David Crane founded one of the UK’s first web development agencies in 1995 and has built or developed more than 400 different sites. His Smokefree app has over 1 million downloads and 9 million screen views per month.

What are your main objectives using data?

I run a company that helps people stop smoking using digital- well, it’s an app fundamentally. So what we’re trying to do with data is to make that process more effective

What inspired you to want to work with data?

Its extraordinarily difficult to change behaviour. It’s a very frustrating process. Understanding how we can effectively help people change behaviour and actually make the process of behaviour change rewarding is something that fascinates me and I think it has a real importance.

How important is data to the future of your organisation?

Behaviour change at the moment is often a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s not if you go to a counsellor, if you go and sit down in front of somebody, they will walk you through something very personal, something that’s very tailored to you. What I hope we can do with data is replicate some of that personal approach, some of that tailoring via digital delivery.

In this data abundance, why is it so difficult to find the most important & useful information?

One of the things that we are trying to do here is predict behaviour- we are trying to estimate what people will do in the future from what they’ve done in the past- what groups of other people typically have done in the past. One of the best ways, I think, to do that- is with a psychological theory. So what is a theory that explains why these types of behaviour have gone on in the past? Now, that theory may not exist yet- it may be a theory that is developed by looking at the data. But without a theory- without an overarching structure that ties this together, all we’ve really got is uncoordinated data. But with a theory, then we’ve got something we can use to predict behaviour, and more importantly,test whether that prediction is true or not.

Technology should work with people not replace people and the service that people provide...

David Crane

How can the data from apps help contribute towards better quality psychological research?

An astonishing proportion of psychological studies are done on psychology students.That is not a representative sample. The reason why people conduct psychology experiments on psychology students is that it’s really difficult to get people to participate in experiments. Its very expensive and it’s very time-consuming. Digital and apps can solve that. So apps are used by a very representative section of society, especially in the west. They are used repeatedly, they are used by people of different cultures, languages, therefore the data that we get back from apps has the potential to allow us to make some really important understandings about human behaviour and how it can be changed. The number of users that we get downloading our app means that we could run an experimental trial everyday- with enough participants to make it scientifically valid- we could do one every day. Recruiting a number of participants in any other way would take months! The pace of understanding could increase at a really rapid rate idf we collect the right data, and if we understand it.

Do you think an app like Smokefree could replace a counsellor?
I don’t think that it would ever replace a counsellor. Face to face contact is essential- i don’t think we’re ever going to want to stop doing that- but the reason i think that people would use an app more than a counsellor is because it’s convenient! Technology should work with people not replace people and the service that people provide is irreplaceable for me. People and technology, not either/or.

What would you like to be able to do/access with the right data in the future?

I would love with the right data to be able to create an intervention for one (person). So an intervention that nobody else would ever get- it’s specifically tailored to their needs, interests  challenges at any particular moment in time. It’s where digital technology could take us with data if we are able to really understand what is in the data and make it useful for people