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BBC Senior Research Scientist Lianne Kerlin on moving to a world beyond consumption

Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler
8 min read

Interviewee: Lianne Kerlin
Background: Senior Research Scientist at the BBC
Topic: Moving to a world beyond consumption


“We’re working towards a world beyond consumption. Where reach and consumption are clearly important things to measure, but they're not the only measures of success.” — BBC Senior Research Scientist Lianne Kerlin


Sup y’all. Welcome to the Ideaspace.

The purpose of the Ideaspace is to amplify ideas that can help us respond to our collective challenges and build a better future. By interviewing people actively engaging on the major challenges and opportunities in front of us, we get to learn first-hand where things are and where they’re going.

This journey is starting with a focus on data and measurement because, as the legal scholar Salome Viljoen shared with us two weeks ago, data is core to building a better future:

“Anytime you're thinking about the sets of questions that meaningfully ask what are the conditions of contemporary life… all of those questions will require data infrastructure” — Salome Viljoen

Data and measurement are how we’ll translate values we say are important to things our systems will recognize as important — things like belonging, feeling safe, or having purpose. This digitization is the awkward step we find in front of us today.

Ideas like these may sound theoretical. But some people are already trying to make them a practical reality. Including at the BBC.

Last year I was connected to BBC Senior Research Scientist Lianne Kerlin, whose multi-year project is to identify and measure human values in new ways. Her research has identified fourteen key values that motivate us, and she designs experiments and tools to measure and track them. This is the kind of early, foundational research that could unlock significant shifts down the line.

Read on for the fourteen key human values uncovered by Lianne’s research, the science of psychometrics, and how the BBC is exploring a world beyond consumption.


YANCEY: What’s your background?

LIANNE: My background previous to the BBC is psychology. I worked as a researcher and practitioner in the field. The research science scheme around HCI (Human-Computer Interaction), cyber psychology, and applied psychology to technology intrigued me. Back then it seemed quite niche.

YANCEY: I've heard of these concepts but I don't know that much about them. Can you explain?

LIANNE: It's essentially the science of behavior. As a research scientist we design experiments testing different parts of technology, testing concepts or prototypes with scientific rigor. It’s applying science to how people act, think, behave, and perceive.

YANCEY: What are you researching right now?

LIANNE: Right now I'm researching a project called Human Values, which looks at what people view to be important and valuable in their lives and how we can measure for its success. We provide ways we can design and measure human values, not just in the BBC, but providing a way in which people externally can measure and look at value in new ways too.

It started with a project around digital wellbeing. We did eighteen months of investigation with interviews, focus groups, and workshops, alongside more quantitative data like surveys and questionnaires, to explore what’s fundamental and valuable to the audience at a deep level. We wanted to understand that link between values, needs, and behavior. After analyzing, iterating, and re-analyzing, we established fourteen values that the data showed us.

YANCEY: So these are fourteen underlying motivations?

LIANNE: Yes. You can think of them as a psychological motivation, a value, or a deep need. This work is about demonstrating new ways to perceive value and measure value. So for an organization like the BBC, we can look at providing a metric around a human value and see how we're delivering it to our audience.

YANCEY: Values like “Being safe and well,” “Understanding myself,” and “Exploring the world” are things the BBC could try to understand whether they're fulfilling for people?

LIANNE: Exactly. If we take something like “Understanding myself,” underneath “Understanding myself” is the psychological motivation of developing an identity to gain a clear sense of who we are as people. We can measure whether we’re offering things that are helping people to understand, reflect, and gain clarity on who they are.

YANCEY: How?

LIANNE: Through psychometrics. Breaking down the psychology that sits underneath the values. For each value there's three or four different needs that it can be broken down into. We measure those through psychometrics.

YANCEY: How do psychometrics work?

LIANNE: Psychometrics is a measurement that includes an element of psychology. The standard psychometrics are things like a personality questionnaire. A psychometric tells you more about a concept or a construct, things that are hard to break down. You take that one thing you're trying to measure and you capture it in a number of ways so you have a whole understanding and measurement from it. We spent quite a lot of time on metrics research on those psychological needs underpinning each value. We researched tools and existing measures out there to match those correctly with the psychology that we wanted to measure. You want to ensure that each item on the psychometric is measuring what it’s intended to measure, and it's crucial to have items that have been validated by previous studies.

YANCEY: When you're taking psychometric measurements, is it always directly asking questions? Is there passive monitoring?

LIANNE: This type of data is conducted through surveys. Maybe in time when you've gotten enough data — not a specific number, but when a researcher knows they've reached a point of data saturation — you might start to infer behavior signals. What we're talking about here is proxies that you can infer from the data. But we’re nowhere near that process right now. Surveys are how you tend to get the most accurate measure.

YANCEY: You mentioned that one of the motivations for this from the BBC’s perspective was finding other values and things that could be measured — even other metrics for success. What are the metrics for success in the BBC now?

LIANNE: The traditional metrics of success are reach and consumption. The number of people that thing got to and the amount of time they spent with it. We’re working towards a world beyond consumption. Where reach and consumption are clearly important things to measure, but they're not the only measures of success. For example the BBC might commission content that might reach a small audience that they know won't necessarily increase consumption but it has really important topics to cover. Measuring consumption doesn't provide a rich understanding of what’s valuable.

YANCEY: So to work towards a world beyond consumption the BBC feels there needs to be another form of measurement? It wouldn't be enough to say let's do things based on these values, we need to do it based on something we can measure?

LIANNE: That's right. We’re in R&D where we’re a bit further ahead. We’re really thinking about what can you add to those measures to provide a value-centric understanding. A big driver of this work is demonstrating new ways to measure value that may complement the existing measures.

YANCEY: Does your research suggest alternatives? Are there measurements or metrics that seem especially relevant?

LIANNE: Yes. This is why we created the psychometric tool to measure human values. I’m not saying they’re the main way we might measure in the future, but it is one perspective. There are other measures too. If we're looking at the holistic view we need to match human values with society-driven values, maybe industry-level values, and lots of other values that we can measure. The project that we're working on right now is looking at personal value — the extent to which a product or service is meeting the values needs of the audience.

YANCEY: What's next for this research?

LIANNE: First is a design tool. We created a framework and toolkit for designers to start designing innovative ideas around human values. We’re doing a number of workshops to bring that design practice to the wider field and to bring the human value framework into the design practice so designers are being driven by values rather than creating habits in their audience to increase consumption. We're doing external workshops as well as internal workshops with the BBC. The second part of the research is looking at psychometrics, seeing if it works, and then building a number of case studies to demonstrate other ways to measure the success of products we're delivering.

YANCEY: You want to create content that's explicitly trying to affect a value and then test whether it succeeded?

LIANNE: It breaks down in two ways. We first have R&D projects we're creating where we can add around a value or a number of values and then deliver the concept as a prototype so we can make sure it's designed in a way that’s truly delivering on those values. Second, we're looking across different products in the BBC and the intentions for those products, then applying the human values that are most relevant and measuring those to provide an alternate way of measuring success.

YANCEY: Based on your research, how should we be thinking about values differently?

LIANNE: There's a huge benefit to being more value-driven and values-aware. In a world where everything is so fast-paced and we're not really thinking about things long-term, it helps to be value-centric and to really look into what it is you're trying to do other than trying to increase consumption. When you’re actually trying to deliver something of real value that might take longer. A longer-term, value-centered approach is much better than just trying to fix the here and now.

YANCEY: Is there a place you're trying to get to with this research?

LIANNE: Because this project sits within R&D it will always evolve. It started out looking at digital wellbeing and evolved into looking at human value. A nice endpoint would be when we have a framework, a tool, or a set of practices on the design side. Maybe then within the BBC the business-as-usual process that designers follow will be values-driven. And the BBC’s business-as-usual metrics would add other values too. That would be a nice endpoint: when new forms of value are business-as-usual in the BBC.

YANCEY: When you say “business-as-usual” you're saying the goal is for value-centric thinking to be the norm rather than the norm be consumption? The new norm would be to identify what the right value at stake is and how to make a decision that positively impacts it?

LIANNE: Yes, exactly.

YANCEY: Exciting. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your research.

LIANNE: Thanks for having me.


LINKNOTES

Data is fireInterviewNew values

Yancey Strickler

Sup y'all. I'm Yancey — writer, founder of the Bento Society, cofounder of Kickstarter, and author of "This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World." Subscribe to stay in touch.


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