Moral Issues in Designing for Behavior Change

The big thing on my mind right now is preparing for my presentation at SXSW next Saturday. My J&J colleague and pal Raphaela O’Day and I are going to be discussing “Moral Issues in Designing for Behavior Change,” and how we grapple with them as psychologists who design and create interventions to improve health and healthcare.

I wanted to do this talk because we constantly butt up against a big question: If you know what’s the “right” thing for someone to do, but they can’t or won’t do it, what do you do? This happens all the time in health behavior change. As experts and designers, we’re caught between wanting to impose our wisdom and direction and knowing that we’ll never really engage people if we don’t follow their lead. Add to that the pressure of clients who expect great results for extra fun. There is no easy answer.

Anyone with a background in self-determination theory can guess where Raphaela and I often land in our decisions about how forceful to be with our end users about a particular course of action. Fortunately, being autonomy-supportive doesn’t mean just letting your users decide not to do something and disengage. It puts a greater onus on us to make the experience compelling and guide people toward their own rationales for change.

We’re going to tackle a whole bunch of hard questions about navigating the gap between expert opinion and user wants, and I hope we’ll get challenges from our audience to work through in real-time. If you’re reading this and have questions you think should be part of the conversation, leave a comment or tweet them my way (hashtag #MoralsinBC). We’ll try to work them into the SXSW session and I’ll follow up with a post later on.

And if you’ll be in Austin, come say hi! We’re friendly.

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