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Research Prize Projects

Research Prize workshops provide an opportunity for researchers from across UCL to work together and develop innovative, cross disciplinary projects that address societal problems. 

  • The workshops, convened by a senior UCL researcher, typically run over the course of two days and are led by a facilitator
  • The project teams that emerge at the end of the workshop present their proposals to an expert panel
  • The winning team is awarded a sum of money (usually £5,000 to £10,000) which they spend over the course of six to twelve months to complete their project

Ageing: RecommendME! : a personalised activity recommendation engine for the elderly

£10,000 Ageing Research Prize Workshop (12-13 December 2013):
Keeping people active, independent and well in later life

Project Team
(left to right)
Alexandru Matei (UCL Computer Science)
Maryam Atakhorrami (Translational Research Office, School of Life and Medical Sciences, UCL)
Tarek Ahmed (UCL Eastman Dental Institute)
David Greenberg (UCL Ear Institute) - Project Lead
Navaz Davoudian (Bartlett School of Graduate Studies)

Project Plan

Ageing is a dynamic process and a journey that every person will experience differently. The physical and social changes that occur due to ageing can result in the reduced health and wellbeing of an elderly person as well as changes in their interaction with the wider society. Being active, which can be defined in both a social and physical context, is essential for a healthy, ageing society. Individuals who are transitioning from full-time employment to retirement have changing physical and mental needs, needs that we are only beginning to understand with the steady increase in life expectancy. The process of ageing and how it influences social and physical activity differs between individuals but these differences are often built upon psychological barriers of what the individual can, and cannot do. The consequences of ageing within a psychological framework of ‘cannot’, will inevitably result in a rapid transition from active to sedentary.

Project Overview
RecommendME! is envisioned as a digital platform for use by an ageing population, able to connect a user to relevant services, activities and peer groups. Personalised recommendations will be developed for each user based on their personal physical, mental and social capacity, their interests, geographical location and the activities undertaken by their peer group. By collecting and analysing trends in the activity data of individuals, a profile of abilities and relevant activities can be developed for the user-base. RecommendME! will enable the elderly to be more active by removing some of the psychological barriers in a tangible manner, motivating the user to be more active.

RecommendME! will be able to connect individuals to their peers via clusters of users with similar profiles, allowing individuals to attend activities together thus reinforcing the motivation to stay active. Through this manner of assistance RecommendME! will also have the capacity to identify gaps in voluntary and commercial services creating a constructive feedback loop.

· To create a platform that enables the elderly to be more active and to remain as active members of society.

· To develop a platform that is usable and functional for the target user-base

· To ensure that the platform maximises the potential of the user through recommendations based on individual ability.

· To improve upon existing levels of wellbeing in later life.

· Conduct research on the data required for a successful recommendation engine.

· Establish links with Camden Council to provide guidance on activities and to provide a link to elderly users for beta-testing of platform.

· Design questionnaires to discover pressing needs and preferences from the elderly.

· Work with data scientists from the ground up in building the platform to ensure data quality.

· Work with human-computer interaction experts to identify key attributes for the user interface.

· Produce a working recommendation platform and trial with 100 users.

Methodology 1) Behaviour-Change Study
The methodology will follow the general aim of encouraging individuals to remain physically and mentally active after retirement. A study in behaviour change will be conducted that is based on the three conditions of Capability, Opportunity and Motivation (the COM-B behaviour system). A combined qualitative and quantitative approach will be employed to assess physical and psychological capabilities of this target group as well as automatic and reflective motivational factors. This will allow us to enhance the pertinence of the social and physical opportunities recommended through the designed interface.

The methods will involve a set of questionnaires targeting the aforementioned group in the UK. The questionnaire study will be followed by interviews with groups of individuals in our target group in the borough of Camden, London. The combined results will provide the key physical and mental elements as well as motivational factors to be included in the input and output of the platform.

Methodology 2) Software Infrastructure Development
In order to support our objectives, a software infrastructure will be developed. There are two components that will be considered:

A social platform that serves several purposes. Firstly, this is the place where people can register and create their profiles. They can browse existing activities and get personalised recommendations. Some form of user to user interaction will also be supported. Secondly, this is the place for activity providers to create and promote their activities, by tagging them appropriately. Thirdly, the platform will provide a mechanism for users to subscribe to the activities they are willing to participate in.

The platform will be built following an agile software development methodology, since user feedback and user acceptance are very important. Also, given the budget constraints, an agile methodology will ensure we will get a working product within the timeframe. While development will be outsourced, we are relying on internal resources for project management and testing. Considering the time constraints, we will be looking into leveraging existing modules and libraries for building social platforms, open source or not. The recommendation engine will be developed in house. It will be custom built for this project, such that we increase the quality of the predictions. The engine will be initially trained using data from existing research and will continually improve while the system is in use.

The RecommendME! project will use the available £10k funding to build an investable and attractive proposal for a social enterprise venture. £7k has been earmarked to pay for the time required to develop and build the working demo including IT platform, machine learning unit and user interfaces. The remaining £3k has been allocated to facilitate with conducting focus groups and interviews that will guide the development of the platform.

Schedule (12 months) - envisaged start /end dates, key milestones, envisaged outputs
In months 1-3 a heavily researched business plan will be developed including detailed milestones, team development, data requirements and platform requirements. Months 3-6 will be spent building the digital platform and software infrastructure leading to the recruitment of 100 beta-testers in months 6-8 as well as initiating the development of an updated business plan based on insights gained as to the direction and development of the platform and any necessary further funding requirements. Running in parallel to the business development will be the development of the digital platform and literature research that will inform the interview questionnaire design. Throughout the whole 12 months there will be close interactions between the teams behind these two key components. Months 8-12 will be spent training and refining the platform, analysing interview and questionnaire data and platform based data collected from the beta-tester cohort. During this time applications will be finalised and submitted to relevant social enterprise investment grants such as Nesta (http://www.nesta.org.uk/) and UnLtd (http://unltd.org.uk/ ). The findings of the beta-tested platform with 100 users in Camden will be central to the business plan to secure further investment in the project.

Project completion date: January 2015

Background to this Research Prize Workshop

Project Team
Dr Claire McAndrew (UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies) and Sonali Wayal (UCL Primary Care & Population Health).

This project aims to investigate how architecture can encourage people to engage with public spaces and other people to ensure that they have social connection and wellbeing. A creative design intervention will be installed in a busy public place to enable researchers to study how people interact with the installation, and each other, and the implications for urban design.

This project was chosen following a two-day behaviour change workshop in January 2013 designed to facilitate new scholarly partnerships and encourage novel research activity. The workshop followed a series of seminars in Behaviour Change Month (November 2012) convened by Professor Susan Michie to discuss how research can support effective interventions that enhance our individual and collective wellbeing. The aim of the prize workshop was to stimulate new thinking and to catalyse collaborations across UCL with researchers who work on different aspects of behaviour change, and to create new research proposals.

Wellbeing: Windows to Wellbeing

Project Team
Bostock, Sophie (Epidemiology & Public Health)
Joffe, Helene (Psychology) - project lead
Pope, Matthew (Archaeology)
Teh, Tse-Hui (BartlettSchool of Planning)

Project Plan

People’s sense of their wellbeing is related to positive feelings, such as happiness, life satisfaction and achieving goals. A recent report by UNICEF found that the UK has the lowest child wellbeing of all developed countries. For girls, in particular, life satisfaction and happiness decline in the teenage years. For the aging population there is adecline in wellbeing associated with the increasing prevalence of chronic disease. In addition, the breakdown of the traditional family unit leads adults to be increasingly vulnerable to loneliness not only in older age but across all life stages.

A growing academic research base identifies drivers of well-being, but it is not clear which strategies are most effective for improving wellbeing at different ages and life stages. Times of transition- such as beginning university or retiring –may provide windows of opportunity during which stress can be reduced by the wellbeing of individuals and communities being actively enhanced.

· To investigate whether a well-being intervention initiated at times of environmental and cultural change, such as when starting university or retiring, can boost wellbeing

· To identify which drivers of wellbeing are important at different life stages

· To test whether inter-generational interaction can increase people’s sense of wellbeing

· To design an intervention, based on existing evidence as to what constitutes wellbeing in the UK, to improve wellbeing

· To evaluate the impact of the intervention by way of both psychological and biological markers

· To explore how inter-generational interaction can foster wellbeing, with a view to devising a social networking site that has the fostering of inter-generational ties as its aim

The study will involve implementing a wellbeing intervention with new UCL under-graduate students and staff about to retire. The intervention will impart the five ways to wellbeing: giving, connecting, physical activity, mindfulness and continued learning, as laid out in a survey of drivers of wellbeing in the UK (New Economic Foundation, 2009). Validated psychological questionnaires will be used to assess subjective wellbeing. Biomarkers, such as cortisol, will be used to give an indication of biological stress activation. Measures will be taken at baseline and at two and six months after the intervention. Control groups in each of the two generations will be used to quantitatively demonstrate the effects of the intervention.

In addition to this quantitative study of individual wellbeing, the study will also induce inter-generational communication by pairing up the younger and older participants. Not only will this form part of inducing ‘connecting’, it will also be used for the ‘giving’ and ‘continued learning’ aspects in that the inter-generational pairs will be guided to collect life stories from one another related to wellbeing, such as what has given them satisfaction in life. This process will be evaluated qualitatively, as a route to gauging how an inter-generational social networking site might be set up and used.

Duration and future direction
This study will last for a year. In addition to recruiting participants, running the study, taking the measures at three time points and conducting a qualitative evaluation, the aim will be to write a full research proposal for funding the most promising avenue of further research that the initial study generates. We are particularly interested in establishing a different kind of social networking site that fosters intergenerational wellbeing. It will put people from different generations in touch and provide a forum for giving, connecting and learning between them.

Grand Challenges Student Fund

UCL’s Grand Challenges are looking for students with bright ideas for tackling some of the world’s big issues – and are offering funding and support to turn those ideas into reality.  Grants of up to £750 are available to support student led projects.  More

Page last modified on 04 aug 14 12:31