News / Blog

Councillors on Tour: Stockholm Edition

On July 15th, three of our Council of Coaches PhD students, from the University of Twente, Sorbonne University and Roessingh Research and Development went to Stockholm, Sweden to present their research posters. They attended the Workshop for Intelligent Conversation Agents in Home and Geriatric Care Applications, which was held in conjunction with the Federated AI Meeting.

The research papers, presented as posters, were the following:

  • R. Bangalore Kantharaju and C. Pelachaud: Towards Developing a Model to Handle Multiparty Conversations for Healthcare Agents. This focused on the work on building a conversation model for the virtual coaches and on effects of virtual agents on user’s persuasion.
  • G. Huizing, R. Klaassen, and D. Heylen: Designing and Developing Lifelike, Engaging Lifestyle Coaching Agents and Scenarios for Multiparty Coaching Interaction. This focused on the design and development of the coaches, scenarios and dialogues, as well as the plans to investigate interactions between several coaches and the user.
  • Beinema, H. op den Akker, and H. Hermens: Creating an Artificial Coaching Engine for Multi-domain Conversational Coaches in eHealth Applications. This focused on the development of software that should automatically decide which coaching strategies and goals the coaches use for each user specifically.

Many thanks to the organizers of this Workshop and to beautiful Stockholm for hosting us!


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Help out Council of Coaches in this Online Experiment

At Council of Coaches we were wondering – how do we create the perfect virtual agent? At this moment, we are experimenting with cutting them out of stone, but we are really shooting in the dark… We need your help!

Our team of researchers have prepared an online questionnaire to get your input on Virtual Agent design (and your input is greatly appreciated)!

Click here to take the online survey!

(The survey is available in English and in Dutch)



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People Behind the Council of Coaches – Episode 4

In today’s episode of “The People Behind Council of Coaches”, we present the team from Roessingh Research and Development (RRD).

Roessingh Research and Development

In Enschede, not far from the campus of the University of Twente and next to the Roessingh Centre for Rehabilitation, Roessingh Research and Development (RRD) is located. Both geographically, and organisationally close to the university and the rehabilitation centre. RRD is the biggest centre in the Netherlands where a wide range of disciplines such as rehabilitation medicine, movement sciences, psychology, physiotherapy, biomedical sciences and computer sciences work together under a single roof on current and future innovations in rehabilitation and chronic care. As an internationally recognised scientific research institute, RRD occupies a unique position between the university and healthcare practice.
RRD cooperates with the other project partners on many facets of the project such as the user requirements and evaluation processes, management and dissemination, and agent design. They are also the responsible partner for the development of the Shared Knowledge Base and the design of the coaches’ coaching strategies.

Today we are introducing the diverse team of people at RRD that are working on the Council of Coaches project.

Harm op den Akker

Harm is the project’s Technical Coordinator and was in charge of coordinating the project’s proposal. As such, Harm is poking his nose into all aspects of the project.

“I knew that the Horizon 2020 call PM-15 was an extremely competitive call. Soon after the proposal was submitted it became clear that there were a total of 186 competitors. This made it all the more exciting when we heard that the project was accepted for funding. We started working on this proposal such a long time ago, starting with a brainstorm session with many colleagues from RRD and the University of Twente. The “Council of Coaches” idea stuck. An idea that was very much inspired by the advisors in the video game Civilization II, that I used to play obsessively as a child. It’s a truly amazing opportunity to bring this idea to live, and I’m truly grateful for the consortium’s level of enthusiasm with which we are jointly tackling the ambitious challenges set out in the project’s plan.”

Lex van Velsen

At RRD Lex is mostly involved in developing new service models for telemedicine, identifying end-user needs, and writing design specifications. Furthermore, Lex is also involved in testing for end-user acceptance, and usability and user experience.

“I will apply the full range of skills and experience to the Council of Coaches project. The concept of having multiple coaches is intriguing but also a challenge as it is completely new. Who should offer these coaches? How do they interact with formal caregivers (like the family doctor, physiotherapist) and informal caregivers? How do we blend the online care of Council of Coaches with the offline care given in hospitals? It is these questions that have my full interest and which I hope to answer with the RRD team. Next, we will optimize the interaction between end-user and set of coaches during multiple iterations. I’m looking forward to seeing how patients and older adults interact with multiple coaches.”

Dennis Hofs

“I work at RRD as a software developer in various projects. Mostly I am working on mobile apps for Android, connecting to wearable sensors, and backend services and databases. What I like about this, is that I am involved in many facets of software development, such as usability, integration, performance and security. Within the Council of Coaches project I will support in the development of the shared knowledge base. Because of my background in Human Media Interaction it is fascinating to see this project evolve.”

Marijke Broekhuis

Marijke is currently doing a PhD at RRD on the usability of eHealth technology that supports the general wellbeing and healthy lifestyle of older adults.

“With a background in behavioural sciences, I find it very interesting to study end-user groups and to know more on how eHealth technologies can support the routines and habits in the daily lives of people. For the Council of Coaches project, this means mapping the health journey of older adults and getting insights in their daily life situations in which the Council of Coaches could assist older adults in adopting a healthy lifestyle. This information can be used to gather user requirements and to evaluate the usability of the prototypes against those requirements.”

Silke ter Stal

“Due to my background in Creative Technology and Human Media Interaction I am interested in how technology can be used as a medium to support and enrich people’s lives. At RRD I am currently doing a PhD focusing on the design of embodied conversational coaches within eHealth applications. In the Council of Coaches project, I am working on the creation of interesting characters that engage the user and I am researching the interaction between the user and the coaches. I believe it is essential to involve the user throughout this process in order to eventually create a rich experience for the user!”

Tessa Beinema

Tessa started her PhD research at RRD in September of 2017, when the Council of Coaches project started.

“One of the challenging aspects of the project is to create coaches that are able to provide coaching that adapts to each specific user. While for a human coach it can be very natural to decide on: ‘What do you want to have this person achieve, why, and how?’, for a virtual agent this is something we have to model before they are able to do it. This process requires knowledge on behaviour change, but also technical knowledge. That interplay between humans and computers and the challenge to create effective virtual coaches by making sure the content is as optimal as possible is what fascinates me.”

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Milestone #2 Complete!

A little delayed update, but very good news nonetheless: the second project milestone has been achieved!

The first functional prototype of the Council of Coaches system is released as a working demonstrator that can be downloaded and run with a double-click. A video of the demonstrator was also published on the project’s YouTube Channel. Is it amazing? Yes and no. Yes, because under the hood, major technical progress has been made in the integration of complex technical subsystems: the GRETA virtual agent platform of Sorbonne Universities and the ASAP virtual agent platform of the University of Twente communicate with each other and can both be instructed by the Dialogue Game Execution Platform from the University of Dundee. First steps are also made to integrate “couch specific” components: the knowledge base and holistic behavior analysis framework. On the other hand, this demonstrator might not impress the members of our target audience as much as we would like. We are aware of that. But for a three month development phase, much has been achieved. The next six months leading up to the second functional demonstrator and next project milestone will be devoted to technical improvements, but most importantly to creating an outstanding user experience for our end users.

Please take a look at a video of our first demonstrator below:

Furthermore, with this milestone, we have released a number of Public Documents, documenting important project progress:

  • D3.2: Initial coaching actions and content
  • D6.2: Initial user interface design for Home and Mobile UI
  • D7.1: System architecture and design of APIs
  • D7.2: Initial functional prototype

We look forward to sharing additional updates with you over the summer period. If you want to stay up to date with all the latest info, please follow our @Council_Coaches Twitter Account.

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People Behind the Council of Coaches – Episode 3

After the first 2 episodes, covering The Netherlands and Spain, it is time to visit beautiful Copenhagen and meet with our Danish partner DBT (The Danish Board of Technology Foundation).

The Danish Board of Technology Foundation

The Danish Board of Technology Foundation (DBT) is a non-profit corporate foundation working for the common good. The mission of the Foundation is to ensure that society’s development is shaped by informed and forward-looking cooperation between citizens, experts, stakeholders, and decision-makers. To this end the Foundation performs and facilitates public engagement, Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), co-creation processes, technology assessment, research and foresight, and new forms of governance. In the Council of Coaches project, the role of the DBT is to develop and monitor the RRI-work throughout the project in order to facilitate that abstract notions of responsibility are thoroughly deliberated and fleshed out in relation to the concrete subject matter and find their way into the development process as well as into the final product. In February the Council of Coaches RRI Vision was finalized. In March an RRI intervention was carried out at the Valencia Hackathon. At the moment, the project team is occupied with developing the overall strategy and practical implementation plan for the RRI work throughout the project period, as well as preparing the next intervention which will take place at the Technical Integration Week in Enschede towards the end of this month.


Rasmus Øjvind Nielsen, MA, PhD, Project Manager DBT

I got onboard the Council of Coaches project from the beginning but was never involved in writing the proposal. The project is a good fit for my research profile, however, since my main focus is on new institutional and organizational forms in the responsible governance of science, technology and innovation. The Council of Coaches project has from the start been designed to implement quite a few of those forms and has at the same time left a lot of space in the project planning for new ideas about how to implement responsible research and innovation in practice. The project is organized so that a lot of different methods are brought into the mix: user involvement, stakeholder dialogue, lead user involvement, and more. We lead and support several of these methods, but in the middle of all this my main focus is on facilitating dialogue internal to the consortium about how RRI is to be understood in the context of the particular development ambitions of the project. This can be approached in different ways, of course. At the point where I got onboard the project, the consortium had already paid quite a bit of attention to the European Commission’s interpretation of RRI, i.e. the RRI ‘keys’ (public engagement, ethics, gender, open access, and science education). And a lot of the work we do follows up on that. But I also see our role as looking beyond compliance with the keys towards issues of responsibility that are specific to this project. In this respect we are very inspired by Arizona State University’s program for Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR). The Council of Coaches is about producing a virtual coaching software. So perhaps it would be relevant to look at the ethical standards that human coaches must live up to and ask ourselves if and how the program ought to live up to the same standards. This is just one example of how we try to facilitate (or ‘stir’) reflection in the consortium and how we try to move from the sometimes very abstract to the immediately concrete and practical. Participating in the project in this role is really teaching us something about how to work in a very hands-on way with RRI at the project level, and I think we are very fortunate to be given the opportunity to work with this extremely competent and open-minded consortium of people. No doubt, the lessons learned here will help to strengthen our own RRI consultancy practice as well.



Sita Ramchandra Kotnis, MA in Anthropology, PhD candidate, Project Manager DBT

Sita is the new kid on the block, in the Council of Coaches project as well as in the DBT.

I gate-crashed both in mid-February, where the RRI Vision had just been launched, and since then it’s been full-on learning by doing – working my way down the engine room of the Council of Coaches project and into the DBT-way of thinking RRI while simultaneously trying to be strategically visionary, methodologically creative, empirically meticulous, and completely calm. So, I sleep quite sound at night. At the DBT I will be chiefly working with health-related technology and bioethical questions. In my previous research, I have been specializing in new and emerging technologies, particularly within the so-called new biological sciences-complex (e.g. neuroscience, synthetic biology, psychiatric genetics, functional neuroimaging). I am particularly interested in how new possibilities of understanding and intervening in lived life, and life itself on many levels, frame and influence our notions of identity, self and society. Furthermore, I have a keen interest in the prospects and perils posed by these technologies in relation to questions of responsibility, (generic and mental) health and quality of life, and how they influence and inform more analogue approaches to ‘work on the self’ such as mindfulness, psychology and psychoanalysis. For me the Council of Coaches project is a very unique opportunity to deepen my understanding of these matters in yet a new direction and from a new angle. I find the project very interesting, very ambitious – and very fun! Am looking forward to getting this baby further up and running 😉


Magnus K. Andersson, Student in Techno-Anthropology, intern at DBT

My name is Magnus K. Andersson and I have been a part of the Danish Board of Technology Foundation as an intern since January 2018 where I also joined the Council of Coaches project. I study on the side where I am currently in the process of writing my Bachelor thesis about Responsible Research and Innovation (surprise!). My study, Techno-Anthropology examines the relations between human and technology and how those relations impacts on society. My key interests are 1) the question on how to develop responsible technology and 2) how to break down the barrier of incommensurability in processes of innovation – that means shaping frameworks for different academic disciplines to talk, discuss, and develop in a common language. Council of Coaches has put upon its shoulders to do all these things by having RRI as a key feature in the project, and therefore the project is extremely interesting and valuable to me. The DBT team that I am a part of in COUCH, and works side by side with, are primarily working as a methodology-development team for RRI in the concrete project of COUCH. We develop and execute methods for defining RRI in this project, after which we secure implementation of RRI. That means we work as a unit, exploiting our different mindsets to develop ideas together. I see my role in this project as an active co-facilitator of responsible research and innovation, and I am grateful to be a part of it.



Bjørn Bedsted, MA in Anthropology, Deputy Director of DBT

Bjørn is DBTs Deputy Director and has extensive experience with hatching methods in areas of citizen and stakeholder engagement processes and strategic project management. He has a knack for facilitating informed and democratic cooperation between citizens, stakeholders, experts and decisionmakers in developing visions and approaches as well as finding solutions for societal challenges. Bjørn has directed multiple projects, nationally and internationally, on subjects such as responsible research and innovation, IT, climate adaption and GMO. In the Council of Coaches project, he hopes to demonstrate how an RRI approach to ICT health tech development can add value to the innovation process and help deliver results that differ from those of the more traditional procedures for user involvement.


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