If You Build It, Will They Come?

Originally posted on the UCL blog

We are in the (messy) midst of a digital health renaissance where health systems, insurers, big pharma, governments, tech giants, startups, behavioural scientists and health researchers are exploring digital technologies to transform the ways in which healthcare is delivered and patients and consumers engage in beneficial health conducive activities. A noble cause to be sure, as many of our infrastructures for providing quality care are in need of radical innovation. Arguably, at the center of our efforts to improve outcomes, lies human behaviour and our attempts to influence and direct it through the provisioning of mobile apps, web platforms, wearables and the like. Well-designed, evidence-based digital behaviour change interventions carry tremendous potential to positively impact clinical, economic and distributional outcomes but these objectives can only be met if and when people engage with them. This leaves us thinking about how to address the perennial question of “If you build it, will they come?” and how to best go about developing digital interventions with impact.

When we survey the digital landscape we find no shortage of tools and services available for public consumption, some highly rated and quite popular (e.g., 4/5 star ratings, millions of downloads) and others much more modest in their reach (e.g., less than 500 downloads). While many of us know, and more continue to discover – “Popular does not equal effective” and yet being effective requires a certain amount of popularity. Our process for designing and implementing digital interventions must not only be thoughtful and precise in terms of change objectives and outcomes but also in promotion, rollout, uptake and usage. To this end, it can be most productive to take a multi-disciplinary approach to the design and implementation of digital interventions where those expert in the underlying mechanics of change and intervention design (e.g., health researchers & behavioural scientists) collaborate with those expert in creating products and services that provide value and resonate deeply with their target audience/customer base (e.g., experience/service/interaction designers & marketing/content strategists). Hybrids welcome, of course.

In this configuration, research and science lead the framing and diagnosis of the problem space and the intervention design strategy (i.e., intervention functions, behaviour change techniques, etc.) while designers and strategists work to codify the unmet needs, wants and preferences of the target audience to guide the voice and tone of the intervention copy, value proposition and persuasive communication strategy and supporting artifacts. Creative translation of the intervention design strategy into a solution that is appealing, engaging and valued while retaining the fidelity and intent of the intervention functions and behaviour change techniques is where art and craft meets science (and trial & error). Close collaboration and iteration is critical here to ensure that the active ingredients of a digital intervention are being delivered in ways that are maximally consumed by the intended audience.

As digital interventions often require active opt-in via download, sign-up or sign-in, recipients must be both aware that it exists and interested in engaging with it. Creating a persuasive messaging strategy that details the audience relevant benefits as well as where and when to reach them along with a staged roll-out plan for how to scale up to critical mass while learning and adapting along the way is where content and marketing strategists can really shine. This iterative approach also applies to the development of the digital intervention itself, of course.

Read the full article on the UCL blog


By: Dustin DiTommaso

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