New Publication: “A review of physical-activity tracking technologies and how to assess their effectiveness”

The paper that I presented at the first GAMO symposium back in May 2017 is now published and online.

Download it here.

Interest in activity tracking and other personal informatics systems has exploded in the last five years, and has been the focus of academic research across a variety of disciplines. Activity trackers allow users to quantify their physical activity and generally include behaviour change techniques to encourage users to do more. A large body of work focuses on how people adopt these trackers and integrate them into their lives, considering not only changes in the tracked behaviour, but also how the trackers become part of one’s daily routine. In addition, an increasing number of interventions for encouraging and assessing behaviour change have used these technologies. Levels of engagement with such devices or interventions are often used to define their success. However, particularly in the case of self-tracking, this is often not an appropriate measure – users sometimes create long-term changes even after a short period of use, either through insights gained or by maintaining changes without engaging with the device.

This paper presents a critical overview of the current work within personal informatics for encouraging NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) physical activity – all the activities that we do that are not sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. We also focus on the appropriate methods for assessing success, particularly given the long-term changes we would like to see arising from work in this area. The paper presents an overview of: current personal informatics technologies for measuring physical activity; research into engagement and use of these technologies and how this has impacted individuals, groups and society; considerations for using these devices in interventions; and finally, a critique of both the methods for studying personal informatics systems, and the interventions using them, to provide new directions for future work.

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