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Standards, citizens, and sensors - the Air Hack 2 warm up session summary

As we mentioned in a blog post back in May, we will be hosting #AirHack2 later this year as a follow-up and extension to the first event. On 16 July 2020, we hosted an online discussion and ideas session to find out what data was being published, what might still be missing, what people wanted to see from the next event, and so forth.

There was a brief introduction and some context setting from ODI Leeds about the previous #AirHack event and why it was hosted, followed by some context from Sydney Simpson of Bradford Council who set the scene for why #AirHack2 was being planned now. We also heard from Dhaval Thakker from the University of Bradford, another key partner in planning for #AirHack2, about an overlooked aspect of air quality - indoor air quality. With that covered, things turned to the gathered audience to spark some questions and discussion and you can see the notes, useful links, and more in the #AirHack2 Google Doc.

There were some broad themes identified during the session that had potential for the main #AirHack2 event in September.

Data and standards

A good portion of the session was devoted to talking about data - what was available, what wasn't available, what should be available, etc. Sally from Bradford Council had a veritable bounty of potential datasets that could be released in time for September, which included air quality data from monitoring stations at 15 mins intervals, and unrelated but relevant data like vehicle movements through the city centre. There was a brief discussion about air quality sensors and the sometimes confusing disparity between 'expensive' hardware and low-cost hardware. For example, PM (particulate matter) could be measured fairly accurately in both expensive and low-cost hardware, whereas gas measurements were far more inaccurate in low-cost options. This has obvious impacts on the data quality and the amount of effort required to make the data readily useable, and several attendees felt this was an unexplored challenge. And finally, mentioning data usually means mentioning data standards at some point. Standards are great. They give confidence to folk who publish data, and they can enable much greater creativity and collaboration for folk who use data. Our project on business rates is a great example of this in action. At the time we hosted this session, we couldn't confirm if there was an existing air quality data standard so it is definitely something worth exploring further for #AirHack2.

Making the link to health

Having the air quality data is great, but how do you get meaningful insight about the effects of poor air quality (or even the effects of good air quality)? What are those crucial other datasets that should be linked? A&E admissions was a suggestion, especially if it could be filtered by respiratory conditions, but might not give any clues about long-term impacts or localised problems with air quality. A research project taking place in Bradford might be able to plug this gap, and Open Prescribing could give some extra insight into any long-term changes through the changes (or absence of changes) in prescribing habits for respiratory conditions.

Getting people involved

A final theme that ran throughout the various discussions centered around a combination of engaging people and raising awareness. Attendees felt it was very important that members of the public could get involved with #AirHack2 or, at the very least, that things were made with the public in mind. Adding elements of citizen participation could be an opportunity to build richer pictures of air quality incidents (local things like barbecues are often missed in air quality modelling and forecasts). There was also an element of mass-participation, enabling a way for people to contribute to much bigger datasets about air quality by collecting/sharing their own data (feeding back into the topic of standards, which would make this easier). Sally from Bradford Council mentioned very early in the meeting that she would love to see something like a hyper-local air pollution checker and cited schools as an example. How would parents send their children to school on a bad air quality day? But might that also influence behaviour change? Would parents drive kids to school on a bad pollution day, so that they felt their children were safe? What about air quality inside a vehicle on a bad air pollution day? (Lopping back to University of Bradford, who are interested in indoor air quality.) These are all opportunities to raise awareness and help people make decisions about their future health, with the added benefit of potentially being better for the environment too.

Join us for #AirHack 2 on 8 September 2020

We still have a few things to finalise in terms of the event format but we can now crack on with the above themes and start putting resources together. We already have an #AirHack2 hub-page where you can find links to the previous event, notes from this warm up session, and details of how to register for the main event on 8 September. If you want to get involved or think you can help with any of the above challenges, please do get in touch and we'll have a chat :)