Ontologies relevant to behaviour change interventions: a method for their development

Alison J Wright*, Emma Norris, Ailbhe N Finnerty, Marta M Marques, Marie Johnston, Michael P Kelly, Janna Hastings, Robert West, Susan Michie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Behaviour and behaviour change are integral to many aspects of wellbeing and sustainability. However, reporting behaviour change interventions accurately and synthesising evidence about effective interventions is hindered by lacking a shared, scientific terminology to describe intervention characteristics. Ontologies are standardised frameworks that provide controlled vocabularies to help unify and connect scientific fields. To date, there is no published guidance on the specific methods required to develop ontologies relevant to behaviour change. We report the creation and refinement of a method for developing ontologies that make up the Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology (BCIO). Aims: (1) To describe the development method of the BCIO and explain its rationale; (2) To provide guidance on implementing the activities within the development method. Method and results: The method for developing ontologies relevant to behaviour change interventions was constructed by considering principles of good practice in ontology development and identifying key activities required to follow those principles. The method's details were refined through application to developing two ontologies. The resulting ontology development method involved: (1) defining the ontology's scope; (2) identifying key entities; (3) refining the ontology through an iterative process of literature annotation, discussion and revision; (4) expert stakeholder review; (5) testing inter-rater reliability; (6) specifying relationships between entities, and; (7) disseminating and maintaining the ontology. Guidance is provided for conducting relevant activities for each step. Conclusions: We have developed a detailed method for creating ontologies relevant to behaviour change interventions, together with practical guidance for each step, reflecting principles of good practice in ontology development. The most novel aspects of the method are the use of formal mechanisms for literature annotation and expert stakeholder review to develop and improve the ontology content. We suggest the mnemonic SELAR3, representing the method's first six steps as Scope, Entities, Literature Annotation, Review, Reliability, Relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126
Number of pages32
JournalWellcome open research
Early online date3 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2020


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