Sunday, November 25, 2012

Personal Informatics

An individual's ability and willingness to reflect on her life is a key part of improving her life, and I think that ability is a skill we should be teaching at all levels. So, when I saw and article by Li, Dey, and Forlizzi (2010) on personal informatics, I was intrigued.
Li et al define personal informatics as tools that "help people collect personally relevant information for the purpose of self-reflection and gaining self-knowledge." If you are having a difficult time visualizing what this means, think Fitbit or Nike+. Li et al assert that there has been no study of the sorts of problems users encounter when using personal informatic systems, and offer recommendations about how existing systems might be improved, and yet-to-be-built systems be made more effective. They offer a five-stage model. For each of these stages, the authors present examples. I've used my own examples. Each of the phases also has obstacles or barriers, and these barriers cascade from one stage to the next. 
  • Preparation - In this stage, people are motivated to begin to collect information. They must decide what they are going to collect, what and how they will record the information. For example, my partner has decided that she wants to inventory all of her belongings. In the event of her death, she wants her children to understand what of her things are valuable, and what are not. She has to decide how she is going to record all of that information, and what tools she should use to do so.
  • Collection - In this stage, people actually collect the information. The tool used can be the most significant barrier. The logistics of the collection can also be problematic. For example, if the information that is being collected is a food journal (common in weight loss methods), and then however the person decides to collect that information needs to be easy enough to do three times a day, or more. If the tool is cumbersome, people just won't keep it up.
  • Integration - In this stage people must prepare, combine and otherwise transform data so it can be reflected upon in the next stage. As you can imagine, the more that has to be done in this stage, the greater the barrier to moving to the next stage.
  • Reflection - In this stage, people reflect upon the data they have collected. Reflection can be short term or long term. Short-term reflection is valuable because it gives us information about where we are right now. For example, I had the opportunity to drive a friend's car for a week. This car gave me immediate feedback on the number of miles per gallon I was getting. I could see how certain driving habits actually gave me worse gas mileage, and it became kind of a game, where I would try to improve my mpg on each trip. Long-term reflection allows users to see trends over time.
  • Action - In this stage, users decide what they are going to do with the knowledge they have gleaned from the Reflection stage. Primarily, they can apply their knew knowledge to meeting longer term goals.

Li, I., Dey, A., & Forlizzi, J. (2010). A Stage-Based Model of Personal Informatics Systems. In CHI  ’10 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 557–566). Presented at the CHI 2010, Atlanta, GA: ACM. doi:978-1-60558-929-9/10/04


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