Impact case study

Design for Environmental Monitoring

Published on 12 May 2022

Widespread citizen engagement leads to Europe-wide action on climate change.

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Two large scale research projects (Making Sense and GROW) funded by The European Commission Horizon 2020 Programme and led by Professor Mel Woods have shown how widespread citizen engagement can sustain action on climate change at a Europe-wide scale.

Using an approach that emphasised action-oriented citizen science and co-creation as a way to generate and support sustainable change, the research has empowered communities to monitor, analyse and use data to address high priority environmental issues. The research has engaged over 7 million citizens, contributing to positive environmental impacts, policy change and education.

The project Making Sense ran for two years between 2015 and 2017, exploring how open- source software, hardware and open design practices could be used by local communities to address environmental issues in their environment. The project delivered citizen science campaigns in Amsterdam, Barcelona and Pristina, creating new tools to help communities to generate and communicate research findings, as well as a toolkit to showcase the research approach, methods and outcomes.

The resulting action-oriented citizen science campaigns proved effective in enabling citizens to challenge authorities for their failure to meet targets for reduction of urban pollution. In  Pristina,  Kosovo, citizens used air quality data to protest for the first time. The accessible presentation of scientific data captured the headlines of major media outlets and led to the enactment of emergency measures by the government, which banned city centre transport for the first time. In 2018, the Kosovo Assembly drew on evidence and data from the campaign to amend the Constitution in Kosovo, recognising citizens’ right to clean air.

In Plaça del Sol, Barcelona, residents used Making Sense resources to gather data about noise pollution, demonstrating that WHO noise limits were regularly exceeded, negatively  impacting on their lives. Their lobbying of policy makers, coupled with an awareness campaign to highlight the issue of noise pollution, resulted in changes to public services and a refurbishment of municipal spaces to deter late-night revellers.

While Making Sense focused on city-based communities and issues of chronic urban pollution, The Grow Observatory (GROW) focused on the single issue of the continuous monitoring of soil moisture. GROW extended the reach and type of citizen engagement, working with 24 rural communities across 13 EU member states between 2016-2019.   

A network of 15,000 sensors were deployed through the GROW network, generating a data set of 516 million soil data entries and successfully demonstrating that remote earth-observation satellites could be validated using crowdsourced in-situ soil moisture measurements.  The dataset is used for satellite validation and meteorological applications such as drought monitoring and improving the accuracy of modelling of extreme climate events.

The toolkit, coupled with online education programmes, has supported education and training for more than 25,000 people from 182 countries. The approach pioneered in the research has been adopted by NGOs, Governments, Institutes and academia, and has received international recognition. It has supported decision-making for citizens and scientists, enabling social innovation through greater inclusion, awareness, education and training. The research has provided an evidence-based strategy for story-telling to engage millions of citizens around the world, supporting action-oriented participatory methods that have underpinned change and advocacy through policy makers thus advancing implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goals and targets.

Read more about Making Sense and the GROW Observatory

Download the toolkit: Citizen Sensing: A Toolkit

Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action

UN Sustainable Development Goals

REF 2021

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing research in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).