Citizens' Data for Air Pollution (CitiDAir)

Lead Research Organisation: Institute of Occupational Medicine


Air pollution has figured prominently as one of the environmental crises of the day. There is now a market in consumer air monitors, which makes pollution monitoring more accessible to the public than before. Consumer monitors are distinguished from the pollution monitors used by researchers in terms of cost (these can be many times cheaper than research instruments), user friendliness, and quality (there is great uncertainty about the long-term reliability and accuracy of these monitors).
Because of the existing national monitoring stations for air pollution are relatively few, mathematical models are often used to fill in missing data. However, models still require ground-level calibration from monitors, so there is still a need for higher resolution monitoring across space and time for improving model estimates. Establishment of a high resolution monitoring network is still cost-prohibitive. Mobile monitoring is another potential way of obtaining this high resolution data. Citizens could be a form of mobile monitoring, and we will explore the feasibility of developing a campaign to measure air pollution across time and space with citizens as data collectors. We will also explore the possibility of using consumer air monitors to determine whether this effort could be citizen-led, rather than relying on researchers to supply monitoring equipment. We will also explore how people interact with the data collection process and the data they collect, as well as the benefits they receive from this activity, to better incorporate citizen science into future air pollution exposure research.

Technical Summary

We propose to conduct a feasibility study on expanding the spatial and temporal information on air pollution in a city by engaging citizens in collecting their own data using consumer grade air pollution monitors. The main objectives of the project would be: 1) Involve citizens in an instrument validation study comparing a consumer monitor and a research grade monitor; 2) Document/capture the citizen experience in participating in this study.

This feasibility study will provide information about the potential for using citizens to gather and expand existing data on air pollution in future projects. We will recruit a group of 12 adults to participate in the study. These will be recruited through our community group networks from previous work and through groups such as Sustrans, Keeping Scotland Beautiful, and Environmental Protection Scotland. They will be invited to carry around a set of personal monitoring equipment for up to 48 hours and to participate in a pre- and post-monitoring interview to discuss their expectations of and experience with the study, and also the data gathered to inform future study design.
The data analysis will involve statistical methods for comparing a non-reference instrument with a gold standard reference instrument. Data visualisation will be done using existing software. The pre-monitoring interview will examine the participant's perceptions about the monitoring devices to be used and what they hope to find out as a result of participating in the study. The post-monitoring interview will include an exploration of a visual representation of the participants' data with the researcher. This information will include exploration of the monitoring experience of the participant, the potential for future research in their community and what would be of interest, and how they would see the community having involvement in the design, data collection and analysis process.

Planned Impact

CitiDAir aims to examine how we can better engage people with environmental data. The participants in the study will benefit because they will have the opportunity to use air pollution monitoring equipment and to gain information about their own exposures to air pollution and how the activities and locations they encounter in their daily lives influence their exposure. The public will benefit because this feasibility study will help us develop ideas for co-designing future studies with citizens, to incorporate them into data collection, and to develop data products that are relevant to them. Governmental authorities, especially local authorities, will benefit because of the increased understanding of and engagement of citizens in environmental issues, such as air pollution. Low cost and consumer air pollution sensors are of interest to local authorities, but there is concern about how best to use them, due to questions about their data quality. CitiDAir will provide evidence for scaling up this study to be able to more effectively address these questions.


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Description Citizen science provides a useful way of gathering data on air pollution exposures across a wide range of locations and to help us characterise the actual levels of pollution people are exposed to, rather than what is in the air at stationary monitoring stations. People who are particularly interested in or curious about air pollution issues are relatively easy to recruit to participate in a citizen science project that involves measuring their own exposures. However, given the technical nature of this particular project, there was a need to provide a number of devices to the participants which may have been an inconvenience for them. It may be more difficult to ask a large number of people to participate in this type of instrument comparison. Our study identified a greater desire to participate in a monitoring study if the instrument is relatively small and easy to use. In this case, people may actually be willing to use the device for a much longer period of time then we requested them to do (48 hours). To improve uptake of monitoring studies using citizen science, researchers need to invest more time and effort in developing a monitoring and data visualization and feedback system that citizens can use with little effort and which also provides remote data uploads for researchers. This would reduce the amount of time needed by researchers to obtain the results and would allow for citizens to participate for longer time periods
Exploitation Route As a result of the pre- and post-monitoring surveys the following suggestions/considerations have been made for future research:
• Identify the level of knowledge and awareness that participants have of the topic area, as this may influence their interaction and participation with the study.
• Take a tailored approach to participation where participants can conduct their own investigation (e.g. what are exposure levels for a specific activity/location) and ensure that this is clear in the recruitment materials.
• Ensure that following the data presentation any questions are answered, this facilitates participants changing their behaviours as they will fully understand the data and what it means for them.
• Ask participants about their expectations before taking part to ensure, where possible, their expectations are met and any questions are answered.
• Include detail in the project documentation that is easy and clear to understand as this is a resource that participants use to increase their knowledge and understanding (e.g. information sheet, participant results report, debriefing sheet).
• Present the data in helpful and interesting formats, and where possible map individual level detail on to the results (e.g. time of activity and location). This will help individuals to identify where and when they might consider changing their behaviours. As part of this, ask participants to collect details on their activities or take photographs and explain the reasoning behind this is to improve their data.
• Consider the data feedback as part of the device choice for participant monitoring studies, where possible, having a data app for real time feedback.
• Use more user friendly devices when possible, if they are less user friendly have shorter monitoring periods or less interaction required.
• Involve participants in the co-design of studies to identify their areas of interest, this can increase engagement and also ensures the data is useful to them.
• Involve groups interested in the data at the start/proposal stage to identify the data of interest to them.
• Ensure that learnings from projects are used to inform future studies and shared with others to inform further work.
Sectors Environment

Description Factors affecting childhood exposures to urban particulates (FACE-UP)
Amount £1,684,899 (GBP)
Funding ID MR/T029897/1 
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2021 
End 06/2024