MOHAWk is a new observation tool to assess physical activity and two other wellbeing behaviours (social interactions and taking notice of the environment) in urban spaces
For the attention of: Policymakers in local authorities; public health professionals who work with or in local authorities; urban planners; urban designers; private developers; those working with green infrastructure; and other stakeholders interested in generating wellbeing impact evidence in relation to changes in the urban physical or social environment.
The problem: Direct observation of behaviour offers an unobtrusive method of assessing physical activity in urban spaces, which reduces biases associated with self-report. However, there are no existing tools that:
- assess other behaviours that are important for people’s wellbeing;
- are suitable for urban spaces that typically have lower numbers of users (e.g. amenity green spaces) or that people pass through (e.g. green corridors); and
- have been validated in Europe.
What we did and why: To address this gap, we developed MOHAWk (Method for Observing pHysical Activity and Wellbeing): a new observation tool for assessing three levels of physical activity (Sedentary, Walking, Vigorous) and two other evidence-based wellbeing behaviours (Connect: social interactions; Take Notice: taking notice of the environment) in urban spaces. Across three studies, six observers used the MOHAWk in five urban spaces in Greater Manchester and Belfast to test the reliability and validity of the tool.
What our study adds: We provide evidence that MOHAWk is reliable and valid from 156 hours of observation in two residential streets, an urban square, a civic square, and a small park. MOHAWk is therefore a reliable and valid tool for assessing physical activity and other wellbeing behaviours in a variety of urban spaces. A manual providing detailed instruction on how to use MOHAWk is freely provided to facilitate its widespread use.
Implications for city policy and practice: MOHAWk can be used in policy or practice (e.g. by local authorities or urban developers), or in more formal institutional based research projects. This new tool is an easy-to-use and inexpensive method of generating wellbeing impact evidence in relation to changes in the urban physical or social environment.
For further information:
A study in which we have used MOHAWk to evaluate the impact of improvements along an urban canal on canal usage, physical activity and other wellbeing behaviours: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12966-021-01088-w
A study in which we have used MOHAWk to evaluate the impact of low-cost urban green space improvements on on wellbeing behaviours in older adults: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666558121000026
The lead author (Dr Jack Benton) was recently successful in applying for a Wellcome Trust ISSF Pump-Priming Fellowship. Building on his PhD research, he will be developing novel methods using wireless video technology to assess wellbeing behaviours in urban environments based on the MOHAWk observation tool. This work is being carried out with the support of the UKCRIC Manchester Urban Observatory; a unique research group aiming to bring data, sensors and expertise together to improve decision making in cities relating to air quality, urban infrastructure and wellbeing: https://www.urbanobservatory.manchester.ac.uk/
Editor: Marcus Grant (@MarcusxGrant)