Go Outside Intervention Study & Synthesis
When designing our intervention, we started with some of the more intuitive, obvious ideas. From our personal experience, we knew that push notifications telling people to go outside would never work in practice. While the first couple might catch our attention, we knew notifications (like all context prompts) eventually become desensitized. Furthermore, we did not want to be forcing or nudging people to go outside at inopportune times. Thus, we decided that we were going to create an intervention that was inspired by a panic button. Through our interviews, we discovered that people knew when they were low-energy and needed a boost. Usually, this time was filled with the usual forms of procrastination: social media and general online entertainment. Instead, we proposed a button that — when clicked — gave the user a fun, random, and short task to complete outside. Once the user completes the task, they are instructed to upload a short video or picture — marking completion.
We wanted the action prompt to be whenever the user realized that they wanted a break, therefore leaving the user to press the button when necessary. We also wanted to leverage social engagement, so we designed our intervention such that the same daily task was sent to all participants. Thus, the tasks could be carried out with friends. Additionally, we allowed users to see their friend’s submissions — but only after they themselves upload their videos.
We were left with some discoveries but mostly more questions:
- Had four tasks completed across the study, with three active participants out of 8 total in the study
- Too high effort/irregular of a task to do daily and make a regular habit
- Focused too much on tasks being new and fun as replacements for procrastination on social media/internet
- People had fun doing the tasks
- Is the social aspect/entertainment not enough incentive?
- How much motivation did they have/need to do the task?
- How did they feel about doing the task itself?
- We weren’t able to share the videos with other participants doing the tasks, as the task completion volume wasn’t high enough.
After mapping the most prevalent themes, ideas, emotions, and activities from our user interviews, we identified the key nodes of going outside (of course), amount of work, stress, sleep, and productivity. The amount of work had effects on a lot of other factors. From this analysis, we found that not going outside wasn’t the main problem, but rather a helpful tool in helping reduce stress, improving mood, and improving productivity. People mostly cared about work and regulating stress and other related emotions, and encouraging people to go outside more regularly would hopefully positively contribute towards improving the most salient problem in their day-to-day lives. We also found that time with friends benefitted mood while also being an activity that people actively sought out, so we aimed to use this idea as part of our intervention to improve efficacy.
These are some of the causal loops we constructed from our connection circle. The last two are particularly striking because they are at odds with each other. From the second one, we see that stress reduces productivity, and that going outside increases productivity and reduces stress. So, going outside seems to be strictly beneficial in this causal loop. The third causal loop, however, reveals why it’s still hard for many people to go outside even if they are aware of its positive effect. Namely, stress decreases productivity and productivity decreases the amount of work, which in turn increases stress. From this, it’s clear that getting work done reduces stress, which results in an increase in productivity. That explains why inside inertia is so high and why people might be more inclined to directly reduce their stress by getting work done instead of going outside. Because of this tension between getting work done to reduce stress and going outside to reduce stress, we thought it would be interesting to have a panic button when people are presented with this dilemma, which served as the inspiration for our intervention.
We learned through our interviews that people rarely needed more reasons to go outside: people easily described several benefits of it and said when they do go outside they got those benefits. What people seemed to struggle with was making the in-the-moment decision to go outside. This aligns with our group’s anecdotal experiences with behavior and habits in general; we all had something we wanted to do more and could describe why, but actually doing it was hard.
We wanted to try to disrupt this by giving our participants a cue whenever they felt a push to go outside. Many of our participants described scenarios where they wanted to take a break, and considered going outside but felt that going outside for five to ten minutes without anything to do would be boring. We aimed our intervention at this scenario, hoping that participants would have the thought of going outside for a break and hit the “panic button” or in our case, opening a link to a five to ten minute task to do while outside. We hoped this would help circumvent the feeling of “pointlessness.”
This intervention did not work as we hoped. We had a few completions, but very few of our participants seemed to even consider these tasks. We are talking with participants about their experiences, trying to learn where common dropoff points were. If the tasks’ existence were frequently forgotten, it’s possible the intervention still has merit but we would need to make receiving a task easier and more prominent.