2nd Behaviour Change Conference: Digital Health & Wellbeing

Eimear Morrissey

The Centre for Behaviour Change in UCL held their second digital health and wellbeing conference on 24th and 25th of February. A group of us from the health psychology department in NUIG had attended the conference the previous year and found it to be a really valuable experience, and so were looking forward to attending again.


After a welcome address from director Susan Michie, Cecily Morrison from Microsoft Research kicked off proceedings with a keynote address on the quantified body. She spoke about how quantifying body movements (e.g. photographs, sensors) have stayed mainly in the medical domain in the past 100 years but now, with the advent of ubiquitous sensors (e.g. Fitbit, apps, Kinect sensors, smart watches, smart contact lenses, smart pills) they have exploded into everyday life.  Before we got too enthused by this however, a short video on ‘Uninvited Guests’ highlighted the importance of context and motivation when attempting to quantify health.



Uninvited Guests is a short video (04:43) that explores the frictions between an elderly man and his smart home. Watch here

Morrison then discussed how quantification can benefit health. It can provide valuable data in trials. Deep brain stimulation can reduce symptoms in Parkinson’s disease patients. Technology has been developed to sonify movement – which can help chronic pain sufferers understand their movements to manage pain. The common thread across these examples is probably the most interesting though – quantification adds a third viewpoint between the clinician and the patient. However, we must be careful not to get caught up in counting things just because we can and work on developing ways to give useful information, not just data, back to the patient to improve health.

Sessions on prompting health behaviour, using smartphones to reduce harmful drinking, self-management of long term conditions and intervention development, amongst others, followed on from this. Some really interesting work was showcased. User involvement and participatory design emerged as a key theme across the day. John Powell from the University of Oxford provided the evening keynote address. He spoke of how we have entered a revolutionary phase – digital technology is now enabling people to become both producers and consumers of their healthcare.

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Some of the health psychology team from NUIG at the conference L-R Eimear Morrissey, Emma Carr, Caragh Flannery, Angeline Traynor, Brian Slattery and Milou Fredrix

Lunch and the evening reception provided opportunities to network and partake in the poster sessions.  The evening reception also contained a book launch as Susan Michie and Robert West introduced “A Guide to Development and Evaluation of Digital Behaviour Change Interventions in Healthcare” – their comprehensive guide on the current state of research around digital behaviour change interventions and guidelines for the development of new digital interventions.


Available here

Of particular interest on day two was the session on gamification. Gamification is the application of gaming elements to engage or motivate people in non-gaming contexts. This is a growing area that has massive potential for health psychologists. Elizabeth Edwards talked through her systematic review of ‘gamification’ for health behaviour change in smartphone apps.  Over 1600 apps for health were identified, and within these 70 contained gamification techniques. The mean number of behaviour change techniques (BCTs) was 12.5 (you can read more about BCTs here). Sorcha Moore gave an industry insight into gamification and Ann Martin described the PEGASO Fit for Future project. This is an obesity project with teenagers across Europe. Martin described the usability and acceptability stages of the app development with Scottish adolescents. It’s also worth mentioning that a different part of this study won best poster prize – Laura Condon with “Adolescent perspectives of BCTs in a serious game: PEGASO study”.

The conference finished with a final keynote from Donna Spruijt-Metz. She spoke about mHealth incorporating monitoring, modelling and maintenance. She also emphasised the importance of context in all things digital. This was a nice summary of the whole conference – there is no doubt that technology can provide us with amazing services, but we humans are a tricky bunch and when trying to change health behaviours, context really is king.


Presentations and information from the conference – http://www.ucl.ac.uk/behaviour-change/CBC_Conference_2016

Twitter: #CBCIDH16



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