Crowdsourcing for adolescent health

Development and evaluation of a tool to collect data on the state and determinants of adolescent physical health.

While growing up through adolescence we develop behaviours, such as how much we exercise or eat, that impact on the rest of our lives. Research is needed to help us understand what behaviours change our health for better or worse, and what influences those behaviours. Some behaviours are easier to measure, such as counting our steps through an app on our phones, however some can prove more difficult, especially those that relate to how people are feeling. With this project we are developing methods to collect information about behaviours, health and what influences behaviours with children and adolescents. 

Smartphone apps allow people to record behaviours in real time, rather than trying to recall them later, which enables health researchers to collect several types of data from people as they go about their lives. This recording of behaviour-based data has to be consensual, and so there needs to be a motivating factor for people to use them. Determining what that motivating factor is important for us to understand, so that we can attract a broad range of participants to our research.  There are two potential motivations that we are focusing on: 

  • Citizen science is a term for when members of the public become scientists by helping to collect and make sense of data. An example of this being used in action is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)'s Big Garden Birdwatch, where people submit data about the birds they see in their garden during one week to help understand bird populations.  Within our app, we want to make sure the data collected is useful and interesting to its users. 

  • Crowdsourcing is a term for when lots of people submit information to help each other solve a problem or raise awareness of an issue. For example, Lego have a platform where people can suggest new kits and other people can then vote on which kits should be produced. Within our app we would like to take a crowdsourcing approach to sharing information about what affects young people’s health, to help bring about improvements. 

In the early stages of this project, we heard from young people taking part in our own research or other studies that they use apps to track behaviours such as physical activity, diet, and periods. Parents also indicated to us that they think tracking health is a good use of a phone for teenagers. 

During the project we are developing these different features of the app with young people and parents to make sure it fits with what people want and would use, being fun where appropriate but also serious and reassuring where required - we understand that health data is important to people and we want people to feel comfortable using this app. We are also making sure that the app is easy and quick to use, only asking appropriate questions. The app will need to keep the information private and safely share the data with researchers.

There are four phases to this project: 

  1. Design part 1 – workshops with children, adolescents and parents to develop the data collection and registration processes 

  1. Design part 2 – workshops with children and adolescents to develop the citizen science and crowdfunding features 

  1. Development – production of a usable version of the app by Glasgow Software Centre 

  1. Testing – testing of the app by relevant users, including in schools 

We are working in collaboration with YouthLink Scotland and the Schools Health and Wellbeing Improvement Research Network (SHINE), alongside working with groups of young people from different places and backgrounds, in order to make sure the app works for a wide range of people. 

Funded by the UKRI Medical Research Council