Research & Development

Posted by Lianne Kerlin on

As part of our Digital Wellbeing work, we are researching how our human values change throughout our lives. In doing so, we hope to provide a richer understanding of our underserved audiences.

This post is written by Kristie To, an undergraduate placement student from the University of Bath, studying psychology. Kristie has been spending her time with us at BBC Research & Development working with Lianne Kerlin and the Digital Wellbeing team on human values. She has been helping the team to conduct research into the importance of human values across different stages of life, and thus contributing to an important understanding about our audience.

Molly is 20 and attends the University of Bath studying psychology; she is in her third year of university. While at university she plays rugby for the university, works part-time and is part of the Vegetarian Society.

So what do you know about Molly? You might deduce that she is fit and healthy, sociable and has an interest in vegetarianism.

But what you didn't know is that Molly enjoys playing rugby because she values her health - rugby is her stress outlet. Being involved in a team sport enables her to connect with others and fulfils her need to feel a sense of belonging, especially since she moved away from home. You didn't know that she is working to save money to go travelling because she values exploring different cultures and seeing other ways of living. And you don't know that she values feeling impactful, thus is an active member of the university vegetarian society.

The first description offers a surface level understanding of Molly. Using demographic and behavioural information is easy to see and thus make assumptions from; we make conclusions like these every day. The second description provides an understanding of Molly's values. It delves deeper into a psychological understanding of Molly, which unpicks at the needs and motivations that drive her actions. By understanding Molly's values, we have a richer insight into what is fundamentally important in her life.

Jane is also 20 years old, works part-time and is a mother. We might make the assumption that because Jane and Molly are both female, 20 and work part-time, they might share similar values.

A woman and her baby.

In actuality, Jane values having stability, so her job enables her to provide financially for her child. Since being a new parent, Jane values understanding more about herself in her new identity as a mother. Jane is trying to get a promotion as she wants to grow her skill-sets and set a good example for her child.

The values we prioritise change throughout our life, according to the stage of life we are at. Although Jane and Molly both belong in the same age demographic, they exhibit different psychographic profiles. Molly prioritises values that enable her to thrive at university; while Jane is driven by values that allow her to flourish as a parent.

The problem with segmenting people by demographics is that we potentially lose the richness of complexities of the human experience. It assumes that everyone within a specific demographic shares common cultural and situational contexts without acknowledging the diversity of people in that segment. Misunderstanding our audiences hinders us in serving them, and contradicts our public purpose of representing the "different cultures and alternative viewpoints that make up society."

If we, as the BBC, are to support learning for people of all ages, we must delve deeper by understanding the value priorities that are important at different stages of life, rather than making generalisations of behaviours in certain demographics. Segmenting our audience based on their values brings us closer to understanding and catering to people at different stages in their lives.

Just as people with health concerns are not defined by their conditions, we are all much more than the demographics that describe us: our identity is also a function of what we each value. Nor do our behaviours reliably dictate our identity: some participants in our research mentioned that they valued exploring the world, but were not able to do so as a result of financial constraints. Looking past the behaviours and demographics of our audience to their values will enable us to deliver public service good to their present and future selves.

Considering and serving our audience based on their values helps us fulfil a public service role that delivers to a broader reach of people's desires and ambitions, preserving the diversity and richness of people's lives. The toolkit we have developed (below), is a method designed to guide innovation to add value and have a positive impact on our audience's lives, ensuring we are fulfilling our public purposes.

Download our Digital Wellbeing toolkit:

We continue to develop the methods by which our tools are used. For example, we have been running workshops with young people to generate new ideas to fulfil their human values.

(The images in this article are library pictures and are not of the people described above.)

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This post is part of the Future Experience Technologies section