5. Public Engagement and Behaviour Change
89. Public information provision, awareness and behavioural change are interlinked and integral to the delivery of long-term sustained change in environmental quality generally and air pollution specifically.
90. Our proposals on public engagement and behaviour change are informed by a review of evidence around public attitudes and behaviour relating to air quality, undertaken by the University of the West of England. The review report was published in August 2020.
91. The review showed that there is limited evidence available on public perceptions specifically of air quality in Scotland. The review therefore also encompassed emission-generating activities (e.g. transport/travel, domestic energy) and related issues (low carbon, climate change, energy production). Based on the wide range of studies identified in this broader context, there appears to be a strong awareness of, and engagement with, air quality and climate change issues, at least in certain sectors of society in Scotland. There are however, significant barriers to engagement and, importantly, behaviour change, particularly amongst deprived communities.
92. As with public perception, limited research on public engagement around air quality issues has been undertaken in Scotland. Accordingly, the range of evidence covered in the review was widened, both in terms of the issues covered and geographically. This resulted in the identification of a range of public engagement approaches, from communication tools, traditional questionnaires and focus groups, to more participatory citizen panels, citizen science, living labs and co-creation, and novel techniques using social media and gamification.
93. The review highlighted that air quality behaviours are informed by many complex factors that need to be considered when designing meaningful and effective future engagement. Effective public engagement should draw upon an assortment of different approaches, using materials from other successful strategies to build a coordinated suite of multi-media initiatives. Support from communications experts and commitment from a range of actors, e.g. national and local government, public health agencies, public transport providers, businesses and schools is also required. Planned long-term monitoring and evaluation should be designed into the campaign to identify the effectiveness of strategies, and to allow organisers to learn from the successes and follow up on areas of weakness. Coupling evaluation with evidence on how public engagement has contributed can create a feedback exchange, and also enable citizens to reflect on their experiences in a more informed way. Furthermore, the engagement strategy, materials and evaluation reports should be transparent and publicly available to allow others to benefit.
94. Based on the review of current evidence, the following recommendations are made as a basis for future public engagement on air quality issues in general terms and specifically for developing a public engagement strategy on air quality in Scotland:
- Consider a holistic approach that reflects citizens' lived experiences rather than focusing exclusively on air quality.
- Use a range of pre-piloted engagement approaches, informed by communications and subject experts.
- Ensure engagement approaches are inclusive of all sectors of society and appropriately communicated.
- Target specific groups separately, e.g. vulnerable groups, user groups.
- Gain support from and include a range of actors, e.g. national and local government, public health agencies, public transport providers, businesses, agricultural industry and schools.
- Research the affected communities and actively engage with them to understand the socio-cultural contexts and complexities of their needs.
- Co-create solutions that work for the affected communities, through citizens' panels, and 'living labs', ensuring participants are demographically representative.
- Support citizen-led engagement events and activities, e.g. citizen science.
- Ensure promoted behavioural changes are easier, more convenient and preferably cheaper than the status quo.
- Incorporate information on ammonia and the impacts of atmospheric nitrogen pollution on biodiversity more generally into public information about air quality.
- Raise awareness responsibly, ensuring that risk perceptions and data interpretation are managed and achievable behavioural responses are provided.
- Focus communication on health and environmental impacts, rather than concentrations or emissions.
- Use change agents, influencers and middle actors to help raise awareness and promote behaviour change to affect normative behaviours.
- Use social media to spread awareness through wider social connections and families.
- Initiate further research and programmes of action to raise awareness of and engagement in the issue of atmospheric nitrogen pollution.
- Plan longitudinal monitoring and evaluation, coupled with citizen feedback, into the public engagement design.
- Ensure materials and evaluation are made available to benefit other public engagement strategies.
A useful starting point could be a baseline survey to identify, in a Scotland-specific context, current awareness of health effects of air pollution and source contributors.
95. The review also identified several evidence gaps which need to be addressed. Key issues include real or perceived barriers to uptake of low/zero emission vehicles and further modal shift to public transport and active travel, alongside associated behavioural drivers. Similar issues around switching to low/zero emission energy sources also require consideration.
- Develop a public engagement strategy on air quality in Scotland, taking into account the recommendations from the evidence review.
- Undertake a baseline survey of current awareness amongst the Scottish public of air pollution health effects and source contributors.
- Actively link with other agencies and organisations that are not air quality specific, but which deliver programmes having co-benefits for air quality improvements and behavioural change, such as Cycling Scotland, Sustrans and Living Streets.
- Continue to support Clean Air Day and other activities promoting raising awareness of air pollution.
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