Behaviour, across disciplines

Interesting EPSRC event last Thursday at Friends House in Euston, on cross-disciplinary research. I’ll briefly summarize the talks of three professors that I found the most relevant personally (there was much more that I won’t mention here!).

The first set of talks was on the UBhave project: behaviour change meets computing. Lucy Yardley from Southampton talked about her work on a “person-based approach” to developing behaviour change interventions, and had many good nuggets of wisdom on mobile apps. First, that they tend to be “disposable”; there is some enthusiasm for them initially, but then minimum commitment in the longer-term. Second, that tracking your behaviour is popular, but people aren’t really tolerant of the effort required (I can personally attest to this one!). And third, that people are rather skeptical of “sensing” apps (too creepy?). She also used the phrase “apps are no longer the future”, which I liked.

Cecilia Mascolo from Cambridge talked more about the computing side of things on the project, especially about their work on tracking emotions and how to analyse and use the data collected. Very early stages for these kinds of applications, but also potential for interesting research. And lots of this research has also resulted in shareware code, which I’ll need to look into a bit more (start here and here).

Jon Whittle from Lancaster presented some highlights from the Catalyst Project which brought together academics and community groups to work on various smaller projects. What stayed in my mind was his noting that to get any buy-in, social change projects like these must come from a co-design approach (or something similar – “Speedplay” is what they call their methodology). Just giving someone a whizzy webtool isn’t really going to solve many issues.


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