Developing a vision for using smart devices in research around the globe

Center for Social & Behavioral Science (CSBS) Director Eva Pomerantz

The Center for Social & Behavioral Science (CSBS) hosted a virtual workshop on September 11, 2023, focused on developing an open-source platform that makes it easy for scientists to develop mobile apps for research. The workshop aimed to attract social and behavioral scientists from institutions around the globe so that the platform can be built to reflect the priorities, challenges, and needs of the broader social and behavioral science community. Researchers from nearly 20 institutions around the world and 20 different units on the Illinois campus had the opportunity to provide valuable input and help shape the future of social and behavioral science research with smart technology. A video recording is available.

In opening remarks to attendees, CSBS Director Eva Pomerantz highlighted how personal smart devices have transformed society in multiple realms of our lives from biology to emotions to behavior. She emphasized how they can be powerful instruments for identifying causal mechanisms for intervention and prevention while recognizing that creating mobile apps requires time, money, and expertise.

“Our team really wants to address these challenges by building on Rokwire to produce a wide array of research capacities to help scientists create research-focused mobile apps,” noted Pomerantz. “And ultimately, because we’re all sharing in this open-source framework, we can create a collective repository that can help us to look across many studies for power, do replications, or come together for new ideas.”

Health Care Engineering Systems Center (HCESC) Director Jim Rehg

Jim Rehg, Director of the Health Care Engineering Systems Center and Founder Professor of Computer Science and Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering at Illinois joined the workshop to support this vision, discussing the promise and challenges of using smart devices in social and behavioral science. Rehg began by highlighting several popular smart devices that are often used in mobile health applications that researchers might use to incorporate into studies that involve more social behavior.

“The exciting potential today is the proliferation of these devices and how opportunities on modalities for capturing signals have increased dramatically in comparison to previous times,” explained Rehg. “How can we best leverage these devices to advance behavioral science and health-related applications and what are the tools, substrates, and frameworks necessary to allow them to be broadly utilized?”

Rehg continued the presentation to discuss how to answer these questions, the work he has done so far in his lab, and how we might continue to advance along these lines. The presentation was followed by two break-out discussions focused on hurdles and needs as well as visioning for the use of smart devices in social and behavioral science research. View the discussion notes to learn more about these conversations.

The workshop discussions yielded critical insights that will guide CSBS and Rokwire as they move forward to create an open-source infrastructure for the use of smart devices in the social and behavioral sciences.

Written by Hannah Wirth