Air pollution is a well-documented major human health issue. Many interventions have been designed to reduce air pollution to improve health, but these are frequently ineffective. Often this is because they do not take into account the local knowledge, cultural practices and priorities of the intended recipients. To design effective solutions, it is necessary to explore the relevant issues in depth with stakeholders.

The authors worked collaboratively with local residents to develop a range of methods to explore understandings of air pollution. These included interviews, storytelling, participatory mapping and theatre. Together, they uncovered contrasting definitions of air pollution, differing perceptions of who is responsible for enacting solutions, and an overall view that air pollution cannot be seen in isolation from the other issues faced by settlement residents. The methods used also allowed the researchers to communicate about the topic with a wide audience.

The authors acknowledge that this way of doing research is more time consuming than traditional approaches. However, they urge other researchers wishing to address multifactorial problems, such as air pollution, to use a mixture of qualitative, participatory and creative methods to engage with a wide range of stakeholders. Doing so can result in new and unexpected understandings that may not otherwise emerge.