Simon Says: Walk

NHS England and Rewired State recently ran a competition with a £30k prize fund for apps around obesity

We didn’t win a prize (they get announced next week), but was our submission. 

“I know I should really go for a walk 3 times a week, but I’m just too busy…”

‘Middle-aged, managerial-class, overweight white man’ – let’s call him ‘David’ – knows he’s at risk of health complications from being overweight, he just doesn’t do anything about it for a host of legitimate reasons; he has meetings… he has dinners… he has an important job that puts many constraints on his time… he has a family with caring responsibilities…  (While we use a male example above, SimonSays:Walk is gender-indifferent)

This is not primarily an information problem amongst those who, over time, are likely to make disproportionate use of NHS services. SimonSays:Walk is designed to help people make a commitment; to schedule time to go for a walk.

Quite simply, SimonSays:Walk provides a ‘button’ people can press to add such a commitment to the calendar / electronic diary they already use (or which their personal assistant manages for them) on their smartphone, PC or tablet. Having made such a commitment, by reminding them and providing them with a simple map, SimonSays:Walk assists someone to get into the habit of taking regular walks.

The regular dates begin after a delayed start: the first appointment to walk will be scheduled two weeks ahead of the point at which someone first chooses to make a commitment. This will help make the decision to commit a bit easier – a decision with consequences two weeks in the future may be easier to make than one that imposes more immediate demands (this is, of course, testable) – and should help ease any diary issues / conflicts. It is also logical, on the basis that if someone decided to go for a walk today, a diary app wouldn’t be particularly helpful!

The use of the person’s existing electronic diary means appointments can be moved if necessary, and means that other people (e.g. personal assistant) with access to the person’s dairy can take account of other considerations and, hopefully, assist the individual to pick up the habit.

SimonSays:Walk is also ‘infinitely forgiving’; if you didn’t go for a walk today, there’s no shame other than that you impose on yourself – you can just go next time. (Someone else with access to your diary may be less forgiving, however!)

SimonSays:Walk does not aim to solve the whole problem of obesity; different people need different things. This tool is designed for those who are busy, and who use some form of electronic diary – though one need not necessarily be busy to make use of it.

In terms of functionality, if you are within a mile or so of an NHS pharmacy – which SimonSays:Walk  determines using open data from the NHS via – it will suggest you may want to walk past it. We chose this particular function for a number of reasons: firstly, because NHS pharmacies tend to already have helpful information on display in their street-facing windows; and secondly, because those windows offer a low cost way to provide positive reinforcement for individuals who have engaged with the app, and also to promote (the goal of) SimonSaysWalk and the benefits of regular physical exercise more generally.

If the person is not that close to a pharmacy, there are probably nicer walks available. SimonSays:Walk suggests a direction and ‘walk radius’, not a specific route. Suggesting people walk through an industrial estate might not be sensible, or wise. In any case, it better for individuals – who are likely to know their immediate area better than an online tool – to make those decisions for themselves.

The simple premise of SimonSays:Walk is that it matters far less where you are, and exactly where you walk, than that you are sitting in a chair all day long. Any walk is better than no walk; this is about making it happen. When it’s in your diary that you use every day, you can make a commitment that it actually happens.

SimonSays:Walk adopts a privacy-preserving model – and using information and processes that people already use day-to-day – and tries to work with people’s lives, rather than trying to impose a major life change on them.

Once people become used to walking regularly, non-confidential phone calls, etc. could be done via mobile while going for a walk – or meetings could be scheduled about 25 minutes walk apart. We appreciate that in the UK, this would probably work better in the summer months.

If there is no GPS information available, e.g. from a non-location aware desktop browser, the map is centered on the pavement East of the Cenotaph, with a generic message about a walk.

People already have plenty of information that being overweight is bad for them; this is a tool to help them do something about it.