Citizen Sensors | Project Kick-off

Last year December, we found out we were awarded funding to move forward on a project that installs air quality sensors on schools in marginalised communities and works with learners to engage with the data these sensors produce and write journalistic articles using this information. The idea from this project came partly from work we did during Open Data Week with Sithengile Secondary School, where we facilitated a workshop with a journalism club where learners were given the opportunity to build a weather station and learn a bit about journalism and data. We built on the ideas behind this workshop — schools in marginalised communities are an opportunity for building a network of air quality monitors and are arguably the most critical space to do this considering Durban’s poor air quality disproportionately affects poorer communities. Further to this, Durban’s air quality monitoring system hasn’t been functional for a number of years, meaning that “pollution levels [go] unchecked” and “EThekwini residents are in danger of breathing toxic fumes, contracting deadly illnesses and being unable to sue because air quality in the city is allegedly not being monitored.” This reality is a major driving force behind wanting to build and install weather stations in schools, and teach learners how to use and interpret this data for the purpose of sparking active young citizens to be able to take issues forward in their community.

We hit the ground running in early 2018 to start carving out the path to take the proposal to the ground and begin implementing this project. We pulled together all of the different partners/contributors on the project and distributed the team into two separate activity streams — the tech team who will handle the building and installing of the sensor, and building the data platform; and the engagement team who will handle the bulk of delivery through engaging with the schools, recruiting mentors and facilitators, designing the different sessions with the themes in mind and the laying out the steps to meet the intended outcomes and generate the intended outputs. From the engagement team, our first step was to build on some of the engagement that had already taken place last year when we were putting this proposal together. We met with two schools, Sithengile and St. Theresa’s, both in low-income communities that are known for having poor air quality. We identified project champions at the school, engaged with them to get their input and buy-in on the project, and nailed down the details of the when and how of establishing data journalism clubs. The schools were as enthusiastic as they had been last year, which was extremely promising.

We then began recruiting potential facilitators. We leveraged our contacts at Hawu (a science outreach initiative at UKZN) who have extensive experience recruiting college level facilitators and working in different schools doing math and science skills training. They were able to recruit 6 mentors who could commit to facilitating workshops over the course of the project. We also leveraged a contact in the journalism department at the Durban University of Technology to recruit journalism students to also take part in facilitating the sessions. This has proven slightly more difficult because DUT has been on strike since early January, but we recently got a list of interested students and are in the process of nailing down their availability. Luckily, we have enough mentors through Hawu if the DUT students’ availability doesn’t align with the schools. We would still like to incorporate these students in some form.

We have also recently made contact with Desmond D’sa, an active voice in air quality issues and leader of the environmental organisation South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) who is very interested in supporting and participating in this project. The SDCEA has their own youth-targeted programme called ‘Conscientious Leaders Empower a Nation’ (CLEAN) which worked with over 150 young adults to learn about environmental issues in their community. We have also made contact with another school down the coast called Dlambula Primary School that is across the river from a Sappi plant that has been known to produce fumes and toxic byproducts that travel across the river to the school. From what we’ve gathered so far, there are a disproportionate amount of children at this school with asthma and it is thought to be linked to the close proximity of the Sappi plant. We are meeting with them to investigate whether they would be interested in participating in this project, with potential collaboration with the SDCEA who is active in that area.

We’ve also spent a lot of time developing the programme outline and curriculum — taking the themes, desired outcomes and intended outputs from the proposal and designing a plan that will work for the schools. We’ve been engaging with another programme called Umkhumbane Schools Project which does programming in a number of different schools in Cato Manor to get input on some of the curriculum development and the formats for different sessions. We are gearing up to finalize this curriculum, train the facilitators on how to deliver the curriculum, and are aiming to have our first session right after second term starts, around the 2nd or 3rd week of April. The sessions will run for the next 5 weeks, with one session per week at each school.

Stay tuned for our tech team update on what they’ve been up to building the air quality sensor!

- Sophie McManus

Originally published at Open Data Durban.

Open Data Durban

Participatory Democracy, Cities, Open Data and Civic Technology from Durban, South Africa

Sophie McManus

Written by

Open Data Durban

Participatory Democracy, Cities, Open Data and Civic Technology from Durban, South Africa

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