20 Nov Making Change From The Bottom Up
Bristol, where I live, has been a city of contrasts from when I moved to it over 10 years ago. 2020 has shown that the inequalities have deepened. Prior to living in Bristol, I worked as an environmental scientist in other cities and countries including Cardiff, Wales, Munich, Germany, and Portland, Oregon. I spent 15 years of my career very focused on protecting species and habitats, looking to maintain and enhance biodiversity. All of those years I was looking at things from the perspective of the threatened species.
When I began to get involved in my community in East Bristol, it became very apparent that actually, humans were a threatened species (Tweet this), especially if you are a human from a BAME background, are disabled or live with an impairment, or if you happen to reside in a specific postcode.
The 2010 Marmot Review: Fair Society, Healthy Lives, highlighted the importance of access to green space in addressing health inequalities, stating that easy access could halve health inequalities. The health inequalities apparent in Bristol I learned of when I became a local health champion in 2014 spurred me on to become a physical activity instructor, in the hope of helping more people from my neighbourhood, especially women from minority ethnic backgrounds, begin to improve their health. Currently, there is significantly higher premature mortality (672.9 per 100,000 vs 388 per 100,000) in Lawrence Hill Ward as well as significantly lower percentage of people who say they are in good health than the average in Bristol (80% vs 88%).
The 2020 review, Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On, raised the issue of air pollution, stating: “pollution levels are, on average, worse in areas of highest deprivation compared with areas of lowest deprivation. In 2017 the Chief Medical Officer for England’s annual report was based on the risks of air pollution and described a ‘triple jeopardy’ for deprived communities and places, showing these places faced higher risks from ‘social and behavioural determinants of health…higher risks from ambient air pollution exposure…[and] greater susceptibility to the impact of pollution.’”
In 2017, I began to work with Knowle West Media Centre as Community Coordinator on a European-funded Horizon 2020 project called REPLICATE (REPLICATE – REnaissance of PLaces with Innovative Citizenship And Technologies.) I worked with different groups of people in my neighbourhood who were interested in finding out more about air pollution and if they could avoid areas which were of lower air quality. Primary school children, taxi drivers and people who cycle participated in the process. We used the Bristol Approach co-design methodology to carry out workshops co-creating prototype mobile air quality sensors shaped like ladybirds.
Ladybird Sensor Prototypes
The initial prototypes had teething problems but the growing interest in collecting data on air quality meant that we began to use stationary Luftdaten sensors – an open knowledge, open source sensor. We held workshops to build these sensors with participants and installed them at different sites in the neighbourhood, as well as a higher accuracy sensor at a local primary school.
The experience of making a sensor and using it to collect data can be empowering in the first place, but we also held Making Sense of Data workshops with participants and staff from University of Bristol’s Jean Golding Institute to unpick the data and the results together. In addition we worked with digital artists to develop creative data visualisations of the levels of NO2, O3, and Particulate Matter that participants could engage with and share with others.
Data Postcards Showing concentrations of NO2, O3, and Particulate Matter across 24 hr periods
Creating resources about science and sustainability for people to easily engage with and talk about is something that I am personally passionate about, but is also part of another project we’re working on at KWMC called ParCos (Participatory Communication of Science) funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Science with and Science For programme. The main aim of ParCos is to improve science communication by creating participatory science stories that link to source evidence that the public can interpret for themselves to scaffold new science activities. The stories will be shared through popular media forms such as broadcast media and Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. One of our tasks is to create Principles for Diversity and Inclusion to guide these Citizen Science activities. Here is a link to a presentation about KWMC’s previous work in Diversity and Inclusion that we shared at the European Network of Living Labs’ Digital Living Lab Days 2020.
Currently, according to our city’s Quality of Life data, which is available on a ward by ward basis, one can see that although 95% of the respondents have access to the internet at home, the percentage of people who feel comfortable using it (82%) is lower, and significantly lower (72%) in areas of the city that rank highly in indices of deprivation. With the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to us, levelling this gap is a priority for me and my team. Accessing goods, services and democracy is carried out almost solely online at the moment, and until everyone is capable and comfortable with digital technology, we won’t have adequate representation and people are at risk of digital and social exclusion.
Working with citizens and technologists, we believe that technologies and digital services need to be created by and for a variety of users. This means that we need to disrupt the current status of only 15% of the workforce coming from BAME backgrounds, with gender diversity at 19% (from https://www.diversityintech.co.uk/)
KWMC has been working to support women and people from diverse backgrounds to develop digital skills. For example, the 2019 project Making It, run by KWMC’s innovation space KWMC The Factory, supported women to use digital design software, follow a design process, and operate machinery including laser cutters and 3D Printers. Participants also had access to one-to-one mentoring and supported sessions where they could experiment, prototype and test ideas for their own self-guided projects.
Alongside this, KWMC The Factory hosted a number of specialist workshops in topics such as Wearable Technology, Animatronics & Puppetry, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, which were open to course participants and those who had attended tasters or applied to the course, and were designed to broaden participants’ knowledge of digital technologies and potential applications.
Now more than ever, we need to break down barriers to accessing technology and value diverse experiences and perspectives as we create new technical solutions (Tweet this), so we can increase access to education, training and democracy, and create a society that is fairer, healthier and more equitable.
Zoe Banks Gross, Sustainable Neighbourhoods Programme Manager at Knowle West Media Centre.
Interests: social justice, sustainability, running, cycling, making and the outdoors.