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9/22/15: Precision Behavior Change: A Transdisciplinary ‘Moonshot’ Agenda for mHealth?

September 22, 2015


Eric Hekler, PhD
Assistant Professor, School of Nutrition & Health Promotion
Director, Designing Health Lab
Arizona State University

About the Webinar:

As evidenced by the MD2K center, there is a rapidly growing confluence of efforts focused on articulating ways to utilize digital technologies to support health. This confluence is creating remarkable opportunities but also major challenges across a variety of disciplines. For example, the advent of digital health technologies is challenging many fundamental assumptions in theories and methods from behavioral sciences and health sciences but also opening opportunities for new theories, methods, and processes for supporting healthy behavior change in context. For engineers, there is great opportunity for building sensors and systems that are useful in a real-world context, but these sensors and systems must not only provide accurate and precise information but also be useable by individuals, which often involves providing information back to individuals that they find valuable enough to warrant continued use. Based on this, while there is wide recognition that different disciplines need one another for advancing mHealth research, it is often very difficult to bridge the various disciplinary divides currently in place. One possible way to help bridge disciplinary divides is to articulate concrete grand challenges, such as getting a man on the moon was a powerful organizer for the physical sciences, to help organize the community’s research efforts.

The purpose of this webinar is to attempt to articulate a first-draft transdisciplinary research agenda focused on creating “precision behavior change” interventions as one possible “moonshot” target for organizing the mHealth community.

Talk Outline:
The talk will briefly set up the current context for mHealth/UbiComp/digital health research efforts as seen from various disciplinary lenses. Following this, the precision medicine initiative will be discussed followed by a discussion on one subclass of prevention interventions, labeled precision behavior change, which could fit well within the precision medicine initiative. Following the definition of precision behavior change, transdisciplinary research questions, with a particular focus on attempting to articulate intellectual merit and contributions for each discipline when exploring the research questions, will be discussed. The talk will conclude with plausible next steps to spur conversation among the webinar participants and later viewers on ways to refine this transdisciplinary research agenda to see if it is viable and, if so, how best to more actively enable it as an organizing “moon shot” agenda for the mHealth research community.

About Eric Hekler:

Eric Hekler is an Assistant Professor in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University and directs the Designing Health Lab @ASU. His research focuses on facilitating individualized and “precise” behavior change for fostering long-term health and well-being. For example, his NSF-funded work is focused on developing mathematical models for guiding an intervention that determines an individualized “ambitious but doable” daily step goal to strive for each day; with the long-term goal to develop a comprehensive intervention that provides the right type of support for physical activity only when it is needed. Dr. Hekler’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant is focused on developing a methodology for the more rapid collective development of technology-delivered behavior change strategies, a process he has labeled Agile Science. His Google project is focused on teaching individuals fundamentals of behavior change and self-experimentation and then them tools (e.g., home sensors and feedback) to allow them to self-experiment with behavior change techniques to optimize their health. Prior to ASU, Dr. Hekler completed his postdoctoral training at Stanford University and received his Ph.D. in Clinical Health Psychology from Rutgers University. More about Eric Hekler.

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