On Thursday 27th October, FutureEverything and Contact Theatre took to the streets to find out what people along the Oxford Road corridor think about air quality in Manchester.

What were we doing?

Energy and environment is a  key theme in CityVerve, and air quality is one of the lead use cases looking at how technology can encourage people to change their behaviour to have a positive impact on the environment.

Contact Theatre’s Creative Expert – Lauren Banks – and FutureEverything put together an engagement strategy to speak to communities along Oxford Road. The aim of the intervention was to:

  1. See what the general public know and understand about air quality
  2. Challenge assumptions the air quality use case team have made so far in  CityVerve
  3. Consider what it would take for the general public to alter  their behaviour

We wandered  around Whitworth Park and All Saints Park, asking a diverse group  of people what they think about air quality, if it’s something that bothers them and how they currently travel around Manchester.

What were the outcomes?

Luckily for us, the weather stayed dry and the wind was calm. This meant there were plenty of people out and about who were  willing to engage with  some friendly people wanting  to hear their thoughts on air quality.

One of the biggest insights from the intervention session was that the phrase “air quality”, is too detached from the issues it represents. People found it difficult to engage in conversations about  “air quality”, but were much more willing to speak about pollution, health concerns such as asthma and the knock on effect of different modes of travel.

It took a few attempts at unravelling the term air quality for people to really begin sharing  what they thought about pollution in Manchester. This highlighted to the CityVerve team that more could be done to make CityVerve inclusive of Manchester’s residents and a project that more people  feel comfortable engaging with.

People were shocked to learn how air quality can affect their health. The majority of people we spoke to were unaware of quite how detrimental poor air quality can be on  health, particularly  the respiratory problems that it can cause. This highlighted the need for people to be better informed about pollution and air quality in the city. People need to have a  better understanding  of  what air quality is, what makes it poor and have a greater awareness of air quality on a day to day basis.

Participants  were generally enthusiastic  about discussing air quality. They spoke about how people need to be more aware of the air quality implications of different modes of transport; however when it comes to convenience, time and cost of travel, people are more likely to select  the quickest, cheapest modes of travel, even if it’s not necessarily what’s best for the environment.

How does this fit into CityVerve?

Education was put forward as a key factor for the air quality team to consider, with citizens wanting children to have the same level of awareness  about air quality and pollution, as they do about the health implications of smoking. The CityVerve team can now be thinking of ways that the sensor data and smart technology that will  be implemented could  be used to increase people’s knowledge, influence their understanding and nudge behaviour change to help improve Manchester’s air quality.

Community Forums and Intervention Workshops over the next 2 years are crucial to CityVerve’s success. They’re a way for the community to be involved in influencing how Manchester can become a Smart City and to ensure that the needs of Manchester’s residents are represented throughout the initiative.

How to get involved?

Join us at the next CityVerve Community Forum on Wednesday 30th November (17:30-20:30), where we’ll be talking about data and privacy in relation to the Internet of Things. We’ll announce further  Community Forums soon, so keep an eye on the CityVerve website.