Sunday, May 19, 2019

Motivational Modelling

By: Leon Sterling [1] (@swinfict), Rachel Burrows [2] 

Associate Editor: Muneera Bano (@DrMuneeraBano)

We must give as much weight to the arousal of the emotions and to the expression of moral and esthetic values as we now give to science, to invention, to practical organization. One without the other is impotent. Lewis Mumford, Values for Survival, 1946

Now more than ever we are seeing a blurring of the lines between social sciences and software engineering. Software developed today incorporates and adapts to our values, attitudes, emotions, behaviours, amongst others. We need to improve our techniques for empirically reasoning about these concepts, and then ensure they are effectively addressed in the design.

Let us consider emotions. People tend to reject software that does not adequately support the way they wish to feel while interacting with it. Do existing software engineering techniques effectively translate emotional goals and requirements into design? We contend that requirements relating to emotions differ from traditional functional and non-functional requirements. Emotional goals, such as the goal of feeling empowered while interacting with software, is a property of a person and not of software. 

Emotional goals are inherently ambiguous, subjective, difficult to elicit, difficult to represent, difficult to address in design, and difficult to evaluate.  Existing artefacts that capture soft goals include use cases, personas, scenarios or cultural probes. However, these alone are still insufficient when designing for technology embedded within complex social situations.

For instance, our work in using electronic health records for self-managing health has shown that patients wanted to feel empowered, in control and resilient, while maintaining meaningful connections with family and carers. Current solutions fail to adequately address these emotional goals; citizens have been confronted with a platform which they refuse to trust with their personal data.

Emotions and Design

Great designers articulate emotional goals as higher-level objectives and try to align with the desires, needs and emotions of users. They are conveyed in brand values, marketing material and used to inform key design decisions. Hitting the right emotional tone is part of empathising with the customer and user --- a key step in design thinking.

Referring to emotions happens despite the lack of consensus in exactly what emotions are. Some believe in a hierarchy of emotions, building from basic emotions such as fear, anger or joy. Others believe that emotions are constructed concepts developed through life experience. We advocate for being able to address emotions as software requirements.

Motivational Modelling

Motivational modelling is a lightweight technique that has emerged from our research for expressing emotional requirements of technology engagement related to the goals to be achieved. Motivational modelling has now been successfully used in several industry projects including homelessness, teaching, healthcare and teleaudiology.

Figure 1: Photo of a goal elicitation workshop

Figure 2: Core icons used in motivational models.
Image credit: James George Marshall

In motivational modelling, three kinds of goals – dobe, and feel goals – are elicited alongside stakeholders and possible concerns. The image is from one of these goal elicitation workshops. Do goals describe what the system to be designed should do, be goals describe how the system should be, and feel goals or emotional goals describe how using the system should feel. The results of the requirements elicitation session(s) are converted into a hierarchically structured motivational goal model, which contributes a practical way of communicating visually and verbally the functional, quality and emotional goals that need to be addressed in the design of new technology for adoption. A tool for the conversion can be found at

Motivational models can subsequently be used throughout the design process to steer exploration, experimentation and evaluation strategies. The models created can be used as shared artefacts amongst software teams and non-technical stakeholders to ensure that the functional, quality and emotional goals of users are identified, upheld and advocated for throughout the software engineering process.

Key benefits of motivational modelling are:

Modelling the goals, desires and needs of stakeholders 

Technical and non-technical individuals can empathise with the end user and visualise their differences and dependencies. The model represents emotional goals intuitively. In our experience, that means the whole team buys into making the software emotionally relevant rather than just leaving it a responsibility of the UX team.

Sparking a conversation that leads to creative solutions 

New ideas are triggered through improved communication, collaboration and joint problem-solving.  Possessing design artefacts alone are not enough. The activities and deliberations that happen leading up to the finished artefact are equally important to build understanding and meaning.
Supporting teams to navigate and resolve the ambiguity in emotional goals 
Emotional goals are inherently ambiguous. It is instinctual to resolve this ambiguity early to reduce uncertainty in the project. In the case of emotional goals, it is important to maintain the abstract nature of the goal for longer, in order to progress towards a solution.

Motivational models are part of a longer-term agenda towards improving our ability to address socially-oriented requirements in software, and more generally to examine how we represent these concepts throughout the entire software development process. More information online [link]

[1] Centre for Design Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
[2] PsyLab, The Bradfield Centre, Cambridge Science Park, Cambridge, UK

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