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Engaging Citizens in Science: Promoting the Viability of Participatory Sensing for Monitoring Air and Environmental Quality

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ESAIRE (Engaging Citizens in Science: Promoting the Viability of Participatory Sensing for Monitoring Air and Environmental Quality)

Reporting period: 2015-04-01 to 2017-03-31

Participatory sensing initiatives for monitoring air and environmental quality are flourishing as a result of the citizens’ growing concern about pollution. Scientific teams and Do it Yourself communities are developing personal sensor kits and data aggregation platforms, leveraging smartphones to gather environmental data. However, the human and social aspects that have the power to sustain these citizen science projects do not receive enough attention.
ESAIRE aims at addressing the citizen engagement challenges that affect the viability and impact of citizen science and participatory sensing projects. In collaboration with the Air Pollution program of CREAL (now ISGlobal), the researcher applied a novel human-centered approach to design tools for participatory sensing, based on a case study in Barcelona.
The main objective of ESAIRE was to apply participatory methodologies for designing easy-to-use tools and facilitating social engagement from the initial phase of citizen science projects.
First, the researcher conducted a public engagement strategy to involve citizens, researchers, and local authorities in participatory workshops about air quality monitoring. Secondly, the researcher explored participatory methodologies to incorporate citizens’ contributions into the design of tools. In particular, the researcher organized participatory workshops to seek solutions for visualizing air quality information. For most of the project duration, the researcher actively participated in communication and dissemination activities related to citizen science, air quality and its impact on public health.
The accomplishments of ESAIRE include publications in academic journals, participation and workshop organization in conferences, and results oriented for its direct implementation in the design of mobile applications and web platforms, and for designing citizen science projects with ethics at its core. The accomplishments of ESAIRE are very strong in the communication and dissemination area, including a public talk at TEDxJardinsdeLaribal, published in the TED YouTube channel, blog posts, and participation in stakeholder’s events and science dissemination festivals.
ESAIRE has triggered collaborations for academic research and publications with CIEMAT (Spanish Research Center for Energy, Environment and Technology), the companies Eticas Research and Consulting and Ideas for Change in Barcelona, University College London, and the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in the context of a collaboration with the CITI-SENSE project. Also, ESAIRE has enabled collaborations for the organization and implementation of participatory workshops with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, the Institute of Culture of the Barcelona City Council, the Air Quality Monitoring Service of the Catalan Government (Generalitat), the civil organization Plataforma per la Qualitat de l’Aire, the NGO Ecologistas en Acció, etc.
The fellow has participated in knowledge transfer to researchers and technicians at ISGlobal (former CREAL) about participatory methods in Science and the Horizon 2020 program of “Science with and for Society”. In exchange, the fellow has benefited from her stay at ISGlobal learning about air pollution and environmental health, and geographic information systems. Thanks to ESAIRE, the fellow has become part of a European network on Citizen Science, being an active member of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) and the COST Action “CA15212: Citizen Science to promote creativity, scientific literacy, and innovation throughout Europe”. Finally, the fellow has developed a coherent career development plan for the coming years and has engaged in training for accomplishing her plans.
The progress beyond the state of the art of ESAIRE research includes directions on how to make air quality information understandable by the general public, engaging, and connected to health. These are the results of ESAIRE participatory workshops with diverse stakeholders, including civic organizations. These results can be directly applied for prototype design in any new project that aims to show air quality information to the general public in web or mobile platforms. We expect that its application will lead to improved understanding of air quality problems in cities, and more engagement with citizen science initiatives for monitoring air quality.
Also, we expect that the publication “The promise of participation and decision-making power in citizen science” will provide guidance and inspiration for designing citizen science projects with ethics at its core. In particular, this article addresses issues of informed participation, privacy and data governance in citizen science.
The collaboration with CIEMAT has enabled progress beyond the state of the art providing evidence on attitudes of individuals using a portable air quality sensor. These results put into question the widespread belief that participatory sensing could be an effective tool for public engagement with the problem of air pollution. We discovered that much more is needed to engage individuals with the problem, like providing guidance for self-protection and action.
The activities for knowledge transfer within ISGlobal have translated in a successful Horizon 2020 grant, INSPIRES, and other research project proposals submitted that included aspects of participatory science. Also, the upcoming publication “On the front line of community air quality monitoring” is addressed to a multidisciplinary audience in urban and transport planning, and we expect that some professionals will be inspired to incorporate public participation in their practices.
ESAIRE involved an enormous effort for bringing diverse stakeholders together and contributing to building a local network in Barcelona, connecting researchers from ISGobal with the civic organization Plataforma per la Qualitat de l’Aire, and researchers in other centers, such as BSC, and local authorities. We expect that these relationships will continue and translate into more participation of the public and experts in decisions concerning the air quality of Barcelona. At the same time, we hope that ISGlobal will continue its collaboration with the Citizen Science Office of the Barcelona City Council.
ESAIRE has also contributed to building the European network of citizen science, by participating in the successful proposal of the COST Action CA15212, participating in the European Association of Citizen Science General Assembly in Barcelona, 2015, and in the European Citizen Science Conference in Berlin, 2016.
We consider that ESAIRE has been very successful in science dissemination to the general public, notably thanks to the YouTube video of the talk at TEDxJardinsdeLaribal, the blog post at ISGlobal website and the activity at Festival de Ciència, Tecnologia e Innovació NOVUM at Barcelona, which all combined reached around 1200 people. Other activities reached fewer people, but enabled higher engagement, like the talk at a bar in the Pint of Science popular science festival in Barcelona, the participatory sensing activity Respira with Fabrica del Sol, and the workshop at the Science Week of Barcelona.
Regarding the career development of the fellow, ESAIRE has enabled to orient her interests and training towards user research and participatory design practices with a promising potential for application in the ICT Industry.
Talk at TEDxJardinsdeLaribal
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Images of activities
Image of a workshop