Spending Time Outside – Intervention Study


We are interested in prompting people to perform social tasks outside with their friends in order to tackle the issues of 1) activation energy associated with leaving the comfort of one’s home, 2) providing intentionality to people’s time outside, 3) pushing off leisure time outdoors as a low priority, and 4) providing a better sense of safety to users. We’ve found from our interviews and literature review that having buddies to move around outside makes people feel more safe outside (especially in urban areas), and plans with peers act as an accountability system to promote healthy habit building. Over the course of 5 days, we plan to prompt users with a random prompt each day (~15 min task) and perform a post-task questionnaire of how the task made them feel, including their attitudes towards mental wellbeing, activation energy, accountability, and safety.

Key Questions:

The key questions we wanted to answer were:

  1. Does having concrete plans set with a social partner reduce or increase perceived activation energy of spending time outside?
  2. Does having intentional activities and time outside make spending time outside more meaningful?
  3. Does having a social partner to hold you accountable to prioritizing plans outside promote habits outside in the long term?
  4. Does having a social partner provide users a sense of safety and comfort to move around outside?



We continued studying 5 previous participants from our previous diary study.


Data Collection:

The 5 day study will run from Thursday, Feb 3 – Monday Feb 7.  Each day we will collect:

  • Whether participant was able to perform task, what time participants go outside, how did the task make them feel (including mental wellbeing, activation energy, accountability, safety)
  • Take a photo of these instances (if possible)
  • Compare with interview data to see if there is alignment or contradiction



Day 1: Take a picture of a plant

Day 2: Go outside and find a song that matches the vibes and send to a friend

Day 3: Pick flowers for a friend

Day 4: Interact with a stranger e.g: brief compliment, pet their dog

Day 5: Have quality time outside with a friend. If not, then facetime them and share your surroundings with them

Key Findings:

The key findings we found from our results were:

  • People need a happy medium between low and high activation tasks
  • Too many social tasks could be anxiety inducing
  • Nudges/prompts are helpful at helping people to engage with the outdoors and to slow down and feel more present
  • Nudges are nice for people who are already outside, but not super helpful for people who are super busy and not planning on going outside



From these our data and key findings, we performed a utilized a series of synthesis tools to explore emergent patterns. First, we generated stickies from all of our participants and organized them into chunks based on main themes we found: engaging with one’s environment, stress of social tasks, busy schedule limitations, and balance between low and high activation energy tasks.


We mapped out the intersecting relationships between instances of these themes in the course of a typical day in a connection circle. While there were many combinations that led to people spending time outside, we found that the most influential factors in getting someone to spend time outside were having achievable challenges, time of day (specifically day time), and having a perceived sense of free time.


Honing in specifically on the balance between low and high activation energy tasks, we mapped the mental wellbeing utility from our prompts  as a function of activation energy. The action line represents their willingness to do the task and the engagement they get as a result. The vertical distance from a task to the line is based on how comfortable they felt doing the task and how engaged the task made them feel with the outdoors. We found that while people reported that spending time outside with intentional tasks really improved their mental wellbeing, on the days were participants felt really mentally low, they were unable to muster the activation energy require to reap the benefits of the tasks. It seems like there is a sweet spot between a person’s mental wellbeing being too low to perform a task vs. too high to need the benefits of spending time outside such that we need to find the optimal activation energy required for tasks to be useful to users.



Next Steps:

We plan to try to incorporate the insights we generated from our study synthesis into our solution for getting people to spend time outside. First, we want to keep the social component of shared tasks outsid in order to promote a sustained sense of comfort outside. But some new ideas we want to explore are: 1) some sort of onboarding survey to gauge what types of behaviors are appropriate for users given that each person has a different optimal activation energy point, 2) spacing out nudges in a certain schedule to avoid perceived stress from performing to many social tasks and reduce friction from a busy schedule, and 3) utilizing the time of day as a feature in our solution, whether that means leaning into the user behavior of spending time outside during the day vs. helping them feel more empowered to spend time outside at night.


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