obtain hyperlocal real-time data on air quality at the neighbourhood level, including in deprived inner city areas.
Many citizen science projects active in air quality monitoring develop digital tools to help participants make sense of gathered data. Solutions range from from web based maps and dashboards to mobile apps fitted with the latest AR functionalities and visualisation techniques. Insights obtained from such tools give users more contextualised understanding of air pollution, allowing them to make informed decisions based on facts.
In fact, such tools are already a reality thanks to the work of European citizen science projects COMPAIR, GreenSCENT and Socio-Bee. The projects are piloting inclusive, policy-relevant citizen science in more than 10 cities across Europe. Children, the elderly and low-income groups are included in the wider pool of volunteers who participate in everything from problem formulation and location selection to sensor assembly, data collection and discussion of results.
The three projects believe that behavioural changes and data driven social innovation are needed to improve urban air quality and help cities reach climate neutrality while leaving no one behind. To discuss what has been and can be done to reach this goal, the trio organised a webinar as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities.
The workshop presented digital tools and methodologies for citizen engagement that can be replicated in other parts of Europe. The projects are similar but also different in some aspects, so each emphasized unique lessons it has learned and would like to share with the world. GreenSCENT focused on learning, Socio-Bee on participation, COMPAIR on policy and behaviour change.
GreenSCENT presented its educational framework for students, teachers and citizens that includes an application with gamification and augmented reality features. The app, which can be used inside and outside the classroom, teaches students about air quality and the different measures they can take to protect themselves.
Socio-Bee presented an inclusive philosophy that has guided the setup of its citizen science labs. Speakers explained how this approach allows Socio-Bee to ensure wide participation of different social groups, a prerequisite for any citizen science project that wants to deliver maximum social impact.
COMPAIR, for its part, introduced the audience to its multifaceted approach that blends low-cost sensors, new digital technologies and bottom-up engagement to drive changes in policy and lifestyles towards more sustainable futures. As well as delivering personal benefits through citizen science participation and data insights, COMPAIR makes its results relevant for policy. One example is policy support for a school-street evaluation in Herzele.
We will be organising more events like this in the future where we will be sharing our latest results from COMPAIR citizen science labs in Athens, Berlin, Flanders, Plovdiv, and Sofia. How to know when we are planning something special? Follow us on Twitter and join our mailing list. No spamming, we promise : )