Cleaner Air for Scotland – air quality public attitudes and behaviour: final report

Review of the existing evidence on public attitudes and behaviour related to air pollution to inform the draft of the new Cleaner Air for Scotland (CAFS) strategy.

4 Summary and recommendations

This chapter presents a synthesis and summary of the literature review findings covering Scottish public attitudes to air quality and recent approaches to public engagement, and makes recommendations for a public engagement strategy.

The objectives of this literature review were to:

  • Identify, review and synthesise up-to-date evidence on Scottish public attitudes, perceptions and behaviours towards air quality, to understand the key findings, robustness of evidence base and any outstanding gaps in the evidence
  • Identify and review recent approaches to engaging the public on air quality, to understand effectiveness, limitations and applicability in different contexts, and
  • Make recommendations for a public engagement strategy for air quality as part of the planned public consultation on the new CAFS strategy.

4.1 Scottish public attitudes, perceptions and behaviours towards air quality

The literature identified limited studies on public perceptions in Scotland specifically on air quality. In anticipation of this a wider range of search terms were used and returned papers, reports and consultation responses that covered emissions-generating activities (e.g. transport/travel, domestic energy) and related issues (low carbon, climate change, energy production). It must be recognised, however, that not all of the views and opinions presented may be representative of the wider Scottish public given the narrow and often self-selecting range of respondents/participants within the studies reported.

Despite strong support for governmental action on air quality, and for the implementation of relatively stringent LEZ vehicle restriction measures to help reduce road traffic emissions, there is a modest level of ambition from individuals to change their travel behaviours, with only 5% Global Action Plan survey respondents likely to switch to a low emission vehicle. It is unclear what the barriers are here (the literature has reported issues such as cost, range anxiety, lack of charging point infrastructure, lack of awareness/knowledge as key barriers), hence, there is a need to explore this issue further. The survey also revealed a relatively low level of interest in switching from driving to active travel (40%) or to public transport (30%). Given actual behaviour is normally less than expressed intention, there is a need to investigate the reasons behind these responses. The LEZ consultation respondents preferred vehicle restrictions to charging zones, which were seen to penalise the poorest in society more, and recognised that, although motorists should be paying for traffic pollution, there was a need to protect those with mobility and social justice issues, and to provide alternatives to private car use.

For university students walking, active travel and public transport levels are relatively high and for schoolchildren walking and cycling to school for distances less than 0.5 miles is popular, but that there is scope to increase this through measures that provide reassurance to parents. For university staff, ambitions to walk more for health reasons were thwarted by work and family commitments, as well as weather and personal motivation. Weather and seasonality was also highlighted as a restriction to active travel in other studies, and provision of weather shelters for cyclists and walkers was suggested as a possible solution.

For those living in rural areas and in lower socioeconomic households, reducing private vehicle ownership/use is a challenge as there is a (perceived) reliance on the car to manage complex needs (e.g. work, family, caring, health concerns). In the most deprived areas, this is compounded by a fear of crime, as well as a lack of infrastructure, which restricts perceived abilities to use active travel modes. Even where urban regeneration has improved infrastructure, active travel remains low, signalling a need to better understand the complex needs of these societies and the barriers that prevent them from shifting to more pro-environmental behaviours. Particularly for those with health issues, shifting from private car use can have multiple health and wellbeing benefits. One solution may be the good network of community transport in Scotland, of which the economic, social and health benefits are highly valued by users in urban and rural areas.

On the domestic energy side, solid fuel burning wasn’t covered in the literature reviewed, however two key studies revealed very different issues on energy management from either end of the economic spectrum. In both, solutions were focused on energy saving measures rather than the much more effective reduction of energy demand. For the most affluent, although householders were keen to install insulation, new windows and efficient heating systems, the demand for space and desire for bigger houses created an increase in per person energy demand. For those in social housing, a lack of consideration of users’ needs and limitations in renovating the heating system led to a greater economic burden for many, and a lack of (perceived) control over their energy usage. Both cases illustrate the need to consider the lived experiences of individuals when seeking to influence their energy usage to reduce emissions.

For energy generation, community-led energy systems are popular in Scotland, due to the availability of grants, but also scepticism over national energy providers. There is support for renewable energy, but also CCS as part of a managed transition to low-carbon economy.

Based on the wide range of studies identified in this review, there does appear 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, amongst particularly deprived communities. This is well-documented and requires a detailed level of understanding of the complex factors at play in order to ensure that engagement is meaningful and effective.

4.2 Approaches to engaging the public on air quality

The majority of the public engagement studies in both grey and peer-reviewed literature searches were not related to Scotland. The grey literature search identified just two Scottish sources on air quality and active travel. From the peer-reviewed literature, the Scottish studies identified were not specifically focused on public engagement techniques or air quality, but provide insight into various applications of public engagement in related areas (e.g. transport, active travel, planning and place-making, low carbon, climate change, energy and public health). A number of results also examined behaviour change methodologies in the context of health protection, and mitigation of air pollution and carbon emissions, largely focused on reducing private car use. These were reviewed to understand the psychological drivers behind behaviour to inform recommendations on public engagement approaches. Although many of the studies identified were from an Asian context (predominantly Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and South Korean), where higher levels of pollution and different politico-cultural norms from the Scottish context exist, the general findings are supported by the wider literature and therefore are considered to have broader applicability.

4.2.1 Behaviour change theory

Many of the studies on behaviour change theory reviewed used the Theory of Planned Behaviour and hence the framing has centred around the underpinning factors of: attitude (an individual’s evaluation or beliefs about a recommended response); subjective norms (what an individual thinks other people think they should do) and; perceived behavioural control (an individual’s perceptions of their ability to do the behaviour).

Environmental awareness can positively impact attitudes on air pollution and behaviour change, and therefore raising awareness of air pollution can help to engender those behaviours. However, provision of information and awareness raising, if used in isolation, can cause negative affective responses leading to stress and paralysis of action if risk perception and behavioural responses are not properly managed. If people feel that alternatives are unavailable, or unobtainable given limited resources, a lack of perceived control can also limit their ability to change behaviours. Subjective norms can reinforce existing behaviours, but can also help to shift societal attitudes. In seeking to change behaviours, it is therefore necessary to consider all of these factors:

  • providing targeted messaging that considers all demographics of society, communicated appropriately for the target audience, that is both constructive and empowering;
  • providing enabling polices that are easier, more convenient and preferably cheaper, and that consider the complexities of the lived experiences of different sectors of society; and
  • influencing the influencers to shift the social consciousness on air pollution, building on social, familial and intergenerational drivers and communication networks to affect normative behaviours.

4.2.2 Public engagement approaches

A range of public engagement approaches have been identified in this review, 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.

A wealth of tools and examples of good practice communication to help raise awareness of air pollution and emissions reduction behaviours exist from a number of EU projects, as well as examples from Scotland (e.g. 2019 Clean Air Day in Scotland and Dundee City Council’s social marketing campaign). As well as campaigns to raise awareness in the general public, targeted communication to engage vulnerable groups (e.g. schoolchildren, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions) and different socioeconomic groups, as well as user groups (e.g. drivers) should be considered. Communications experts and subject experts can help to inform and target messages appropriately and effectively. Planned evaluation of campaigns should be designed in and materials should ideally be made more widely available for others to learn from and use. Communication tools can be seen as one-directional, top-down approaches, from which it is difficult to gauge engagement. Whilst potentially useful for awareness-raising, therefore, they may be limited as behaviour-change mechanisms. Considering the three dimensions of public engagement, it is important that strategies move beyond traditional “Transmit” and “Receive” models of public engagement (e.g. websites, newsletters, workshops, consultations) but aim for the more ambitious and rewarding “Collaborate” models (e.g. citizen assembly) so that groups can work together to co-create consensus resulting in shared accountability, shared ownership and shared decisions.

Questionnaires can be useful in obtaining information from a large number of respondents, but they can also be limited in the depth of understanding that they are able to achieve, although iterative or longitudinal ‘diary’ approaches can help to address this. Focus groups enable a more in-depth conversation with individuals and the opportunity to observe social norms at play. However, they generally are limited in the number of participants that they are able to engage, and there is a tendency for self-selecting participants to poorly represent the wider community, unless purposively targeted.

Citizens’ panels provide a deeper level of engagement with citizens and presents a shift from top-down engagement to a more inclusive approach to policy development. As described in two Scottish examples on renewable energies and low-carbon technologies, a panel of demographically representative citizens consider evidence presented on an issue in order to make recommendations to policy makers. Whilst the citizens’ panels provide a more inclusive and deliberative approach to traditional top-down consultation techniques, the public are still presented with information and their recommendations ultimately are still for policy makers to decide upon. Using independent chairs and/or organisers (i.e. non-governmental) can facilitate engagement and relieve potential political antagonism or distrust and resistance to engagement. Citizens’ panels require careful planning and coordination to ensure successful implementation and valuable outputs that do not disenfranchise either the jurors or the expert witnesses

Citizen science raises awareness by participation using a range of technically-creative approaches, e.g. using nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes, creating Raspbery Pi air quality sensors, and air quality data hackathons. They are a good way to build networks between researchers, policy makers and citizens, including children and young people, and create engaged communities, who can become disseminators and raise awareness of air pollution. Caution should be applied to ensure users are aware of low cost sensor data limitations, and care taken to manage risk perceptions.

Smart cities/”living labs” takes citizen science and uses it to help build and shape policy development. This co-creation of policy with citizens and the direct integration of their input into the planning and development of their cities separates “living labs” from other citizen engagement approaches. These approaches not only raise awareness, but also directly tackle perceived behavioural control and subjective norms by creating communities of well-informed, empowered individuals. The Future City Glasgow project and the Community Engagement for Carbon Emission Reduction (CECER) Strategy for Fife Council provide examples of co-creation and co-design approaches in Scotland.

Gamification provides a way of raising awareness, providing and capturing information and helping to modify behaviour. These ‘serious games’ can help to engage typical non-engagers as they do not require direct contact and can be engaged with whenever convenient. They can also incorporate social/online communities, creating opportunities for raising awareness with wider social groups and enabling normalisation of pro-environmental behaviours. Used within a suite of engagement tools, gamification can therefore be a useful mechanism.

Social media and social networking platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, can be used for widespread sharing of air pollution messages, capturing of public experiences through multimedia and exploration of public perceptions through hashtag searches and content analysis. The ability to engage widely, not only with those that are primarily interested but also with their wider social networks also presents opportunities for affecting subjective norms.

Participatory arts, as in the “Bird Yarns” example from the Isle of Mull, present a novel approach to public engagement that can help capture the views of normally disengaged or harder to reach sectors of society in an accessible way. However, as with many other public engagement approaches, the longer-term effectiveness in terms of engendering changes in perceptions and ultimately behaviour, can be difficult to determine.

As we have seen from the review of behaviour change theory, communication can help raise awareness and lead to positive attitudes, as well as influencing subjective norms. However, to tackle negative risk perceptions and a lack of perceived behavioural control, it is important to engage in more participatory approaches. By actively engaging citizens in the development of policies, it is possible to co-create solutions that have public support and will be easier to implement and therefore more effective. Self-run events using existing communities and groups can also lead to stronger engagement and citizen buy-in. Co-creation activities should be guided sensitively by experts to ensure that solutions are realistic and implementable whilst not closing down the innovative and creative ideas of citizens. Ensuring all sectors of society have an equal voice in this public discourse is vital to avoid disaffecting communities and creating or exacerbating social inequalities.

4.3 Recommendations for a public engagement strategy for air quality

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, with 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. Planned longitudinal 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. It can be challenging to engage people in post-activity evaluation without incentive; therefore coupling evaluation with feedback on how their 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.

The following highlights key recommendations for a public engagement strategy for air quality in Scotland to inform the new CAFS strategy and future public engagement approaches.

1. Consider a holistic approach that reflects citizens’ lived experiences rather than focusing exclusively on air quality.

2. Use a range of pre-piloted engagement approaches, informed by communications and subject experts.

3. Ensure engagement approaches are inclusive of all sectors of society and appropriately communicated.

4. Target specific groups separately, e.g. vulnerable groups, user groups.

5. Gain support from and include a range of actors, e.g. national and local government, public health agencies, public transport providers, businesses and schools.

6. Research the affected communities and actively engage with them to understand the socio-cultural contexts and complexities of their needs.

7. Co-create solutions that work for the affected communities, through citizens’ panels, and ‘living labs’, ensuring participants are demographically representative.

8. Support citizen-led engagement events and activities, e.g. citizen science.

9. Ensure promoted behavioural changes are easier, more convenient and preferably cheaper than the status quo.

10. Raise awareness responsibly, ensuring that risk perceptions and data interpretation are managed and achievable behavioural responses are provided.

11. Focus communication on health impacts, rather than concentrations or emissions.

12. Use change agents, influencers and middle actors to help raise awareness and promote behaviour change to affect normative behaviours.

13. Use social media to spread awareness through wider social connections and families.

14. Plan longitudinal monitoring and evaluation, coupled with citizen feedback, into the public engagement design.

15. Ensure materials and evaluation are made available to benefit other public engagement strategies.

4.4 Recommendations for further research

The following gaps in the evidence base have been identified, requiring further research.

In raising awareness of air quality, the literature suggests that this should focus on health effects. To inform this, a baseline study is recommended to identify:

  • Current awareness amongst the Scottish public of the health effects of air pollution and contributory sources

In terms of implementing behaviour change measures to improve air quality and carbon emissions, there is a need to develop a better understanding of the Scottish-specific real/perceived barriers and behavioural drivers around travel and domestic energy demand. Specifically, these should explore:

  • Barriers to uptake of low emission vehicles in Scotland
  • Barriers to modal change from private vehicles in Scotland
  • Behavioural drivers around travel and modal choice in Scotland
  • Behavioural drivers around energy demand in Scotland

The CAFS review also recommended improving understanding of solid fuel use in Scotland. Given none of the recent literature reviewed identified any evidence on this, there is a need for research that seeks to identify:

  • Solid fuel use in Scotland, including behavioural drivers and barriers to alternatives

All of the recommended studies above would need to be demographically representative of the Scottish public, and consider the specific issues inherent in areas of different socioeconomic status and in urban/rural contexts.



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