Representation of behaviour change interventions and their evaluation: Development of the Upper Level of the Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology [version 2; peer review: 2 approved]

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Behaviour change interventions (BCI), their contexts and evaluation methods are heterogeneous, making it difficult to synthesise evidence and make recommendations for real-world policy and practice. Ontologies provide a means for addressing this. They represent knowledge formally as entities and relationships using a common language able to cross disciplinary boundaries and topic domains. This paper reports the development of the upper level of the Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology (BCIO), which provides a systematic way to characterise BCIs, their contexts and their evaluations. Methods: Development took place in four steps. (1) Entities and relationships were identified by behavioural and social science experts, based on their knowledge of evidence and theory, and their practical experience of behaviour change interventions and evaluations. (2) The outputs of the first step were critically examined by a wider group of experts, including the study ontology expert and those experienced in annotating relevant literature using the initial ontology entities. The outputs of the second step were tested by (3) feedback from three external international experts in ontologies and (4) application of the prototype upper-level BCIO to annotating published reports; this informed the final development of the upper-level BCIO. Results: The final upper-level BCIO specifies 42 entities, including the BCI scenario, elaborated across 21 entities and 7 relationship types, and the BCI evaluation study comprising 10 entities and 9 relationship types. BCI scenario entities include the behaviour change intervention (content and delivery), outcome behaviour, mechanism of action, and its context, which includes population and setting. These entities have corresponding entities relating to the planning and reporting of interventions and their evaluations. Conclusions: The upper level of the BCIO provides a comprehensive and systematic framework for representing BCIs, their contexts and their evaluations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123
Number of pages27
JournalWellcome open research
Early online date10 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Grant information: This work is supported by Wellcome through a collaborative award to The Human Behaviour-Change Project [201524]. MMM is funded by a Marie-Sklodowska-Curie fellowship [EU H2020 EDGE program grant agreement No. 713567].


  • Behaviour
  • Behaviour change
  • Evaluation studies
  • Evidence synthesis
  • Interventions
  • Ontologies


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