Reduce Avoid Protect Support - changing air pollution related behaviour through a smart phone app (RAPSapp)

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: The Centre for Environmental Policy


The health implications of air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are increasingly clear. Before leading to death, these pollutants increase cancers, asthmas, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even dementia. In the UK the health costs of air pollution add up to more than £20 billion every year and lead to 40,000 premature deaths. The peaks in pollution observed frequently in the last decade are the classical consequence of public good; the population tends to underestimate its own impact on overall air quality. This is made worse as many people are unaware of their exposure to pollution and don't understand how to reduce it. The aim of this project is to develop and evaluate the use of a mobile app to engage citizens in promoting healthier and more sustainable air pollution-related behavior. The outcomes of this research project will be:
1. A fully functioning app to inform individuals on the risk of pollution, their own exposure, and what they can do to change it.
2. A unique panel data set of individuals' characteristics, lifestyle, and pollution-related behaviour.
3. Estimates of the causal impact of pollution related information on individual's behaviour change, and how it differs among different socio-economic groups.

The theoretical background to the proposed research and its relationship to previous work
The project will build on health and economic behavioural theories to guide the development and evaluation of the mobile app. For example, the bounded rationality's principle suggests that individuals' behaviour should be analysed in the context of their specific environment, and we can provide them with new knowledge to understand how they take it into account in their decision process. The transtheoretical model provides a framework for understanding and documenting the process of behavioural change through five stages (from pre-contemplation, to maintenance), which allows the use of targeted messages along the pathway to behaviour change. The theory of planned behaviour stipulates the roles of social norms, beliefs, attitudes, and perceived control, which can all be affected by targeted feedback within the app.

The project will build on successful citizen engagement models and on nascent research on the use of mobile apps to change behaviour. The potential for digital technology to influence behaviours hasn't yet been studied in the context of air pollution, rather in the fields of smoking and alcohol cessation and diet control.

Solutions to air quality issues tend to be reactive, including the introduction of catalytic converters and the use of drugs and medicines to treat resulting illnesses. Wide spread behaviour change is also critical in terms of preventing pollutants emission in the first place and in terms of reducing exposure rates. This project will test out a uniquely developed mobile app to change peoples' behaviour in relation to air pollution. It will address air quality problems in terms of reducing exposure rates through making information available on less polluted routes, promotion of active travel options providing co-benefits in terms of health, encouragement of protective behaviours and pressure on local authorities. The work will lead to the co-creation of solutions to air pollution, involving citizens in designing a mobile app that will help optimise healthy and sustainable behaviours and create the political support for the most adequate policies.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
1917468 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 30/11/2021 Rosie Riley