Participation in the Clean Air Together citizen science project improves knowledge of air pollution
Research published today (Tuesday, 17 October) by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), finds that participation in the Clean Air Together citizen science project in Dublin led to an increase in awareness of air pollution and its main sources. Clean Air Together is a citizen science project where people voluntarily sign up to measure levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in their local area. The main source of NO2 is road transport. In the first phase of Clean Air Together, over 1,000 Dublin residents measured NO2 in their local area.
This study surveyed participants of the Clean Air Together project to compare their knowledge, attitudes and awareness of air pollution with the general Dublin population. It also assessed changes in knowledge, attitudes and awareness of air pollution before and after their participation.
- Compared to the general Dublin adult population, Clean Air Together participants were more concentrated in the middle age groups (aged 35-64). Nearly half of participants had postgraduate-level educational qualifications (in comparison with less than 10 per cent of the Dublin adult population).
- The baseline survey of Clean Air Together participants (conducted in September 2021, at the start of the Clean Air Together project and before participants participated in NO2 measurement or received infographics and further information on NO2), revealed that Clean Air Together participants were more aware of NO2 (and other environmental risks) than the general Dublin population, and more likely to correctly identify the main source of NO2 pollution. However, nearly one-quarter of Clean Air Together participants did not know the most significant source of NO2 pollution, and a further quarter answered this question incorrectly.
- In terms of attitudes, Clean Air Together participants were, in general, more supportive of various policy measures to reduce air pollution than the overall Dublin adult population.
- Analysis of Clean Air Together participants who responded to the first (September 2021) and second (March 2022) surveys showed that awareness of NO2-related issues improved over the course of their participation in the project. For example, the proportion who correctly identified the most significant source of NO2 increased from just over 50 per cent to nearly 70 per cent, with an additional large decline (from nearly 20 per cent to less than 5 per cent) in the proportion of participants who reported that they did not know the most significant source of NO2 pollution.
- The surveys also collected information on individual behaviours (focusing on transport mode choice and working from home), but there was limited evidence of significant changes in these types of behaviours as a result of participation in Clean Air Together.
Anne Nolan, ESRI, a co-author of the report commented:
‘The socioeconomic profile of Clean Air Together participants highlights a real challenge for those designing environmental citizen science projects and who seek to ensure greater diversity in participation. The broader literature on effective strategies to encourage greater diversity in the profile of environmental citizen scientists suggests that practical actions such as the use of alternative recruitment strategies, recognition of the barriers to participation for certain groups (e.g., time commitments on the part of individuals with paid work and caring responsibilities), and co-design of citizen science projects can be effective tools for widening participation.'
Andy Fanning, EPA Programme Manager commented ‘The Environmental Protection Agency thanks ESRI for this research and welcomes the increased awareness and knowledge of air pollution among the citizen scientists who took part in the Dublin Clean Air Together project. The value of citizen science projects to the EPA is that we learn from the citizen scientists and they learn about the environmental challenges we all face. Better understanding of the barriers to participation and taking action on environmental issues is critical to protecting our environment. We are always seeking to have diverse participation across society in environmental citizen science and environmental protection and the learnings from the research are already helping EPA to seek a broader base of participation in these valuable projects’.