Mobilizing Our Air

Team members: Ángeles Briones, Daniel Bach, Pelle Annfeldt Israelsson, Verena Rauchenwald

Mobilizing Our Air is an online platform which portrays activist groups concerned with air pollution in the Borough of Camden, London. The activist groups’ interests are categorized into interest tags of which the platform’s user can select as many as wished for. Based on the user’s selection the platform shows a geographical map which outlines the location of the activist/activist group. Further information (address, Facebook and Twitter accounts, a short description, social media conversations, promoted events, data stories) is presented to the user when the user mouses over a geotag of a specific activist group. The platform has three main goals: 1. the platform supports local activist groups to connect with each other through visibility on the platform, 2. the platform informs individuals interested in activism about activist groups in their vicinity and invites them to join the movements, 3. the platform brings the topic of air pollution to other activist groups’ attention which already support the cause of better air quality (i.e. bicycle groups), however without openly promoting it.

Four interfaces of the platform prototype: groups, groups profile, campaigns, and stories.
Figure 1: Four interfaces of the platform prototype: groups, groups profile, campaigns, and stories.




Relation to the co-creation processes in Save Our Air

During the first Save Our Air data sprint in London, the Mobilizing Our Air team members identified the need for the above described platform through conversations with local activists and organizations (Camden Air Action, 10:10 Climate Action, Camden Council). During these conversations we found that Camden’s residents are aware of the air pollution issue and its related health impacts. Further, Camden's residents are active in raising further awareness and trying to solve the issue. Thus, we identified the presence of several local activist groups dealing with air pollution. This is a condition of the Borough of Camden.

These stakeholder-conversations led to an initial mock-up of the Mobilizing Our Air platform, and we ended the first Save Our Air data sprint in London by presenting this mockup at a public event where we received very positive feedback from local citizens. Citizens already engaged in air pollution activism saw the benefit of the platform in that groups could join forces and certain actions could be bundled.

Figure 2: Project presentation at public event in the Borough of Camden, London.
Figure 2: Project presentation at public event in the Borough of Camden, London.

Upon arrival in Copenhagen the team was curious to evaluate whether the platform should be build for Copenhagen or London. A reason for building the platform for Copenhagen was the team’s presence in Copenhagen and thus the opportunity to engage with local activists during the Copenhagen data sprint. Consequently, the following questions were raised: 1. Are there local activist groups in Copenhagen? 2. If there are, how to best retrieve their data? 3. If there are not enough or any air pollution activist groups, should the focus of the platform be widened to other environmental issues (i.e. activist groups related to climate change, energy, food waste etc.?)

Within the first days of the data sprint it became obvious that, as far as we know, there is a limited number of air pollution activists in Copenhagen, since the air pollution is not perceived as an urgent problem by the majority of citizens. Still, there are some groups of organized citizen initiatives such as RenLuftKbh formed in 2014. According to RenLuftKbh, the Danish government did not comply with EU air pollution limits for many years, which led to many hundred premature deaths every year in Copenhagen. RenLuftKbh’s Facebook group has 47 members; however, their website was last updated in 2015. Conversations with the political party Alternativet and the Copenhagen Solution Lab did not present further leads. For example, the Alternativet party had air pollution as one of their campaigning topics before the elections, however after moving into parliament, it was not emphasized anymore. The interviewed actors also do not fully understand why there is little activism in Copenhagen. Possible explanations for this could be the Danish people’s trust into institutions, or the perception of Copenhageners that their city must be clean and healthy because so many people use their bike as their mode of transportation.

Based on the lack of activist groups in Copenhagen, the team ultimately decided to focus on the Borough of Camden in London. Therefore, the initially retrieved corpus (around 90 websites from the categories “in” and “undecided”) from Hyphe was investigated again but this time more in depth. Through personal judgement around 20 websites were selected. For each of these websites the following information was gathered and implemented into the platform’s prototype: address, Facebook and Twitter accounts, a short description, social media conversations and promoted events. Further, the platform prototype is showing three examples of data stories on the topic of urban gardens, biodiversity and air monitoring systems.

Finally, the project was discussed at a feedback session in London, where the participants from the first sprint were invited to respond to the design. During this meeting different issues were discussed such as alternative ways of presenting the data and the quality of the data uploaded. Furthermore, Camden Council raised the question of who would control the platform’s content and what the trade off might be between an open crowdsourced platform and the accuracy of the content. These are important questions to keep in mind when further developing the platform.

The user/public context

The platform is designed for users who are concerned about air pollution and want to do something about this matter but do not know how or where. The platform also aims at users who are already active and participate in activities but who are also looking for other similar action groups with which they can promote air pollution initiatives.

As an internal exercise we created the following persona, which is an example of a person who is new in Camden and would like to become an air activist: Laura is 44 years old, married and has two kids (3 and 7 years old). She and her family just moved to Camden, London. Laura is a high school language teacher and she is generally interested in the environment, health and the slow food movement. Laura is aware of the air pollution problem in Camden and is deeply worried about her children´s health. She wants to get active but does not know which activist groups exist in her neighborhood, when they meet and what they stand for. Introducing Laura to the Mobilize Our Air website will solve this information- and opportunity for action gap.

The data used in the project

The goal of the platform is to give visibility to air pollution activists. The data collection process is a crowdsourcing endeavor, it is open to the public and is by no means finished already. The platform is a tool for collective gathering of data.

As a start and to fill the platform initially, the activist groups’ information was extracted from their official website and social media accounts (address, a short description, social media conversations, promoted events, data stories). Along with the retrieved interest tags, these are the data used in our project. A protocol was set up at first (Figure 3) but it was edited and changed as needed. The sourcing of actors and issues related to air pollution was conducted through a broad range of qualitative assessments and the edited initial protocol. Furthermore, the interview/issue expert claims were used as the basis for claiming if air pollution activist groups exist in Copenhagen and London. The data used to fill the platform is available here and the detailed data generation process in London and Copenhagen are described below.

Figure 3: Initial protocol for retrieving interest tags.
Figure 3: Initial protocol for retrieving interest tags.

As a starting point in the data generation process, as shown in Figure 3, Hyphe (Jacomy et. al., 2016) was used to retrieve information on local activist groups in Camden. Hyphe is a web crawler, which was developed by the SciencesPo’s médialab. Camden Air Action’s website was fed into Hyphe, based on which the web was crawled with depth 1. Working from the results of this crawl, we manually selected the relevant websites and did a second crawl on these websites. The crawl resulted in a corpus (data set) identifying 1833 websites. Due to the London data sprints’ time constraint, only 649 websites (around 35%) were manually reviewed and were split into the categories “in”, “undecided” and “out” based on personal judgement.

To also identify appropriate interest tags for the platform, based on which the user chooses the activist groups shown to him/her, the following initial protocol was set up (Figure 1). The initial protocol suggests to open the websites which were categorized “in” and to put the front page links as well as the top banner links into DMI TextRipper. The text retrieved from DMI TextRipper will then be prepared to later be merged with the the activists’ Facebook comments. To find the Facebook comments, the activist group’s websites will be examined to evaluate whether they have a Facebook page. If this is the case, then the Facebook pages will be scraped by netvizz with the following settings: last 999 posts, full data, get post by page only. The post_text in the comments will then be merged with the DMI TextRipper text and put into Cortex. In Cortex the terms will then be visualized in a network map. The interest tags will then be manually selected based on the different nodes and clusters in these maps.

The ‘situating techniques’ used to make data-stories local

The situating technique of our project is on the one hand the geo-localization of the activist groups on a geographical map, geo-localizing social data on a geographical dimension; and on the other hand, situating actors within the landscape of issues, proposing an “issue-scape” or “issueating” them. Based on this realization we decided to also include activist groups on the platform which do not solely focus on air pollution (i.e. planting trees in the city for biodiversity), as they also contribute to better air quality in cities. By including these groups, we acknowledge how closely knit and interconnected the activists’ landscape of issues around air pollution is, even though the related activists groups are often not aware of this. A third situating technique is the curation and moderation of the platform´s issues and actors. The platform strives to be crowdsourced, shaped by activists and users. Nevertheless, a curator is still needed to manage the incoming activist profiles and meta-edit the issue-scape of air pollution.

What have we learned from the process?

Air pollution is an inter-and multidisciplinary issue, as well as a complex socio-technical problem that is relevant in many different local, regional and national activist realms. During the data sprints we realized that issues such as air pollution have a different meaning to different actors. For example, a parent might be worried about their children’s health which can be affected by air pollution, while an economist might think about air pollution and human lives in economic terms and thus talk about “disability-adjusted life years”. Both speak about the same matter of air pollution and its impact on human health, yet it is approached from different angles.

Furthermore we found that air pollution is not the same issue in Camden and in Copenhagen. While the residents of Camden are aware of the air pollution in their borough, Copenhageners do not seem to worry much about this issue. Politics and cultural meaning impact issues and the way they are perceived, as well as how actors confront them and consequently which actions are taken.

Next steps and requirements for the project

A suited platform maintenance manager will be needed for the website to live on. This can be an individual person knowledgeable and interested in activism and air pollution, as well as an organization or NGO. This entity will then need to decide in its marketing strategy to promote the platform. We were contemplating the option that any user of the platform should be able to suggest activist groups that he/she knows of to the platform. If this user is a member of this activist group, then the user will be able to set up the activist group´s profile and enter all necessary information. However, if the user is not a member of the activist group suggested, then the user is required to enter the activist group´s email address. An automatic email will then be sent to the suggested activist group, inviting the activist group to join the platform. Through this mechanism we strive to only have activist groups on the website which accept and agree with our terms and want to an active member of Mobilize Our Air.  

It is our hope that based on this crowdsourced approach of the platform, the platform will allow many different activist groups to gain more visibility and engage with other groups that care about similar issues. Through this engagement we hope that it will be possible to show the relationship between air pollution and its neighboring issues so that activist group´s which have not identified themselves as air pollution activists yet start to see the link and together do promotion for cleaner air in their neighborhood.