WearAQ is a toolset and community engagement methodology designed for people to act collectively on air quality issues. It harnesses people's subjective perception of their environment and uses wearable technology and machine learning processes to emphasise personal agency and responsibility in tackling complex issues surrounding air pollution.

What can we do about pollution? It’s such a large issue that we often feel disempowered because it seems like nothing any of us does on our own will have any effect.

Over the past 2 years, we worked on a series of initiatives; WearAQ Phase 1, WearAQ Phase 2 and Pollution Explorers, where we engaged with a total of 150 local residents from London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Macclesfield, UK and Brussels, Belgium to tackle air quality issues in their neighbourhoods through collective community effort.

Film documentary on workshop sessions with students from Marner Primary School in first version of WearAQ

WearAQ is Umbrellium’s long term air quality initiative that aims to improve the environment by working directly with local residents using hyperlocal strategies in their neighbourhoods that encourage long term collective behaviour change. Our initiative is designed to help people make sense of the quality of air through their innate subjective perception using technological tools, and more importantly, act upon them and collectively figure out ways to tackle air quality issues in their environment.

We believe that it is possible for individuals to work collectively on systemic issues, and that we should not rely solely on legislative changes. Our ambition is to mobilise people across different cities and boroughs to participate – every effort counts when it comes to improving air quality.

Phase 1 of WearAQ was piloted in Tower Hamlets with 20 school children in 2017. We then worked in early 2018 with 100 local residents, council members, activists and school children from neighbourhood schools and community centres across Tower Hamlets in WearAQ Phase 2. The next planned deployment, Pollution Explorers, will involve participants from across the EU, including Berlin, Oslo and Brussels in Autumn 2018.

Deployment Process

Each deployment of WearAQ consists of a proven set of tools and processes that combine people’s subjective perception of their environment with wearable technology, machine learning and citizen engagement strategies. WearAQ is used to help improve a neighbourhood by working directly with residents, empowering them to make sense of air quality issues and more importantly, act upon them through individual and collective behaviour change.

The community is activated through a series of workshops in which participants explore their collective responsibility and agency in tackling air pollution and environmental issues, using wearable devices along a series of specific routes around their neighbourhoods. Participants make sense of the impact they have on the environment, share experiences and motivate each other in committing to tackling air quality issues through their own actions.

The initiative has so far proven that people’s ability to assess the quality of air compared to digital sensors is fairly high in some instances, up to 75% accuracy in one workshop. A high percentage of participants have shown dedication in commiting to an action to tackle air quality for a period of time in their everyday life. While people may not always accurately assess the air quality according to digital instrumentation, they are very good at comparing locations. Children are very sensitive to momentary changes in the air around them, such as a truck or car driving by, while adults tend to be more holistic about how they perceive the air around them and we are able to use these findings to design better behaviour change models.

We analyse participants’ self-reported behaviour change over time through prepaid postcards with which they track their own pledges and behaviour change activities. So far 90% of participants have returned their cards with actions carried out over 7 consecutive days. Further refinements of this process are planned in order to extend the behaviour change analysis to collective action and responsibility.

WearAQ Deployment Deliverables

  • Workshop for a group of 15-20 people
  • Uses Umbrellium’s WearAQ perception-coats as a tool
  • Activity and pledge-diary cards provided
  • Afterwards: a summary report and individual participant feedback for pledge-diaries

Outcomes

As a result of the workshop, participants will:

  • Feel more empowered to tackle air pollution
  • Be more aware of their collective responsibility and actions regarding environmental issues
  • Change their behavior: e.g. parents and students start commuting by walking, cycling and scooting

Previous Usage

  • Local government initiative
  • Neighbourhood schools and community centres
  • Arts and Culture events

Pollution Explorers

We have been working with the hackAIR community in Europe since Autumn 2018 and using technological elements from its platform to help local residents make sense of the quality of air in their environment. We kickstarted Pollution Explorers​ with 2 exploratory workshops in June 2018 in London and Macclesfield, UK. In autumn 2018, we will be working with international communities in Berlin, Oslo, Brussels or Thessaloniki.

Film documentary on workshop sessions with participants in Poplar and Macclesfield in June 2018

Pollution Explorers is a residency led by Ling Tan of Umbrellium with hackAIR, funded by Vertigo STARTS, supported by FutureEverything.

WearAQ Phase 2

In Spring 2018, we worked with a total of 100 local residents, council members, activists and school children from neighbourhood schools and community centres across the Borough of Tower Hamlets. Through the engagement, participants shared personal experiences of air pollution, made a statement on the air quality with their own physical actions of recording perceptual data using wearable technology and helped to fill in missing ‘gaps’ of air quality data in order to make sense of their own impact to the environment. Participants were also further challenged to make a pledge on an action that they each can take everyday to tackle air quality issues in their neighbourhood for a period of time. Their actions were tracked through a custom designed prepaid postcard that they filled in and returned to Umbrellium for analysis.

WearAQ Phase 2 has demonstrated that people’s ability to assess the quality of air is fairly high in some instances, and a high percentage of participants have shown dedication in commiting to an action to tackle air quality for a short period of time in their everyday life, with 90% of them carrying out the committed action they pledged to do for 7 days consecutively.

Special thanks to:

WearAQ was a 6 months long OrganiCity funded project.

WearAQ Phase 1

During Spring 2017, We worked with students at the Marner Primary school in Tower Hamlets London to go out into the surrounding neighbourhood, measure air quality both technologically and through their own perceptions, and recorded their subjective experience using low tech wearable devices that catalogued their gestures. This data was compared with measurements from expensive, highly calibrated pollution monitoring equipment as well as other data like temperature, wind and humidity to look at correlations and contrasts.

Special thanks to:

  • All the wonderful and enthusiastic students from Marner Primary School who helped explore air quality around their neighbourhood in this project
  • Carol Doherty, Assistant Head / Shine Project Manager of Marner Primary School
  • Usamah Khan, data scientist
  • Mara Balestrini, technical advisor
  • Nurri Kim, filmmaker

WearAQ was a 3 months long OrganiCity funded project.