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The University of Southampton
Psychology

Research project: LifeGuide

Currently Active: 
Yes

Behavioural interventions are a fundamental part of daily life, whether in the form of personal advice, support and skills-training from professionals (e.g. educators, doctors) or general information disseminated through the media. However, personal advice and support are very costly, and it is impossible to provide everyone with 24 hour access to personal guidance on managing all their problems. The internet provides a cost-effective opportunity to provide open 24 hour access to extensive information and advice on any problem.

Currently each internet-based behavioural intervention is programmed individually and development costs are greater for internet-based than for traditionally delivered interventions, also, once programmed they cannot easily be modified. This seriously limits the number of interventions that can be developed and evaluated, and acts as a barrier to innovation and enhancement of interventions by researchers.

The aim of this project is to develop, evaluate and disseminate an internet-based set of resources (LifeGuide) that will allow researchers to flexibly create and modify two fundamental dimensions of behavioural interventions: a) providing tailored information and advice; b) supporting sustained behaviour. The software is designed to enable the intervention to provide information, advice, education and decisional aids that are personalised to the situation, interests and capabilities of the website user. Interventions created using LifeGuide can also incorporate a variety of techniques to support and sustain behaviour change, such as aids to goal-setting, planning and self-monitoring, skill and confidence-building, cues and reminders (e.g. automated emails and texts), and systems of incentive and social support (e.g. peer chat forums, 'buddy' systems). The system also supports evaluation of interventions, including online questionnaire assessment, automatic follow-up and randomisation to groups. LifeGuide will eliminate the costly waste of resources involved in programming every intervention individually, and will allow researchers to easily test components of interventions and immediately modify and improve the interventions based on their findings. LifeGuide will increase the number of researchers who can engage in this type of research, opening it up to those with limited funding (e.g. junior researchers and research students). The practical benefit will be more rapid development of better interventions, while the scientific benefit will be a much faster accumulation of knowledge about the effects of different elements of interventions than at present, which will improve our basic understanding of the influences on behaviour.

In this project, social scientists and computer scientists will work closely together to develop the software, using extensive consultation through workshops to obtain researchers' views of how to make LifeGuide fit for all requirements. An international network of researchers recruited through workshops and demonstrations are collaborating with us in evaluating and developing LifeGuide by applying it to a range of health problems. The interventions include: The "Internet Doctor" which provides people suffering from common conditions (e.g. colds and influenza, irritable bowel syndrome) with tailored information and advice that enables them to cope with their symptoms, and an intervention to promote and support hygienic behaviour to reduce the spread of infection, especially during pandemic flu.

Duration: 2008-2011
Funded by ESRC
PI: Professor Lucy Yardley

Related research groups

Centre for Clinical and Community Applications of Health Psychology (CCCAHP)
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