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 per 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 personalised 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, four hundred 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 personalised 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 amongst communities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch For All
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 Mar 2018


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