1. What is the LifeGuide?

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What is LifeGuide and what is it for?

LifeGuide is our name for open source 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 whenever you like (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.
  • 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, and since it is open source we hope that soon other people will too. 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.

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 requests for brief advice (principally through the LifeGuide community website forum), but we unfortunately do not have sufficient staff to offer individual support to users during intervention development.

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, when first planning the intervention development.

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.

What is the future of LifeGuide?

LifeGuide has been designed to allow us to expand its capabilities relatively easily (once we have obtained funding to do so) so that it can:

  • incorporate data from monitoring devices and use the data in the interventions (e.g. to provide advice or alerts linked to current physiological state or activity levels)
  • be delivered via other digital media, e.g. ‘smart’ mobile phones, interactive TV
  • be linked with large existing IT systems (e.g. electronic medical records, databases)
  • provide additional facilities for analysis of website usage
  • use a speaking avatar interface to interact with intervention participants

LifeGuide was developed using a core grant from the ESRC but is already being extended by funding for website intervention development from many other sources (e.g. MRC, NIHR, JISC, EC, DoH, charities). The team of computer scientists involved with LifeGuide have experience in sustaining software of this type through successive grants and also through the 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).