A group of social scientists has taken advantage of the facilities offered by the internet to develop software which enables other researchers to easily create interactive internet-based intervention programmes to support behavioural change.
The software, known as LifeGuide, is being used in intervention programmes, for example to quit smoking or manage weight loss.
LifeGuide is a flexible tool that can be used to give tailored health advice, help users make decisions about life choices, and support them in their efforts to maintain long-term change. It has been developed by scientists at the University of Southampton with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. As a measure of its popularity, in the last two years over 1,000 researchers worldwide have registered to use LifeGuide.
“Interventions designed to influence behaviour are a part of many people’s daily life, such as personal advice, support and training from professionals, or general information provided by the media. However, advice and support can be costly and may not always be readily available to everyone,” says Professor Lucy Yardley who developed LifeGuide with colleagues. “But, the internet can give access to services offering information and advice on many health problems. Services can also be made interactive and individually tailored, and they can be set up to support people with reminders, feedback, action planning and chat rooms.”
Despite the advantages of working online, until LifeGuide was introduced, researchers had to programme each internet-based behavioural intervention from scratch. Consequently, development costs were high and systems were not easily modified once programmed.
“LifeGuide is a unique tool that enables researchers with no programming background to create interactive internet-based systems to support behaviour change,” Professor Yardley continues. “Researchers don’t need to employ special programmers and it can be readily modified to suit many different contexts.”
It allows researchers to create and modify two important dimensions of behavioural interventions: providing tailored information and advice; and supporting sustained behaviour. The system also supports evaluation of interventions, such as online questionnaire assessment, and automatic follow-up.