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Open Access Making the invisible visible: Engaging school children in monitoring air pollution in London

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Exposure to air pollution is a public health concern accountable for numerous health problems and tens of thousands of premature deaths each year in the UK. Despite this evidence, public understanding and awareness of the issue is low in comparison to other public health risks. Improved methods for engaging with the public to communicate this risk are required. This study aimed to investigate the impact of collecting personalized air pollution exposure data on children and parents from a London primary school in terms of perceptions of and responses to air quality. Drawing on a participatory research approach, 400 children from a London primary school learnt about air pollution. A subset of ten children measured the air pollution they were exposed to as they travelled to and from school using portable exposure monitors and GPS watches, and shared the data they collected with the whole school. Data on the impact of the approach on the school community were collected using observations, surveys distributed to all school children and their parents, and interviews with the parents and children who collected the air pollution data. Most participants said that having access to personalized data that they themselves collected increased their air pollution awareness and their desire to reduce their air pollution exposure. The children's participation in the project inspired them to think about ways in which they could influence other people's behaviour, such as proposing anti-idling campaigns and encouraging their parents to cycle or walk to school. The use of participatory methods has the potential to facilitate the dissemination of information from a small group of individuals to a bigger audience. This study suggests that participatory methods can be implemented in practice, and they have the potential to be effective and engaging tools for raising awareness of air pollution as a health risk in communities.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • Engagement with research goes further than participation in it. Engaged individuals and communities initiate research, advise, challenge or collaborate with researchers. Their involvement is always active and they have a crucial influence on the conduct of the research.

    Research for All is a peer-reviewed journal focusing on research that involves universities and communities, services or industries working together. Contributors and readers are from both inside and outside of higher education. They include researchers, policymakers, managers, practitioners, community-based organizations, schools, businesses and the intermediaries who bring these people together. The journal highlights the potential in active public engagement for robust academic study, for the development of involved communities, and for the impact of research. It explores engagement with different groups and their cultures, and features theoretical and empirical analysis alongside authoritative commentary to explore a range of themes that are key to engaged research including the development of reciprocal relationships, sector-specific communication and participatory action research. The journal is co-sponsored by the UCL Institute of Education and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

    The journal welcomes relevant articles. See the publication homepage for details, or contact [email protected]

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