Issue date: 27 April 2004

ISSUE DATE: 27/04/04

‘Consultation as Science Communication – the case for local air quality management’

A collaboration between two globally acclaimed research groupings based at the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the University of the West of England has attracted £150k from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Science in Society phase 2 programme to investigate how local authorities in Britain consult on and communicate decisions about air quality management.

The Air Quality Management Resource Centre has teamed up with the Graphic Science Unit to create a dream team to work on a project entitled ‘Consultation as Science Communication - the case for Local Air Quality Management’.

Local Authorities have a statutory obligation grounded in the Environment Act 1995 to review and assess air quality in their areas and designate Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA’s) where the air quality is judged to be below health based limits. Local authorities use a combination of monitoring and modelling, and where AQMA’s are designated must write and implement an action plan aimed at air quality improvement.

Part of the responsibility of Local Air Quality Management is effective communication of the issues affecting all stakeholders. These might include other government and local bodies concerned with transport, health and the environment as well as local residents and businesses.

Dr Emma Weitkamp from Graphic Science at UWE explains, “The messages communicated about air quality management are difficult to express in lay terms as the work involves complex science. We are going to review how local authorities succeed and fail to meet government objectives by looking at what communications work well and what seems to be ineffective. Some local authorities use methods of communication such as citizen panels and juries and on-line forums whereas others might rely on a poster in a local library. We will assess how the consultation process might be used as a means of communicating complex science to stakeholders.

“Although the project is conerned with air quality management there will be significant mileage to apply recommendations that are likely to emerge from this project to a range of areas where science needs to be communicated in a local government forum. We are looking at the consultation process as a form of communication and plan to identify best practice by auditing how all local authorities deal with this somewhat difficult task.”

The outcome of this two year project will be a nationwide audit of the methods of communication used to highlight Local Air Quality Management issues. Key to this will be an aim to build communications ideas that work well and to disseminate good practice by holding workshops for local authorities. In addition an effectiveness evaluation will demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of communication providing local authorities with a set of useful guidelines about options for communication.

The project has an interesting academic contribution as this is the first time that the model of consultation as a means of communication has been investigated.


Editor’s notes

ESRC award (RES-151-25-0044)

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