Council of coaches – Responsible development of digital health coaches

Council of coaches – Responsible development of digital health coaches

Within health care where time often presses there is a big potential in helping the individual citizen to make healthy choices by using digital remedies.

Virtual coaches is an area in rapid growth with the endeavor to release this potential. And it is by no means unrealistic to imagine a situation where in a few years’ time each of us will use pre-programmed coaches as an integral part of our personal health care.

But how do we reap the fruits of this development without at the same time sowing the seed for e.g.  a controlling and monitoring regime where the insurance company can suddenly exploit a supposedly confidential conversation and use it against the user/customer?

These are the questions that the Danish Board of Technology (DBT) is exploring in direct cooperation with an international world class development team.


An open approach to virtual coaching

The Council of Coaches is a development project financed by the EU, aiming at changing the way we look at virtual coaching. There is already an abundance of applications aiming at supporting users when pursuing certain changes of lifestyle – smoke less, be more physically active. But often these virtual coaches represent a one-sided expertise, and they may therefore be narrow-minded “partners”.

The Council of Coaches project instead aims at producing an entire team of coaches (a personal “council”) where each expertise is represented by one coach. This approach has a number of advantages compared with existing solutions. It opens up the possibility for including other angles – personal development or social well-being – as a supplement to a more narrow focus on physical health.

The approach also enables a more dynamic interaction between user and application. The team of coaches may not necessarily agree with each other and may discuss matters among themselves. This provides the user with the possibility to reflect on different views and thus enables the ambivalence which is central to motivation.

In this way the Council of Coaches simultaneously follows a broader understanding of health and acknowledges the importance of health motivation.


How do we ensure a responsible development on the project level?

In the project, DBT works with the question of whether the honest intention of focusing on contributions to solutions for the challenges of the ageing society allows us to conclude that the project lives up to its responsibility for society.

This question is of crucial importance for the research and innovation policy in these years. Those acting in the innovation system are increasingly expected to contribute to the solution of the big challenges of society. But parallel to this, there is a demand for transparency and accountability in relation to the administration of public investments in research and innovation.

How and to which extent can the participants in a development project make sure that the results of their work will later be of real benefit to citizens and users? And how should the project be conducted so that it contributes to creating value for society even if it may not reach its final goals?

DBT works with these and similar questions under the heading “Responsible Research and Innovation” in connection with the Council of Coaches project.


Responsibility through involvement and reflection

As part of the approach we have developed, we ensure that the project consortium does not only listen to user’s needs, but also takes the time to enter into a dialogue with society in a broader sense. This gives the opportunity to reflect on the kind of challenge the project seeks to solve, which interests are at stake in the area, and which scenarios in the utilization phase the consortium must take into consideration.

We also seek to ensure that participants in the project regularly reflect on the conflicting aims that might exist between positive contributions to users’ everyday life and the development of society on the one hand and potential negative consequences and risks of abuse on the other hand.

Of course we cannot guarantee that absolutely everything is handled in a completely irreproachable way. But we hope to ensure reflection and transparency so that investors, purchasers and users have the opportunity to evaluate the results of the project on a well-informed basis. At the same time we hope that other researchers and developers will be inspired by the approach.


Facts about the Council of Coaches project

The Council of Coaches is financed by the European Commission’s programme for research and innovation – Horizon 2020 – under the contract number 769553. The project is directed and coordinated by the University of Twente in The Netherlands.


Visit the project website