Government plans £5m trial of apps that reward healthy behaviour

Citizens may be financially remunerated for their diet and exercise habits

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The government is planning to spend £5m on a trial programme of apps designed to support citizens in exercising and improving their diets – and financially reward them for doing so.

Over the course of the 2021/22 financial year, which begins today, the Department of Health and Social wishes to test an approach that uses “incentives and rewards” to encourage adult citizens to be more physically active and make “improve dietary choices”. 

The programme through which these are delivered will be “primarily digital in nature, using app-based and online tools”. 

“We are open to considering schemes that also seek to engage people who are not digitally enabled,” the DHSC said in newly published procurement documents. “Bids must outline how this will be achieved but this is not a requirement.”

The department will support the programme with up to £5m of funding over the next year, with £2m of this allocated to be spent on research and development activities and contracts with external suppliers. The remaining £3m will be available to be paid out to citizens in financial or other rewards.

The government wants the programme to engage what it deems as “harder to reach groups that experience higher rates of obesity and obesity-related illnesses”. This includes those who have poor diets or are not very active, as well as “people in lower social economic status groups”.

“We encourage ideas and solutions that would be available to all adults in the test area, not just those in hard to reach groups, but [proposals] will need to demonstrate how they would reach, engage and change behaviours in harder to reach groups in sufficient numbers to allow meaningful comparisons across the different groups,” it added.

Ahead of any potential formal procurement exercise, the DHSC is currently undertaking a market engagement process in a bid to better understand the available products and services that could support such a programme. 

This includes reaching an understanding of how any technology used could measure citizen behaviour.

“Whilst this is more straightforward for increasing physical activity levels, this is potentially more difficult for dietary choices, so we are looking to work with interested parties to understand what would be possible,” the DHSC said. “However, as a minimum we would expect ideas and solutions to express success in terms of: sign up and engagement in the test approaches; individuals’ continued participation in the test approach; [and] evidence of individual behaviour change during the test approach with benchmarking in place.”

The trial period will likely take place in a “geographically limited area such as a town or similar, which would allow a range of other assets and contexts to add value to the tests”.

If the programme proves its worth, then the ambition – subject to sufficient further funding – is to ultimately extend it across the adult population throughout England. 

“HM Government views this programme as an opportunity to harness the very best innovation and thinking from across the public, private and third sectors to develop, refine and test innovative approaches to incentivising behaviour change,” the procurement documents said. “This initial market engagement phase is our opportunity to understand the range of potential ideas and solutions to help shape and inform our thinking.” 
“We are interested to understand how existing app-based incentive schemes could be adapted to meet our requirements, as well as being interested in identifying a novel solution that demonstrates success while delivering a return on investment. Therefore, interested parties will need to demonstrate evidence of previous success or, in the case of novel solutions, demonstrate how success will be achieved.”

Potential supplier partners are also encouraged to provide input on the potential “branding and marketing of the programme”.

“There will be advantages and disadvantages to this being branded – even in part – as a government-funded programme. Should the tests require it, however, government digital assets and branding, including the NHS and ‘Better Health’, may be available for suppliers to deploy,” the government said. “Depending on the outcome of the market engagement, we may be more specific on the branding requirements.”

Potential providers are invited to attend a market engagement day on 14 April. If there is sufficient interest, another such exercise may also be held the following day.


Sam Trendall

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