Thinking of using LifeGuide?

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What is LifeGuide and what is it for?

LifeGuide is our name for the software we have designed to allow people with no programming skills to create, evaluate and easily modify Internet-delivered interventions. Examples of interventions that have been or are being created include:

  • websites that gives personalised advice for self-care based on what symptom and medication profile and treatment preferences the end-user enters on each occasion
  • websites that train and assess health professionals, incorporating videos, self-test quizzes and tests
  • websites that motivate and support people to change their behaviour by presenting arguments based on their current beliefs and behaviour, assisting with planning and monitoring behaviour, and providing email and text message prompts and feedback
  • cognitive-behavioural therapy delivered over multiple Internet-based learning sessions, supplemented by homework and therapist input

LifeGuide is designed to evaluate interventions, and includes facilities for automatically running and monitoring interventions. All data entered by end-users and details of website usage are securely stored and can be exported for analysis.

Full details of how to download and install LifeGuide can be found here

Why might I want to use LifeGuide?

The advantages of using LifeGuide to develop an intervention are:

  • You do not need funding for programmers or a software company – this may be particularly useful if you are a student or junior researcher, or for pilot studies
  • After you complete the intervention you will still be able to change it (if it has been programmed for you, you will not be able to do this unless you have further funding). For example, you may want to improve or update it, or remove any trial features (e.g. randomisation, evaluation) before making it widely available for use. Please note that you cannot change the content of a live intervention, but you can upload a new version of the intervention.
  • It is easy to copy and paste the whole intervention or bits of it, and then modify the different versions. This is useful if you want to translate it into different languages or compare different versions (e.g. to test the effects of adding or removing particular features or components).
  • If you do have support from software developers, you may well find that it saves time to use LifeGuide to create all the standard features of the intervention (pages, interactions, automated emails, evaluation etc) and then your software developers can spend time on adding any special features that you want (e.g. games, unusual graphics). We have designed LifeGuide to make it easy for other people to add to it.
  • LifeGuide is embedded in a Virtual Research Environment (VRE – which we have called the LifeGuide Community website) which makes it easy to work on the intervention as a team -- you can upload your intervention so the whole team can comment on each page. It also makes it easy to share interventions and knowledge about how to develop them with the wider community of researchers. See our FAQs for more information.

What can I do using LifeGuide?

LifeGuide has been designed to offer the core functions needed for creating an online intervention. We decided what the essential functions were from our own experience, a review of the literature and a series of workshops with people interested in using LifeGuide.

Functions for creating pages include:

  • a flexible interface to alter background and layout of the page
  • copy and paste functions allowing you to quickly enter text from other sources
  • templates to allow you to standardise the look of your intervention pages
  • the capability to add images, audio and video

To make the intervention interactive you can:

  • administer questionnaires and quizzes and give end-users personalised feedback about their performance
  • deliver tailored advice based on end-users’ answers to (multiple) questions
  • give end-users graphs of their progress and personalised feedback based on data they input over repeated sessions
  • allow end-users to communicate with each other and/or therapists (e.g. through emails, discussion boards)

In order to run and evaluate the intervention you can set up your LifeGuide intervention to automatically:

  • Create user accounts
  • Screen, stratify and randomise participants
  • Continuously monitor uptake and patterns of engagement with the intervention
  • Send reminder emails or SMS text messages
  • Record participants’ use of an intervention for analysis (e.g. which pages have been viewed, for how long, in what order, what has been entered in the intervention pages).
  • Export all data (all end-user entries and website usage) into Excel

What can’t I do using LifeGuide?

LifeGuide is being developed by a small team of researchers. This means we cannot (yet) provide everything anyone might want. We have prioritised providing what seems to be most essential, but we know there may be other functions you would like.

Solutions to this are:

  • Think creatively. Very often we have found that LifeGuide users can actually achieve what they want within LifeGuide by doing things a little differently from how they originally planned. Examples are given throughout these wiki pages and the LifeGuide Community site.
  • Add functions yourself, or ask us to. Users with access to programming input can add components themselves, e.g. moving Flash animations, complicated calculators. If you do not have access to programmers but can fund some extra programming work by us then we may well be able to add what you want – just get in touch.
  • Meet the software halfway. We could not prioritise maximising the usability of the software, which means you will sometimes need to do things the way that makes it easy for the computer, instead of the way that would be easiest for you. This is not ideal, but if we had spent time making LifeGuide easier to use it would not be able to do as much.
  • Let us know what you need in the future. We are adding more functionality to LifeGuide all the time. If users let us know what they need next, we can continue to prioritise adding what users want. See below for our plans for future functions.

Justification for LifeGuide

Information for grant applications:

Justifying LifeGuide programmer time

Support for some time of a LifeGuide programmer is necessary to provide software and server support for the duration of the development and evaluation of the intervention. Any server or software delivering a digital intervention requires regular updating to maintain functionality in the context of changes in web browsers, Java and other generic web delivery software that it must interface with. The programming support requested will contribute towards all essential updating required for the trial. In addition, this support is required to allow for unpredictable or bespoke modifications to the code needed for project-specific purposes, such as interfacing with other systems, or specific data storage requirements (e.g. to meet new data protection regulations).

Justifying use of LifeGuide software

There is no other software that provides the functionality of LifeGuide, in terms of enabling people who are not programmers to create interactive interventions to support healthy behaviour, and retain and update these interventions at very low cost, for future dissemination. The cost of funding programmers to develop a complex intervention from scratch is much higher than using the existing LifeGuide functionality for this purpose, and results in an intervention that cannot be modified in any way without securing further funding for programming. Although the LifeGuide software does not support the most advanced look and feel of commercial websites, we have found that the simple look and feel of our interventions is entirely acceptable to people wanting support for managing health problems, who are interested mainly in the content rather than look and feel. Indeed, our extensive research shows that the vast majority of our target population prefer the simple and accessible look and feel of our interventions to the more complex webpages commonly encountered (hence a similarly simple look and feel is also adopted by many other healthcare providers).

Justifying time of the core LifeGuide team

Although the LifeGuide software can be used without assistance for simple interventions, the planned intervention may employ behaviour change techniques that require expert use of LifeGuide resources. Some functions (e.g. user registration and randomisation, linking data over repeated sessions to set personalised goals, receive goal-related feedback and monitor goal-related progress over time, receive SMS messages – or any other complex logic) will require specialist expertise which can be provided by the Southampton LifeGuide team. This must be negotiated well in advance.

Intervention development support

It is very important to try out the LifeGuide software thoroughly before planning your intervention in order to make sure that you are confident in using it, and understand what it can and cannot do.

Where possible, we will endeavour to respond to a request for brief advice about a particular issue encountered. However, we unfortunately do not have sufficient staff to offer individual support to users during intervention development, and cannot respond to repeated requests for advice.

If personal support for intervention development is required then it may be possible to arrange to purchase dedicated time from the LifeGuide team by prior negotiation, but this MUST be agreed well in advance of when it is needed (normally at least 6 months prior to intervention development), when first planning the intervention.

While people with no programming background are able to create simple interventions using LifeGuide, a complex intervention (over many sessions, with a lot of interactivity) is likely to require help from someone with relevant experience.

The LifeGuide software is free to download and use, but there is normally a charge of £500 (excluding VAT) for hosting an intervention on our live server. This fee can be waived for special circumstances, for example, if you are a student and it is not possible to raise the money for this.

Collaborating with the LifeGuide team

If you want to develop a complex intervention and do not have anyone on your team with relevant experience then it may be possible to arrange a collaboration with the LifeGuide team. Our preferred model is for the LifeGuide team to collaboratively develop the intervention with you, contributing both technical support and expertise in creating internet-delivered behaviour change interventions. This model requires a formal funded research collaboration, with members of the LifeGuide team as co-applicants on grant funding and co-authors on papers. This model brings the maximum benefits to the project as you can contribute topic-specific expertise and we can contribute our accumulated expertise from developing numerous successful interventions. In this case, the LifeGuide team project manages the development (as good project management for complex intervention development is crucial and requires experience) and also leads on how the content is implemented in the digital intervention (in close consultation with you), but you lead on the content and retain the intellectual property rights to the intervention.

In some circumstances, the LifeGuide team will consider simply providing the expert technical support to create a website (or the complex bits of a website), without contributing advice on the intervention format. As we are a research team we seldom enter into collaborations of this kind, but may be able to do so if we have free time and when there are particularly good reasons for providing this kind of support. In this case, the intervention content and desired format must be delivered to the LifeGuide team by pre-arranged deadlines in order to enable us to complete the intervention on time. Normally this support will be charged at Full Economic Costs (£53/hour as of January 2015).

Precise details of how collaborations will work will vary depending on circumstances, and must be talked through before agreeing any collaboration

What is the future of LifeGuide?

LifeGuide has been designed to allow us to expand its capabilities relatively easily, so that it can:

  • provide additional facilities for analysis of website usage. We are currently creating a web interface for the production of visualisations to process usage data from online interventions.

LifeGuide was developed using a core grant from the ESRC but has already being extended by funding for website intervention development from many other sources (e.g. MRC, NIHR, JISC, EC, DoH, charities). We currently have funding to run LifeGuide until 2019. The team of computer scientists involved with LifeGuide have experience in sustaining software of this type through successive grants and also through cumulative funding from small amounts of funding provided by users with particular needs for additional support (e.g. dedicated training and support, programming special functions).