Homes under the Microscope: A citizen-led project to investigate airborne microplastics in the home

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By Dr Margarida Sardo 

Homes Under the Microscope (HOMEs) is a multidisciplinary project that brings scientists, participants and the textile industry together to develop a new way to measure microplastics in the home. It is a collaboration between the University of West England, the University of Leeds and the University of Edinburgh. The researchers involved have a wide range of backgrounds including environmental research, laboratory analysis of microplastics and social science researchers who work to evaluate research projects. Led by Dr Ben Williams (Air Quality Management Resource Centre, UWE Bristol), HOMEs has the involvement of two Science Communication Unit members, Dr Margarida Sardo and Sophie Laggan.

About two thirds of the clothes we wear contain plastic, most commonly polyester, nylon or acrylic. These materials are cheap and extremely versatile. Plastics can help make fabrics stretchy and more breathable as well as making them long-lasting and durable. Other textiles also contain plastics – sofas, curtains and carpets often have plastics added to make them more hard wearing. When we use the textiles in our home, friction causes tiny fibres to break off and be released into the air.  These small fragments are called microplastics. There have been very few studies about the amount of microplastics in the home, but what research has been done shows that every home sampled so far contains some airborne microplastics.

In this study researchers want to count how many airborne microplastic particles there are in a wide range of different houses. They also want to examine what they are made of, which will help us understand where they come from.

Citizen scientists will place passive samplers in their homes, using low-cost microscopes to see and take pictures of their samples. They will then use machine vision approaches to characterise their own samples by size/shape/colour etc., at home.

The research team will also undertake confirmatory analyses so citizens can see what types of plastic (if any) are present in their samples, allowing the team to build an understanding of airborne microplastic generation at home.

HOMEs is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Citizen Science Collaboration Grant (Reference BB/V012584/1).

You can read the press release here.

Shining a light on green job pathways for the next generation

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Today marks the launch of a new year-long programme that aims to inspire and motivate young people in the West of England to pursue green career pathways. Known as Inspire Sustainability, it is one of three West of England Combined Authority (WECA)-funded initiatives as part of the Green Futures Fund, that, if successful, could be replicated and scaled to meet the region’s Climate Emergency Plan and Net Zero ambition.

This announcement builds on recent WECA support of other green skills initiatives in local schools, with West of England Mayor Dan Norris awarding the first green jobs grant for three schools to develop a special environmental careers programme -read more here.

Inspire Sustainability: in a nutshell

Developed in collaboration with UWE-Bristol’s Science Communication UnitCabot Learning FederationAvon Schools Eco Network and STEM Ambassadors West of England, the programme was developed as part of the initiative for Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation (DETI) Inspire programme. Inspire Sustainability will expand the region’s existing hub of sustainability skills education and training to highlight the region’s leading green skills and expertise in the labour market. Working in partnership, the consortium will deliver three areas of work to three pilot schools; Hans Price Academy in North Somerset, Bristol Brunel Academy in Bristol, and Digitech in South Gloucestershire.  The project includes:

  1. All-school engagement: tailored lessons, talks and careers events with diverse role models, culminating in a whole-school Sustainability Summit.
  2. Eco Council engagement: Eco Action Plan co-development to support the schools achieve Eco School status
  3. Teacher engagement: training so that teachers have the confidence to engage young people on these topics and support them to imagine a future where they can see themselves playing an active role in shaping development.

Once piloted, the outcomes will be shared widely to primary and secondary schools as well as to educational professionals and academics through the consortium’s networks.

West of England Mayor Dan Norris with Year 10 pupils from Orchard School at the Youth Engineering for Environmental Sustainability Summit in October 2021

Building on what works

The Inspire Sustainability approach builds on tried and tested methods explored in DETI Inspire, which has engaged over 7,000 children and young people in the West of England on engineering for sustainability.

Consortium member UWE-Bristol’s Science Communication Unit has a track record of working with and training diverse stakeholders to reach sustainability goals. In 2021, the Unit launched its Climate Action Hub to highlight the existing work of students and academics in this space, as well as to offer support and training to further amplify climate action. Currently it is delivering climate communications training to young people and supporting them to act on things that matter to them. The Youth Climate Communications toolkit will be used to develop the teacher engagement portion of Inspire Sustainability.

Meanwhile, the STEM Ambassador programme will be key to recruiting diverse green role models while Avon Schools Eco Network will use their expertise to support the schools to develop their action plans.

If you are interested to know more about any of this work, please contact project manager Sophie Laggan.

This post was first published on the Engineering Our Future blog on 30 June 2022.

A toolkit and training for youth climate social action

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A toolkit and training for effective youth climate comms and social action

UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit (SCU) is launching a new Youth Climate Action Toolkit to empower young people to act on things that matter to them. The toolkit is suitable for 16-24-year-olds, and we encourage you to please download and share the kit with any (young) person you think may benefit from these tools!

The newly developed toolkit has been produced in partnership with young people from the Avon Schools Eco Network, following pilot training held with the DETI Inspire team in the School of Engineering.

The pilot involved 12 young climate activists who learnt how to be more effective with their own campaigning, whilst forming the foundations of this new toolkit to support other young people. As well as empowering young people to act, the toolkit aims to speak with and engage diverse audiences that may not otherwise take part (e.g., through filmmaking, persuasive writing and interactive stalls, etc).

What is inside the toolkit?

To allow any young person to use the materials independently of the training, the toolkit has been designed to stand-alone or complement the training. It consists of four sections:

  • Section one: lays the foundations for effective team working, with a skills audit for young people to assess their baseline entrepreneurial skills for sustainability, and time set aside to define their action project based on need
  • Section two: encourages readers to understand different worldviews – including those from different sides of the political spectrum, and people in positions of power and influence
  • Section three: drills down into the communication methods, allowing readers to select the right method for their audience and to prototype and test their communications
  • Section four: encourages readers to reflect on their learnings, re-assess their skills and evaluate the impact of their communications

Training in the community

The SCU team have also been delivering the Youth Climate Communications to local colleges and youth groups. The training is modular, which allows it to be adapted to suit the needs and interests of the organisations involved.

The training is already being modified to suit the needs of one college, where they have aims to support a more sustainable educational environment by delivering to their students over a two-week period at the end of term. Students will vote on a priority for action within their college and then work in teams, with the support of a coach, developing a communications and behaviour change campaign which could then be delivered in the following term.

The young people’s experience of the programme is being evaluated to better understand whether their attitudes, skills and behaviours relating to sustainability, change as a result of the training. Findings will be shared on this blog later this year.

For empowerment programmes

Meanwhile, aspects of the training are also being delivered to participants of more established empowerment programmes, such as this year’s Catalyse Change programme, Bristol Education Partnership’s Climate Challenge and The Global Goals Centre’s Groundbreakers awards, with the toolkit also featuring in the Groundbreakers’ action pack.

A future aim of the project is to deliver the training online to youth groups and educational establishments across the country, and beyond, with training provided to educators to deliver the programme themselves. For a taster of what this training could look like, head to our YouTube where you can access the social media component of the training.

Where it all began

The training emerged from conversations among the SCU and colleagues about the desire to share our knowledge on climate communications and active citizenship more broadly, so when a funding opportunity arose the Unit was quick to pull together a team to make their dream a reality. The all-female team consists of academics and researchers in disciplines ranging from human geography, engineering, and environmental anthropology – to building physics and entrepreneurship. What unites them is a common interest in supporting young people to develop the skills and confidence they need to take action about things that matter to them.

This training is the first offering from UWE’s Climate Action Hub, also established by the SCU. The Hub is a place for researchers and students to connect with communities for climate action. There is already some work on campus doing just this, such as the children’s workshops delivered by DETI Inspire and Inspire Sustainability, but this is the first time training has been put in place to support the University and communities to do more.

To find out more about the in-person and online toolkit or to connect to the Climate Action Hub, email project manager Sophie Laggan.

To download the toolkit click here.

This post was first published on the Engineering Our Future blog on 29 June 2022.

WeCount Evaluation Summary: Citizen Science on Urban Mobility

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WeCount was a two-year Horizon 2020 project which aimed to quantify local road transport, produce scientific knowledge in the field of mobility and environmental pollution and co-design informed solutions for several road transport challenges. This citizen science project empowered citizens to take a leading role in the production of data, evidence and knowledge around mobility in their local areas. Five case studies across Europe were involved in WeCount: Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Leuven in Belgium, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Dublin in Ireland and Cardiff in the UK.

The project started in December 2019 and finished in November 2021, running almost entirely during the global COVID-19 pandemic and having to adapt to restrictions and online delivery.

Citizens were given low-cost traffic sensors to install in their homes, enabling them to collect and analyse traffic data, as well as engage with key stakeholders throughout the process. The project has engaged with more than 1,000 citizens and stakeholders through workshops and other events. A total of 368 citizen scientists from WeCount case studies directly engaged with the project. An estimated 230,000 people were engaged indirectly through social media and the project website.

There was a nearly perfect split of males (51%) and females (49%) participants in the project.  WeCount was able to attract a younger demographic than most citizen science projects with 29% of participants being younger than 16. This skew towards younger audiences reflects the effort of staff in reaching them when possible. WeCount reached 16 schools across Europe and engaged with 305 school children. WeCount citizens were highly educated (82% had a degree or above) which maybe a reflection of the online and digital conduct of the project due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Citizens took part in several workshops, from assembling the sensor to learn how to analyse the data. Across case studies, a total of 52 events and workshops took place, most of these were online. These events and workshops engaged a total of 843 citizens across Europe. Overall, citizens tended to enjoy the activities; 75% saw some improvement in their knowledge and almost half (48%) of citizens plan on using the data after the project ends.

By the time the project came to an end, 10% of participants had taken action and policymakers see huge added value in the project. WeCount was able to reach and sustain engagement with a broad demographics in society, with Telraam acting as a constant reminder to citizens to look at the data and stay curious about what data others in the network were capturing. The sensor is low cost and open access and is currently being refined, in response to citizens feedback to improve installation, design and accuracy. Alternatives have been explored for non-tech users such as strawberry plants, facilitated discussions looking at the data and awareness-raising roles created for citizens.

The project provided cost-effective data for local authorities, at a far greater temporal and spatial scale than what would be possible in classic traffic counting campaigns. The five WeCount case studies developed professional relationships with decision makers, which led to mutual benefits such as knowledge transfer, new contacts and access to widely subscribed communication channels.

Running a large-scale Citizen Science project during a global pandemic was a challenge but one that the WeCount team have excelled at, by very quickly changing and adapting all plans from recruiting and engaging face-to-face, to recruiting and engaging citizens largely online. More on the impact of the pandemic in delivering citizen science projects can be found here.

There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted plans to build potential relationships with some citizens, especially those from low-socioeconomic groups and intermediary organisations. Other impacts included slower deployment of sensors and reduced capacity for teams to build their own sense of community. Despite many setbacks, the case studies persisted in completing their engagement cycle. They shifted to online and did well in energising, encouraging, supporting and staying connected with citizens where possible, working collectively to co-design a truly participatory citizen science project. Clearly there is enthusiasm among some citizens to act, however some remain frustrated by what in their opinion is inadequate action from decision-makers, even after they do engage.

This evaluation shows the importance of co-designing citizen science projects with citizens so that they are engaging, enjoyable and empowering. The more a citizen enjoyed their time in the project, the more likely they are to continue working with WeCount data after the project ends, which will eventually lead to taking more action. In addition, the greater the street-level knowledge improvement the more likely a participant is to act.

If you are interested in learning more the evaluation report can be found here.

Dr Margarida Sardo WeCount Evaluation Lead, Science Communication Unit, UWE Bristol

Graphics by Sophie Laggan Research Fellow, Science Communication Unit, UWE Bristol

Youth Climate Communications: a pilot

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On 24th February, 12 young people, aged 15-24, headed to UWE Bristol’s Prototype and Play Lab, in the School of Engineering, for a training day in Climate Communications. Passionate about addressing the climate and ecological emergency, and eager to learn and connect with likeminded people (figure 1), the delegates came from across the Bristol area, with representation from five different schools/colleges and from the University.

Figure 1 Why the young people took part in the training.

The young people were recruited through the Avon Schools Eco Network, CCC-Catapult and through the researchers’ student networks, with the researchers full-knowing this was already a captive audience with some experience in climate communication (figure 2). While the training was free, with lunch vouchers provided and travel costs covered if needed, in exchange the young people were required to provide detailed feedback on the sessions. This feedback would then allow the researchers to adapt and evolve the training, so it could be replicated, converted into different formats (e.g., e-learning and guidebooks) and scaled to other youth groups and schools regionally, nationally and internationally.

Figure 2 The types of communication the young people have tried before.

The training emerged out of the collective interest of researchers at UWE Bristol, from the Science Communication Unit, FET, ABE and DGEM, keen to share their knowledge with and empower the younger generation. The first to live through climate breakdown since a young age, over half of young people experience some form of climate-related anxiety (Hickman et al. 2021). While some level of anxiety is a natural response to an external threat (Clayton, 2020) and can act as a motivator (Taylor, 2020), too much can be debilitating (Hrabok et al. 2020). To steer young people away from overwhelm, timely action, forethought and trust in science are needed (Manzanedo & Manning, 2020). And according to Climate Outreach, to resonate with young people we, as adults, need to validate their negative thoughts while avoiding overly optimistic communications, and provide resources that can alleviate their anxiety[1].

Drawing on this research, and the interests of young people, the Science Communication Unit shaped the programme of activities to build trust in the need for well-thought through evidence-based communications, tailored to audience that have the most power and influence to make impactful pro-environmental decisions.

Using the example of solar panels, Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers and Research Fellow Sophie Laggan explained that why one household may buy solar panels for environmental reasons, others will do so out of economic/energy security, while others still will do so because their neighbours did – because it is the ‘norm’. These different ways of viewing the world shape how we make decisions, and it is only through meeting people where they are at that we can forge meaningful dialogue and promote pro-environmental change.

The participants ran with this idea in a role-playing exercise where they tried to convince someone ‘not like them’ – and in a position of power and influence – to install solar panels on the roof of their school. With a bit of context about what makes their partner tick, the participants were able to tap into the other person’s values and use it to their advantage.

Following lunch and a tour of the Campus’s community garden led by a UWE Bristol student, the group returned for an engagement activity on passive houses with Dr Deborah Adkins. Each table were given a wooden replica of a typical UK house and asked to stick post-its on the areas they thought could be improved for sustainability, everything from solar panels to insulation and green roofs. The task was accompanied by a short presentation, allowing the participants to learn more about sustainable housing.

Deborah’s session was followed by a more depth explanation of the value of physical engagement activities, by Sophie, with the chance for each participant to prototype their design for an engagement activity based on the issue that mattered to them, be that local food or slow fashion. Their issues of concern were formulated in the opening session of the day – “Start with the why”.

The day was concluded by top tips by Josh Warren on filmmaking on a budget, before the young people were set to task on recording their own short film on a sustainability topic. The group enjoyed watching each other’s films and spent the last few minutes of the day reflecting on how valuable the day was for their activism and general understanding of people ‘not like them’.

Analysis of the before and after surveys, revealed some promising findings, which the project team will now monitor in future training activities. Perhaps most significantly, the young people’s negative thoughts (scared, angry, concerned, powerless, guilty, confused) all reduced following the training (except for mournful) and positive thoughts increased (empowered, hopeful, optimistic and determined) (figure 3).

Figure 3 How young people feel about the climate and ecological crisis (asked before and after the workshop).

Confidence in communication skills also increased. For instance, 100% felt confident/very confident in engaging their audience after the training, compared to just 11% (N=1) before (figure 4).

Figure 4 Before and after confidence levels in communication skills.

Nearly all participants rated the activities highly, with the eco house activity and ‘start with the why’ activity receiving the highest praise (figure 5). The average scores were attributed to either a lack of time to fully explore a topic or a lack of scaffolding to support the pupils to come up with good ideas.

Figure 5 Young people’s rating of the main activities. (None rated less than average (below 3 out of 5)).

Lastly, survey respondents were asked if anything was missing from the day. Suggestions included training on social media, graphics and poster design and engaging children, as well as time to provide more examples of communication best practice.

Next steps

Shortly after the training day the team found out they were successful in their bid to the HEIF FET-FBL Award. This now means that the training can be replicated again, in person, to different youth groups, with a focus on from more diverse backgrounds, and that they can create e-learnings and printable toolkits. This work sits under the umbrella of the Climate Action Hub at UWE Bristol, which acts as a space for researchers to connect with communities interested in tackling the climate and ecological emergency. To facilitate this exchange, the Hub is looking at setting up a Staff Network to allow staff the time to build these connections. If you are interested in connecting to the Hub in any way, or have ideas on how it should operate, then please contact Sophie.laggan@uwe.ac.uk.

In the coming weeks we will publish a blog written by one of the participants, who will share their experiences from the day.

This training was led by Research Fellow Sophie Laggan, Associate Professor Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers, Senior Lecturer Dr Deborah Adkins and Josh Warren.

By Sophie Laggan, Research Fellow in the Air Quality Resource Management Centre at UWE Bristol.

References:

Clayton, S., 2020. Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, p.102263.

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R.E., Mayall, E.E., Wray, B., Mellor, C. and van Susteren, L., 2021. Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health5(12), pp.e863-e873.

Hrabok, M., Delorme, A. and Agyapong, V.I., 2020. Threats to mental health and well-being associated with climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders76, p.102295.

Manzanedo, R.D. and Manning, P., 2020. COVID-19: Lessons for the climate change emergency. Science of the Total Environment742, p.140563.

Taylor, S., 2020. Anxiety disorders, climate change, and the challenges ahead: Introduction to the special issue. Journal of Anxiety Disorders76, p.102313.

Climate Outreach, 2020, Britain Talks Climate, 18th November 2020. URL: https://climateoutreach.org/reports/britain-talks-climate/


[1] Britain Talks Climate, a research project by Climate Outreach, segmented the UK population into different categories according to their views on climate change. 13% of the UK population identify as “progressive activists”, to which a large proportion are young people.

Empowering WECA pupils with data for sustainable school streets

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Speeding cars, traffic jams, air pollution… these are but a few of the grievances the average city dweller contends with on a daily basis. Below the driving age, children in the West of England do not contribute to these problems, yet they are among the most vulnerable to their consequences.

To allow children to safely make their way to school, without the need to breathe in polluted air and to arrive in a timely manner, EU citizen science project WeCount, together with DETI Inspire, has launched a series of educational resources for KS2 and KS4 pupils. Covering a wide range of subjects, all curriculum linked, children are able to learn about the grand challenges’ cities face in relation to urban travel, and the steps they can take collectively to make their school streets, and cities, safer, healthier and happier. By taking part, schools can gain points towards Modeshift STARS Travel Plan accreditation.

This collaborative project is coordinated by UWE Bristol researchers from the Science Communication Unit. Project manager Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers explains why these resources are so important:

“Road transport is a leading cause of air pollution and climate change within the West of England. For our cities to become net zero carbon emissions by 2030, the date which scientists warn is our deadline to keep global warming below 1.5°C and prevent runaway climate change, drastic changes need to be made to every aspect of life, not least driving. WeCount sensors and associated school resources are one piece of the puzzle in helping citizens to create the changes they wish to see. “

What is WeCount?

WeCount, led by UWE Bristol, is a project that equips households, community centres and schools with low-cost traffic sensors to count cars, bikes, pedestrians and heavy vehicles, as well as the speed of cars. Over time, the citizen scientists can observe trends and use the evidence to lobby for changes on their roads. Among the successes with WeCount data so far, citizens across Europe have convinced their councils to install speed cameras and reduce road speeds, and consider bike lanes and pedestrianisation, spread awareness among residents and contributed to consultations on new housing developments.

How do we get involved?

WeCount is giving away 20 sensors to schools across the West of England. Contact engineeringourfuture@uwe.ac.uk to apply for one for your school.

KS2 resources are freely available here. KS4 due for release later this month. Email the above email address if you would like to be sent a KS4 pack directly to your school when available.

All resources can be delivered without a sensor, using the data available on the Telraam website.

You are also able to buy all of the components required for the sensor at PiHut. For more details on the equipment you need, please see this document .

What’s inside the KS2 pack?

A whole school assembly

Fifteen curriculum-linked worksheets, with instructions and PowerPoint for teachers, covering Geography, IT, Maths, Science, Art and English, Design and Technology. These include tasks to: collect and analyse data; understand different urban travel views; design a bike for the future; vision a healthier, happier school street; and persuade the mayor to consider your proposals.

Lessons can be delivered independently or combined for after-school clubs or themed curriculum, and can be teacher-led or with the support of UWE Bristol or STEM Ambassadors.

What’s inside the KS4 pack?

A whole school assembly

Ten curriculum-linked worksheets, with instructions and PowerPoint for teachers, covering nearly all GCSE subjects – Geography, Computer Science, Maths, Science, Citizenship and English, Design and Technology, History and Engineering. These activities include tasks to: learn about the influence of powerful actors on the proliferation of the car; collect and analyse data; explore the science behind the sensors; debate the role of AI in solving the climate crisis; research local travel issues and viewpoints; design interventions and deliver action projects; creatively write about their experiences.

Lessons can be delivered independently or combined for after-school clubs or themed curriculum, and can be teacher-led or with the support of UWE or STEM Ambassadors.

Sophie Laggan,  Research Associate, citizen empowerment and policy change for urban health and sustainability at UWE Bristol.

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in delivering Citizen Science projects: Insights from the WeCount project

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Margarida Sardo and Sophie Laggan

WeCount is a citizen science research project funded by the H2020 SwafS-programme and aims to empower citizens to take a leading role in the production of data, evidence and knowledge around mobility in their own neighbourhoods. The project started in December 2019 and was designed to have lots of face-to-face engagement and interaction between the project team and citizens in five European cities and regions (Leuven in Belgium; Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Dublin in Ireland and Cardiff in the UK).

Just as the project started recruiting citizens and running workshops, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant restrictions on who we could meet and where we could meet them. Eventually, all WeCount countries went into lockdown, which placed additional challenges on delivering the project as it was originally planned.

Dr Margarida Sardo, from the Science Communication Unit conducted a short evaluation aimed at understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in running and delivering a large-scale, international citizen science project.

Main challenges faced by the WeCount team:

  • Uncertainty
  • Changing priorities
  • Reaching specific groups, such as senior citizens and low socio-economic groups
  • Online fatigue
  • Fear of face-to-face
  • Digital skills
  • Logistics

The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt created new challenges for some citizen science projects, but with hybrid approaches to participant recruitment and engagement, projects can still thrive. This study provides useful advice for creating the flexibility, adaptability, refocus required to overcome the challenges faced.

Based on the findings of this evaluation, Sophie Laggan has created a full infographic, highlighting both the challenges faced by the WeCount team, but also offering helpful approaches to counterbalance the impacts of the pandemic on delivering the project.

For a closer look at the infographic below or to download a copy, please click here.

What is an engineer anyway? – Communicating engineering careers to pupils with DETI’s Engineering Curiosity project

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When children are asked what an engineer is, and what they look like, it can often be a tricky question.  They may jump to the image of an engine mechanic, or a man in overalls with a spanner and a hard-hat.  They may also have trouble recognising familiar jobs as coming under the umbrella of engineering. 

Engineering is defined as ‘working artfully to bring something about’. More literally, it is the application of science and maths to solve problems. And it’s a career that is more relevant than ever – to achieve net zero and a low carbon global economy, everything we make and use, from aircraft to cars, batteries to wind turbines, will need to be completely re-imagined and re-engineered.

When a child does not personally know an engineer, or does not recognise the role of engineering in solving the problems faced by a society, then this notion of an engineer becomes more removed from their view, and critically, from their career aspirations.  In science communication, we encounter children with low science capital throughout our work.  So how can the children dream of becoming an engineer, if they don’t know what one is? 

You can’t be what you can’t see

It is difficult for children to imagine themselves in that job, when the engineer does not look like them.  Encouraging girls and children from minority ethnic groups into engineering careers, and STEM careers more broadly, is a key focus of the DETI Inspire team working out of UWE. 

In collaboration with My Future My Choice, as well as many local engineers; the DETI Inspire team at UWE have developed the Engineering Curiosity cards and lesson resources for schools.  The aim is to bring the diversity of the West of England’s amazing engineers into the classroom and enthuse and inspire both primary and secondary pupils.  Through not only learning about what an engineer is and recognising their role, but also introducing them to real-life local engineers that may come from similar beginnings, so that they can start to think of engineering as something that could be for them!

Engineering Curiosity

Engineering Curiosity is a collection of 52 cards, based upon 52 local engineers in a wide variety of different roles and industries, in a kind of ‘Top Trumps’ meets ‘Happy Families’ style game.  The engineers featured have also each produced an engaging TikTok style video, giving a fun snapshot of their role and their route into it.  The project has developed lesson plans, curriculum linked worksheets and activities, and school-wide assemblies to accompany the cards and videos, all to aid schools in running sessions that involve the real engineers joining them live in the classroom through video link. 

During the recent British Science Week, local schools around the West have been taking part in DETI’s ‘Big Beam In!’, bringing the sessions to life and reaching over 3500 pupils.  Some of which may just be the West’s future engineers!

Looking to inspire in your science communication, or want to check out all the engineering roles for yourself?  You can find the resources, lesson plans and cards on the Curiosity Connections website.

DETI Inspire builds on the success of previous projects founded and launched in the Science Communication Unit (SCU) at UWE Bristol, including Curiosity Connections – the network for inspirational primary STEM education in the West of England, and Women Like Me – a tiered mentoring project for women engineers. The project is led by Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers and includes Ana Bristow, Sophie Laggan and Josh Warren from the SCU.

Josh Warren

Seeing people in the data

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By Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers

We’re living through a Climate and Ecological Emergency and we urgently need to reduce carbon emissions. And yet society seems frozen into inaction. Could a new modelling and communication approach help to gather momentum?

The ClairCity project was led by UWE Bristol and brought together the Air Quality Monitoring Resource Centre and the Science Communication Unit. The project reached over 818,000 citizens through innovative public engagement methods including an online game, extensive workshops and surveys, and schools activities.

In a journal paper recently released, the research team detailed their innovative method to bring these results together, through citizen-centred source apportionment. Traditional methods for monitoring air pollution and carbon emissions look at what is creating the emissions (vehicles, heating etc), and where the emissions end up (pollution hot spots).

Focus on Who and Why

This new approach focusses on who is burning fossil fuels and why they are doing so. This means we can understand the human dimension of emissions to improve policymaking, accounting for demographics (gender or age groups), socio-economic factors (income/car ownership) and motives for specific behaviours (e.g., commuting to work, leisure, shopping, etc.).

The modelling produced some surprises when applied to traffic in Bristol – as leisure travel accounted for the most km travelled, and therefore the most emissions per year.  Local councils usually focus on school traffic or commuting, but this provides a new way to approach emissions reduction. Policymakers plan to look at ways to reduce car use for leisure travel, for instance locating leisure venues near to public transport or cycling paths, or even considering plans for 15 minute cities, where any necessary city amenities are within a 15 minute walk from homes.

Figure 1. (a) This infographic presents the relative contribution of each motive to total kilometres travelled by car in Bristol in 2015. It was designed to highlight recognisable social practices and activities.
Figure 1. (b) This social card links to the data and was designed to resonate with activities that people do every day that contribute to carbon emissions and air pollution.

For science communicators, there is also much to think through as well. The modelling showed that emissions are not evenly produced; certain types of people produce more emissions than others, and some feel the effects of pollution more than others. For instance, men travel by car more than women, and people who earn over £50,000 per year tend to own more cars, and therefore drive far more often.

Figure 2. Infographic (top) and social card (bottom) showing differences in air pollution produced through men’s and women’s different travel habits.

Perceptions of ‘sensible’ climate action vary between groups

We therefore need a far more nuanced approach to communicating about climate action. Climate Outreach have done some excellent work on this topic, with their work on seven segments of British society and their attitudes to climate action. Science communicators need to focus on the segments polluting the most, and tailor communications showing the benefits of each relevant action they can take.

The UWE team’s new journal paper take this further using social psychology theories, explaining how the social contexts of the groups to which we belong influence what we perceive to be ‘normal’ in society. This means that cultural realities can change between social groups, cities, regions and countries. This ‘Overton Window of Political Possibility’ can shift over time so that an idea moves from unthinkable to radical, to acceptable, to sensible, to popular and finally into policy. For example, a climate change policy which is considered quite sensible in one city, such as an extensive network of segregated bike lanes allowing for cars to be curtailed in the city centre (Amsterdam in the Netherlands), may be considered to be quite radical in another city (such as Bristol, U.K.).

Science communications needs to focus on group lived experience of this ‘normality’, in order to understand more about why our day-to-day behaviours happen, and how we can change if we see others doing the same. Politicians will generally only pursue policies that are widely accepted throughout society as legitimate policy options, or otherwise, they may risk losing popular support and become unelectable. In order to introduce new policies, we therefore need to show how an idea can be communicated so that it resonates with what is deemed ‘acceptable’ or ‘sensible’ to the majority of citizens.

People like me create emissions, and people like me can take action

The UWE team showed how social cognitive theory can be used to help improve individual and collective self-efficacy for climate action. Using an example of more women cycling to activities, we need to focus on:

  1. Vicarious experiences (i.e., comparisons of capability to others, modelling and observing)—a woman deciding whether to cycle will be influenced by whether other women cycle; if this is considered a ’normal’ thing for women to do, then other women will likely join in.
  2. Mastery or performance accomplishments (i.e., experiences of relevant success)—a beginner female cyclist will be more likely to continue cycling if they have a positive experience cycling on main roads; they will then have a memory to recall about their ability to cycle alongside cars.
  3. Verbal persuasions (positive feedback from peers and supervisors, coaching)—to continue cycling, the female cyclist would need to receive direct positive feedback on this activity.
  4. Emotional arousal – both vicarious (indirect) and mastery (direct) experiences can influence our emotional states. To improve self-efficacy for an activity, we need to experience positive emotional responses. Therefore, the woman would need to feel that she is capable and confident at cycling and that other people approve or admire her behaviour.

So climate action needs positive (and relevant) role models, alongside positive press or communications (in relevant media) in order to help change our behaviours.

The ClairCity project showed how new thinking about the role of people in relation to air pollution and carbon emissions can widen options for action, leading to more acceptable and effective policies. Climate communications should draw on social learning in order to tailor communication efforts towards relevant groups. Ultimately, we need to become more aware that ’people like me’ create emissions and, equally, ‘people like me’ can take action to reduce emissions.


Fogg-Rogers, L.; Hayes, E.; Vanherle, K.; Pápics, P.I..; Chatterton, T.; Barnes, J.; Slingerland, S.; Boushel, C.; Laggan, S.; Longhurst, J.. Applying Social Learning to Climate Communications—Visualising ‘People Like Me’ in Air Pollution and Climate Change Data. Sustainability 2021, 13(6) 3406 doi.org/10.3390/su13063406

Evaluating Europe’s largest project on citizen-inclusive decision making for clean air and carbon management

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With just ten years left to change our carbon intensive lifestyles to mitigate climate chaos, urgent decisions need to be made about how we can reach net zero and clean air. Meanwhile, the Covid19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement show that citizen involvement in science communication has never been more critical to ensure a socially just transition. 

At this critical moment, the ClairCity project has reached its final dissemination stage; Europe’s largest ever research project on citizen-led decision making for clean air and carbon reductions. Six cities and regions came together to share engagement methods to involve citizens in policymaking, namely, Amsterdam in The Netherlands, the Aveiro Region of Portugal, Bristol in the UK, the Liguria region of Italy, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Sosnowiec in Poland.

As a result of the project team’s efforts, 818,736 citizens were involved in some form or another. Of these, 8,302 were directly engaged through workshops, events, schools’ activities, mobile games and apps, and even videos, a number which far exceeded the expectations of the team.

Why was this significant? Because these 8,302 citizens all influenced clean air and climate change decisions in their local context.

Over four years, the project partners and Council officers made many collaborations with local community organisations and together with a strong social media presence, the project’s on- and offline presence grew. Through a variety of engagement tools, citizens were able to have their say on what mattered to them regarding transport and home heating and what they would like to see change to enable them to make greener choices. There were also candid discussions on the potential barriers to such changes to not only make these concerns known to decision makers, but to have a deeper understanding of the challenges and trade-offs that need to be made when taking policy decisions.

Equipped with this information, ClairCity was then able to consult policy makers about the policies proposed by citizens and discuss how to operationalise them. As a final step, the top citizen policies were modelled against current policy plans for each case study to assess whether citizens’ demands could affect future emissions and associated health impacts. In nearly every context, citizens were more ambitious than ‘business as usual’, with the exception of Amsterdam where the local government was in fact more ambitious than its citizens.

An evaluation of epic proportion

ClairCity was a fascinating project to evaluate for our SCU team including Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers, Dr Margarida Sardo, Dr Corra Boushel, Sophie Laggan, and David Judge. We have produced a full evaluation report with all of the findings, which you’re welcome to read if you have the time, and a shorter one if you have less time. For those visual learners, there is also a visual evaluation report and our webinar recording. Finally, to satisfy blog readers, we have you covered too! Read on to hear our reflections and key findings.

The aim of the evaluation was to see whether the project had fulfilled its aim of ‘raising awareness of environmental challenges and their solutions through proactive dissemination of the project outcomes’. To do this, we explored the demographics of participants and those less directly involved, examined indicators of awareness, attitudes, knowledge and enjoyment (so called Generic Learning Outcomes) and citizen’s intended behavioural changes. Additionally, we explored differences across countries, demographics and engagement tools, to understand perceptions in different contexts. ­Data collection was carried out through paper/online questionnaires, including pop-up windows in the game and app, as well as in-depth interviews with staff and social media analysis.

All tools exceeded their targets for audience reach, apart from the App which remained at BETA testing due to technical issues. The Delphi workshops were particularly impressive, with 4887 participants compared with 200 expected, and the ClairCity Skylines game, with 2,800 players worldwide compared with 1500 players expected. Both successes can be largely attributed to the on-the-ground outreach and marketing activities of our case study partners, who made connections with community organisations, produced flyers, spoke on the radio, attended events, and generally made lots of noise to attract people. The cities that spent less time and resources on this groundwork had fewer participants as a result.

Social prowess

Our social media platforms gained a lot of traction over the years, although they were again limited by time and resources available. Our Communication Coordinator in Bristol was able to orchestrate our main sites, resulting in (at the time of writing) 1,392 Twitter followers and 416 Facebook followers, and 36,482 website visitors. Sites managed by our partners – who weren’t dedicated science communicators – had considerably less traffic.

Demographics

Data was collected for age, gender and educational attainment. Given the fact that ClairCity had targeted schools’ engagements, with several team members having direct connections to local schools, in addition to a mobile game, over 40% of participants were aged between 13-24. Working adults occupied around 50% of participants, and over 55+ represented less than 10%. This is quite an impressive finding considering most engagement projects fail to capture the full spectrum of ages. 

63% of participants in the study identified as male. The biggest gender differential came from the game, with more than twice as many male players than female, which skewed the gender balance. Alongside this, many stakeholder workshop participants were senior men in regional organisations, which again skewed the gender balance.

Participants were asked about their education level in our workshops. 81% of respondents held a Bachelor’s degree or above. On the other hand, in the game, 79% ranked their level of knowledge on air quality as being low/none. In other words meaning, the game appealed to people with less expertise.

Learning outcomes

Both policy makers and teachers were asked about the usefulness of the tool relevant to them. An overwhelming percentage of policy makers found the policy workshop useful/very useful (95%), compared with a more modest percentage of teachers finding for the schools’ competition (61%). The schools’ activities have since been expanded following this feedback, and our Educator Pack (part one and two) is freely available online, and has been featured in the British Science Association Science Week pack, and through Sustainable Learning.

The majority of participants enjoyed or loved the activities in which they were involved.  Both the Delphi and Stakeholder workshops greatly improved participants’ understanding of air quality (88% and 82% more understanding, respectively). 39% of game players left with more understanding, however for 45% their understanding stayed the same. The app mainly left people with the same understanding (47%), or feeling confused (18%).

Perhaps one of the biggest findings was in regards to behaviour change. At least half of all participants in the Delphi workshops, game, schools’ activities and stakeholder intended to change their behaviours as a result of their involvement (58%, 80%, 67% and 79%, respectively).

Upon cross-comparison, it was found that the more participants enjoyed the activity, the more they reported that their understanding of air quality had improved. Similarly, the more participants reported that their understanding had improved, the more they reported that they would change their behaviour. Younger people and those with lower education to start with were more likely to say they would change their behaviour. All of these relationships were highly statistically significant.

Ultimately, the more enjoyable the engagement activities, the more people gain understanding about the issues, and the more likely people are to make a change to their behaviour to reduce air pollution and carbon emissi0ns, and improve the health of our cities.

Reflections on the evaluation process

  • In future we would recommend other projects take additional time to target women’s groups, or develop ‘tools’ that appeal to women
  • While efforts were made to reach representivity through undertaking the Delphi process in low socio-economic status neighbourhoods, in hindsight we would have worked harder to amplify under represented voices. Recent Black Lives Matter protests have been a stark reminder of the need to make our work inclusive..
  • Working on an international project presented issues with translating the website and evaluation forms. More dedicated evaluation time, or expert science communicators in each country, would have helped researchers who were less experienced in social science research methods.   
  • We benefitted from having evaluation embedded from the beginning (rather than an add-on), and as such designed our evaluation methods to work in different contexts and cultures

Most ClairCity staff found engaging with citizens challenging (due to not having experience in this) but highly rewarding. By the end of the project the vast majority stated they have enjoyed engaging with citizens. This was a rich experience in terms of new skills, with our staff reporting to have learned how to pitch their ideas, how to talk to citizens and how important is to listen to people as well.

If you are interested in our experiences, or in benefitting from our reports, please check out our website for a variety of resources and tools to aid future citizen-led decision making on climate change and air pollution.

Sophie Laggan, Communications Officer, ClairCity

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