Behaviour Change for Health


I am attending the “Behaviour Change for Health” conference (full programme here) whose twitter stream is quite compelling. I m here to present our work on “The Tinder of Community Engagement”! (swiping right never made more sense, @tobi_vierzwo says). Play with the Web game (the research paper is available too).

At the beginning of the day, John Dinsmore (@johndinsmore) introduced the project ProACT, which is about “Designing a Digital Behavioural Change Intervention for Multimorbidity Self- Management”. The premise of that work is that “health literature focuses on tackling single diseases. there is little work on tackling multi morbidity (people affected by multiple diseases)”. PRO-ACT is developing an integrated care ecosystem for people with multi-morbidities, including an IBM developed AI system (if you are into academic papers, here you go). To put it simply, it s about building technologies that, for example, help elderly people with multiple diseases to self-manage their condition. To base this digital platform on behaviour change theory, they used the Behaviour Change Wheel (summarized here):

In general, during the conference, there have been a number of works that contrasted the behavior change wheel (a systematic, evidence-based approach to intervention development) with the “seemed like a good idea at the time” approach. Don’t SLAGIT!

Laura Koenig (@lauramkoenig) presented the fascinating idea that a person could eat healthy, if (s)he would eat colourful food! (it makes a lot of sense if you think about Japanese cuisine, for example). Based on a user study, she showed that eating colourful meal is simple, fun, and effective! Calorie continuing should not be the only strategy to facilitate proper eating on health apps.

Tracie Barnett presented a pilot study on “Social network characteristics and lifestyle behaviours among adolescents at risk of obesity in Quebec, Canada”. In it, they recruited adolescents, registered their health levels (e.g., body fat), and mapped their networks (through self-nomination). They found that adiposity clustered around certain network features. Adolescents were less obese if:
- their networks were sparse (low degree)
- friends were less connected to other friends (low clustering)
- parents were more connected to friends
- they met friend face to face
- more friends lived nearby
- more friends had healthy lifestyles

A good hypothesis (corollary) to test would be (as @interacter puts it)

the closer your social network is physically and psychographically, the lower your level of obesity is likely to be.

Sebastian Deterding (@dingstweets, co-editor of “The Gameful World”) did a systematic review of the literature on “gamification for health and wellbeing” — check it out! The conclusion is that gamification techniques do not always work. Sebastian posited that this might be because:

  • hp1 Motivation and behaviour emerge from *specific* subject-environment *relations*
  • hp2 Game design elements are therefore too underspecified as a construct
  • hp3 We currently rely on designers to translate our underspecified constructs into local solutions and contexts

On the practical side, if you are looking to add gamification to your projects, check this article out. In it, Sebastian presented…

“a gameful design method that uses design lenses to tease out the challenges inherent in a user’s goal pursuit, to then iteratively prototype and test a restructuring of user activity in the form of skill atoms that optimally afford motivating, enjoyable experiences characteristic for gameplay.”

He also mentioned the paper “Mind the theoretical gap: Interpreting, Using, and Developing Behaviroal Theory in HCI Research”, which I highly recommend. Sebastian’s slides are here:

After all these presentations, the big question still remains: how to create interventions that foster not only user acceptability but also user delight and enthusiasm? That is the next frontier of behavioural change in digital health;)

There was also a poster session. A few posters that attracted my attention include:


Social Dynamics Group


    Written by

    social media researcher @ bell labs


    Social Dynamics Group

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade