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Culture Matters: Persuasive Designing of e-Coaching Systems in the Swedish Context

By Shweta Premanandan Published 27.08.2020

A coach employs a multitude of methods such as motivation techniques, constant encouragement, explanation exercises and activities that allow the individual to assess their progress and any discrepancies between their real and committed behaviors. Such a set of coherent activities that support and encourage the behavioral change is a persuasive strategy. Persuasive strategies enhance the ability and motivation of the individual to change their behavior. Persuasive designing uses such support components to design an IT system. Persuasive technology is the interactive information technology designed with the intent to modify users’ attitudes or behavior. Software applications in eHealth have used persuasive designing to motivate people towards healthy behavior to ease the stress on the public medical services. Persuasive systems can make use of either computer-human persuasive or computer-mediated persuasion. As stated by Oinas-Kukkonen and Harjumaa, Persuasive systems are “computerized software or information systems designed to reinforce, change or shape attitudes or behaviors or both without using coercion or deception”. In my study, persuasive design components are used to design an eCoaching system for informal caregivers.

An eCoaching system is a technology-based solution to motivate people to change their attitude and behaviour.

They have proven to be a good solution that leverage technological platform to provide support for health-related problems. Such eCoaching systems can be used to assist caregivers with self-care or self-management in the hope to be self-reliant. The stress due to prolonged caregiving activities have been known to have a negative impact on many facets of a caregiver’s life – social, financial and psychological. eCoaching systems have been used in past studies in the context of health. Anxiety and stress are few of the reason of much burden among caregivers as a result of caregiving activities. The primary functional feature of this eCoaching system would be to help informal caregivers cope with this burden. In the past, user intentions and behaviour of IS have been extensively investigated using attitudinal theories from social psychology. However, there still exists a lacuna of systematic analysis and design methods for developing persuasive software solutions.

To design the said eCoaching system with persuasive design principles, analyzing the persuasion context comprising of intent, event and strategy is the first stage. Intent is comprised of the persuader and the type of change desired. In this research, we explore the use behavior of informal caregivers and aim to achieve a higher level of engagement of the caregivers with eCoaching system. User engagement is the extent of usage of the system and a subjective experience characterized by attention, interest and affect and is a good predictor of effectiveness of ehealth systems. The next step is to analyze the context – use, user and technology. Having the use context clear guides the design of persuasive components in the system as features to include in the system arise from the problem domain. For example, in developing a system for a weight loss context, a proper attitude is reinforced. User context is the most important aspect of designing a persuasive system since there are individual differences in people which thereby influences their information processing abilities. There are individuals with either high need for cognition or low and this has an effect on an effective persuasion strategy. Hence, it is important to investigate user’s interests, needs, motivations, goals, abilities etc. to create a clear picture on the nature of the persuasion strategy. Culture plays an important role in the way that individuals perceive and use technology. Individuals deep-seated attitudes, values and social anchors influence the persuasion strategy to follow. Hence, this research proposes to explore the cultural dimension in designing persuasive eCoaching systems for informal caregivers.

According to Hofstede, culture is the collective mental programming of the mind. Cultural values represent implicitly or explicitly shared abstract ideas about what is desirable in a society.
Cultural values represent the implicitly or explicitly shared abstract ideas about what is desirable in a society. These values guide individuals of a particular group to behave appropriately. The ways that societal institutions (e.g. the family, education, economic, political, religious systems) function, their goals and their modes of operation, express cultural value priorities. Cultural values and beliefs have an influence on attitudes and behaviours of individuals. These values and beliefs, that are passed down from individuals of the same community to their next generations, drive the way they perceive their world and to a large extent their behaviour too. Their perception of information systems is also influenced by these values and beliefs and so is their use behaviour. Past studies have indicated that social and situational factors have an impact on the designing of an information system and eventually the use of IS. Hence, it is imperative to understand users’ values when designing IS. In the context of this research the main objective is to explore the designing of eCoaching systems to be useable and meaningful to culturally diverse user groups. To investigate the possibility of a balance between local cultures and individual subjectivity in the design.

Information systems can be perceived in different ways based on the people who design, implement, and ultimately use it; who may be culturally different, may hold different value systems to interpret information system and its benefits. To explore the role that culture plays in the design is perceived is important to effectively design an inclusive eCoaching system in a multicultural context like Sweden, cultural values of different user groups needs to be taken into account. Sweden has a growing immigrant population from different cultures and the perception and eventual use of technology is dependent on cultural values of individuals. Due to multiculturality within a population providing an effective technology-based solution to reduce caregivers burden can be even more challenging.  And hence it becomes even more imperative to design efficient and usable systems. To manage the scope of the research, we propose to explore the context of Swedish native and immigrant populations. By Swedish immigrant, we mean individuals who have sought asylum in Sweden from the Middle East region.

Since, this research explores the influence of culture on design of eCoaching system, personas will be developed to model cultural value characteristics of Swedish native and immigrant population. Personas are a useful tool in designing useful and engaging technology and have been used in the context of ehealth. They are hypothetical archetypes of actual users that is a detailed data-driven description of user groups that focuses on the motivating values, judgment processes, pressures, and tradeoffs of those groups. It is helpful to the development team to have a good understanding of the different user groups involved as they are a short summary of the user groups’ distinctive characteristics. They not only model the average users but also consider boundary cases as well as specific class of users with special needs. The assumption being ‘all users are a mixture of certain types of users’.

Recommended Reading Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture and Organizations. International Studies of Management & Organization, 10(4), 15–41. Miaskiewicz, T., & Kozar, K. A. (2011). Personas and user-centered design: How can personas benefit product design processes?. Design studies, 32(5), 417-430. Oinas-Kukkonen, H., & Harjumaa, M. (2009). Persuasive systems design: Key issues, process model, and system features. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 24(1), 485–500.

Shweta Premanandan Shweta is an early-stage researcher and a Ph.D. candidate at Uppsala University in Sweden. Currently, in her Ph.D. project, she is involved in the persuasive designing of an e-coaching system for informal caregivers with focus on culture.