CHANGE: Engendering Change in People's Everyday Habits Using Ubiquitous Computing Technologies

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Computing


A recent development in computing is 'persuasive technology' for healthcare; sensor-based and mobile technologies are being developed to encourage, entice or even coerce people to become healthier through taking more physical exercise. Sensing and monitoring devices are used to measure (i) bodily functions, such as heart rate and GSR and (ii) the amount of exercise someone performs, e.g., number of steps taken or laps swam. The various data streams are then fed into a persuasive application running on a smartphone. These can be compared to personal, peer or group targets set by people which maybe hourly, daily or weekly. Seeing how you are doing relative to an agreed or shared target is thought to motivate people to do more exercise.Our feasibility account will investigate how a range of persuasive techniques can be designed and tested to encourage other types of behaviour change, through using ubiquitous technologies. We are interested in changing people's everyday habits with respect to environmental concerns, such as reducing an individual, group or organization's carbon footprint. We will investigate whether and how persuasive techniques can encourage, enable or enforce people to change their everyday habits. Our goal is to promote 'proactive' and 'provocative' interactions with the environment. We will use off-the-shelf mobile and sensor-based devices that have recently become available, including smartphones with micro-projectors that allow for flexible forms of ambient and contextual information to be displayed. Examples of everyday habits we will explore include food shopping, selecting one's wardrobe or engaging in leisure activities. The focus will be at the point of situated decision-making, where the aim is to provide 'just-in-time' information at key places where it can nudge, nag or nod, such as people's clothing, food packaging, the dinner plate or other everyday objects. An illustrative project is a computational roaming display that 'shadows' people while shopping, and depicts aggregate visualizations of a product's values, in terms of its carbon footprint, nutritional content, farming method employed, etc. Another might be an internet usage public display that depicts how many web searches, twitters, Facebook postings, news downloads, etc, someone performs each day, week, month in terms of a carbon footprint, relative to others footprints, in an organisation, with a view to seeing how this might change their collective behaviour. We will prioritize projects that are 'edgy' and 'informative' raising contentious ethical and political issues with the general public including issues of control, privacy and trust. To achieve our goals, we will use both unconventional and interdisciplinary methods to create and test a range of prototypes to determine if we can persuade or coerce people to change their individual and collective everyday habits. A series of hardware systems will be designed in quick succession and evolved in response to user experimentations. Where possible, readily available hardware and software toolkits, and software libraries that are open source, will be used. We will also reciprocate, making our prototypes available for these communities to enable them to remain vibrant. We will open source all aspects of our development and the tools we use to construct these prototype systems (both hardware and software) to encourage DIY/hobbyist communities to further improve our systems, or transform them by using it in ways not imagined. Hence, where possible and productive, we plan to involve the general public in our research.The outcomes will include new understandings of how to use computing technology to change people's everyday habits; design guidance and principles for developing persuasive technologies and a number of demonstrator applications. Quality of life will be improved through pro-actively engaging people in their lives with respect to values they care about.

Planned Impact

There are potentially a number of different types of beneficiaries who could gain from our research: (i) the private technical development sector, (ii) policy-makers concerned with environmental change and well being in the domestic sector, (iii) charities in the public sector concerned with how to involve the general public in reducing carbon emissions and improving well being, and (iv) the general public and the education sector. An overarching benefit of the research is to enhance the quality of life for both humanity and the planet. How will they benefit: - The private technical development sector will benefit from being exposed to the rapid development and deployment of novel affordable technologies that could have much potential for being exploited as domestic products and which could be mass marketed. - Policy makers could benefit from considering how the research impacts on socially acceptable policies, especially in domestic/everyday settings, by being informed of which behaviours are susceptible or resistant to change when using persuasive technologies (e.g., shopping, internet usage, paper usage) - Charities, such as the Carbon Trust, Wellbeing of Women, Trees for Life and PURE will benefit from the user studies conducted which will explore new avenues by which people's behaviour can be changed (voluntarily or enforced). - The general public and the education sector can benefit from learning about and experimenting with new ubiquitous technologies in ludic and innovative ways to improve their well being and reduce environmental impact. As this is a feasibility account, the benefits are likely to accrue as follow-up research and developments within a 1-5 year time-scale. The benefits for the general public could be within the lifespan of the project, based on making materials and open source materials and code available to them via the internet and public outreach events. The benefits for charities could begin towards the end of the project, as our findings are documented and reported. The benefits for policy makers and the technical development sector are likely to be longer term, from 2-4 years. - Researchers (PIs, Co-Is, visitors, research fellow) working on the project will benefit from the development of new technical skills involved in designing, building and tinkering with affordable ubiquitous technologies. Collaborations between the industrial consortium and academic partners will also support the development of effective collaboration networks, outreach presentation skills, and an increased understanding of how to develop systems under the pressures of a commercial market. These will be important impacts for the project members with immediate effect. Project management: The benefit opportunities detailed above will be realised through a detailed plan of dissemination and engagement procedures which seek alternative routes to impact on beneficiaries. These include tutorials, technology camps, creation of open source materials (e.g., iTunes videos) and public outreach events (e.g. Dana Centre, workshops). The project benefits have the potential to impact quickly and widely through effective dissemination and access to the media. It could also feed directly into the OU's new introductory course in computing and the BBC/OU's forthcoming series on the Digital Revolution. The project team know the benefits and difficulties of working in interdisciplinary teams that bring academics, public sector and industrial partners together. With this in mind the project team will draw upon the wealth of project management experience of Professors Rogers, Rodden, Gaver and Dr. Chalmers in running cross-disciplinary partner projects.


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Description Older people have much to give back to society and most are not afraid of technology. We should be thinking about engaging them in the design of future technologies for a variety of contexts rather than consider them as frail and in need of assisted technology. One of our technologies developed to help shoppers make better decisions when shopping was featured on The Gadget Show on Channel 4. Publications from this work are well cited.
Exploitation Route A booklet on the 'secrets of creativity' was written and produced based on the research conducted inthe fellowship and handed out to hundreds of non academics, as a way of inspiring them to think differently about creativity and to cnsider how to sustain it using social media.
The findings could also be used to rethink ageing as wisdom and active engagement.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description The findings have been used to rethink ageing as wisdom and to think of ways in which to engage retired people in the digital economy. Talks to non-academic audiences and workshops were held in the UK, Australia and South Africa, including the U3A. It has also been referenced in work on behavioural change. The lambent shopping handle that was developed as part of the project was shown on the Gadget Man show in 2014 The video made about the project has been viewed neaerly 14,000 times.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description UCL
Amount £183,327 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J005339/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom