The Human Behaviour-Change Project: harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning for evidence synthesis and interpretation

Susan Michie, James Thomas, Marie Johnston, Pol Mac Aonghusa, John Shawe-Taylor, Michael P. Kelly, Léa A. Deleris, Ailbhe N. Finnerty, Marta M. Marques, Emma Norris, Alison O'Mara-Eves, Robert West

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Behaviour change is key to addressing both the challenges facing human health and wellbeing and to promoting the uptake of research findings in health policy and practice. We need to make better use of the vast amount of accumulating evidence from behaviour change intervention (BCI) evaluations and promote the uptake of that evidence into a wide range of contexts. The scale and complexity of the task of synthesising and interpreting this evidence, and increasing evidence timeliness and accessibility, will require increased computer support.

The Human Behaviour-Change Project (HBCP) will use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to (i) develop and evaluate a ‘Knowledge System’ that automatically extracts, synthesises and interprets findings from BCI evaluation reports to generate new insights about behaviour change and improve prediction of intervention effectiveness and (ii) allow users, such as practitioners, policy makers and researchers, to easily and efficiently query the system to get answers to variants of the question ‘What works, compared with what, how well, with what exposure, with what behaviours (for how long), for whom, in what settings and why?’.

The HBCP will: a) develop an ontology of BCI evaluations and their reports linking effect sizes for given target behaviours with intervention content and delivery and mechanisms of action, as moderated by exposure, populations and settings; b) develop and train an automated feature extraction system to annotate BCI evaluation reports using this ontology; c) develop and train machine learning and reasoning algorithms to use the annotated BCI evaluation reports to predict effect sizes for particular combinations of behaviours, interventions, populations and settings; d) build user and machine interfaces for interrogating and updating the knowledge base; and e) evaluate all the above in terms of performance and utility.

The HBCP aims to revolutionise our ability to synthesise, interpret and deliver evidence on behaviour change interventions that is up-to-date and tailored to user need and context. This will enhance the usefulness, and support the implementation of, that evidence.
Original languageEnglish
Article number121
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalImplementation Science
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

The project is funded by a Wellcome Trust collaborative award [The Human Behaviour-Change Project: Building the science of behaviour change for complex intervention development’, 201,524/Z/16/Z]. During the preparation of the manuscript RW’s salary was funded by Cancer Research UK.


  • Behaviour change interventions
  • Implementation
  • Ontology
  • Machine learning
  • Natural language processing
  • Evidence synthesis
  • Artificial intelligence


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