Public Domain - simple messages on air quality

From the middle of 2017, Meritum - the Polish partner of the DITOs project - has developed a simple app,, informing people about air quality in Katowice (a city east of Krakow). The idea behind the app is to change numbers and colours into meaningful messages, which advises how you should plan your activities according to current air quality. Almost 2000 people used it during the winter season.

When you look for data on air quality, you will probably find dozens of formats and colours, representing different numbers. It’s great when you are a scientist, but if you are a mother planning to stroll with your child in afternoon, this is not very helpful. That’s why we decided to develop - simple messages on air quality.

Tricky numbers
Numbers are very tricky. When you see “3 600 000” you probably think that is quite a large number. Many people do not understand units. So if you add to the number “nSv”, a huge population will think that it’s still quite a large number. When someone explains to you that nSv is a unit for measuring X-ray radiation doses, you will probably be alarmed. “3 600 000 nSv” and connected to X-rays looks quite scary.

It does not help if someone puts the number on a green background and adds a legend that “green” means “safe”. You must be informed that 1 000 000 000 nSv (or 1 Sv) is a deadly level of radiation and 3 600 000 nSv is just the normal radiation on Earth during one year's time. But probably some people still will have some doubts if such a big number means "safe".

Simple instructions
That’s why we would like to change numbers describing air quality into a meaningful and simple message for non-expert users - people who do not know what PM, 2.5, 10 and ug/m3 all mean.

But compared to X-ray radiation, bad quality air is not so easy to scale. There is no dose of 1 Sv, which for sure kills you. But low quality air is killing you.

That was our first challenge during creation of the app. We tried to set levels for different messages based on the European Air Quality Index. Then we proposed messages in four fields: outdoor sport activities, outdoor recreation, outdoor eating, groups with special needs (seniors, kids, mothers).

The second challenge was to tune up the messages to imported data from the official air monitoring station in Katowice - part of the European monitoring system. The data is updated every 2 hours but sometimes some of the indicators are missing or delayed. We tried to develop algorithms which use the most recent accessible data to keep informing people with a simple message.

Analytics and development
The site was viewed from February to May 2018 almost 15 000 times by more then 1900 unique users. For comparison, Katowice has around 280 000 inhabitants. People usually spent around 90 seconds on the site.

Our plans for developing the app for 2018/2019 are in area of creating a community around the site. We would like to use the app as a first contact platform for people interested in taking action to improve air quality in Katowice. The second step is renting DIY, cheap and reliable air quality monitoring devices to people who would like to check air in their places. We plan to start with 10 such devices rented for 2 weeks' time.