Social Recipes

Envisioning a future technology

In this project, I evaluated the state of the art on how emerging technologies could improve awareness of food waste in households. Inspired by future sensing possibilities and the sharing economy, I envision an innovative community-based social system that captures in-home food availability and waste patterns and uses this information to support awareness, decision-making and sustainability.

An overview of the proposed system.

Introducing an innovative concept

In working towards this innovative system, I introduced and evaluated a component that could be part of such a system. This component or concept is Social Recipes.

Social Recipes aims at encouraging food sharing by suggesting groups of related consumers (e.g., friends, or neighbors) recipes that are based on ingredients from different individuals or households.

With these particular recipes, the intention is to encourage the use of high-risk ingredients owned by different individuals in a creative and social alternative. Social Recipes is expected to provide moments for collaboration, creativity, connectedness, and inter-cultural encounter, which is in agreement with recent suggestions on exploring the roles of collectivism and community for food sharing practices as a way to reduce food waste: using social activity to discourage food waste.

I aimed at understanding how Social Recipes could impact consumers, and hence, how to design it further for effective but pleasurable food waste prevention.

An iterative user study 

To evaluate Social Recipes, I conducted 3 user studies to see how it could raise awareness and reduce food waste. In the first study, I identified the amounts and types of food waste as well as the reasons of wastage in a field study with biweekly retrospective (semi-structured) interviews to understand how and what a community-based system should target. In the second study, I explored the experiences expected from such a concept by presenting it to study participants in a focus group session. In the third study, I evaluated the concept in a 1-month home deployment using technological probes and evaluated it against the more common method of influence strategy in sustainability research that is restricted to feedback. The probes I used were:

  • A mobile application for data entry
  • An augmented bin to weight food waste (See Eco-feedback)
  • A mobile application to visualize food waste data (See Eco-feedback)

I used a Wizard of Oz approach for recipe suggestions based on the data entered in the mobile application:  recipes were generated manually according to a set of rules and suggested to participants using WhatsApp. Participants were allowed to text/respond freely.

The UI of the mobile application.

During the deployment, I collected both quantitative and qualitative data through the probes, WhatsApp chat and questionnaires. The qualitative data was analyzed and organized in overarching themes and triangulated with data from the first 2 user studies. The main findings from the deployment showed that Social Recipes raised awareness of in-home food availability and triggered food-related conversations among participants resulting in knowledge gain. However, Social Recipes alone were not perceived as effective in directly reducing food waste. Based on the findings in this work, implications were suggested for designing a community-based social system. See a couple of examples:

Design implication example 1. Another component should be added to the system that provides eco-feedback. Feedback was perceived as more effective in reducing food waste with impacts on awareness of waste generation and social surveillance. Therefore, the method of influence should be a combination of information about past behaviors (i.e., eco-feedback) and information that is more directive (actionable suggestions such as Social Recipes). With both approaches impacting awareness differently, they should rather be seen as complementary.

Design implication example 2. Both competition and collaboration should be used as motivators to reduce food waste within a community, but the level to which it is effective might be different depending on the user or situation. In the deployment study, competition seemed to be more motivating for reducing waste, while suggestions for collaborations ended up in conversations that were not perceived as effective: the suggestions could have had impacts on food-related behaviors indirectly.

Tools, skills and experience

As the lead of this PhD project, I set up the research goals, system requirements and experimental design. I collaborated with a project partner who was developing the mobile application, but dropped out of her PhD program later in the process. For this reason, I reframed the project for feasibility. My contributions were:

  • UI design using paper prototyping and interactive mock-ups
  • Debugged the PhoneGap application
  • Prepared procedures and protocols for the user studies
  • Recruited participants
  • Organised and attended a focus group session
  • Deployed and collected data in a real-world setting (longitudinal)
  • Applied the Wizard of Oz method
  • Designed and employed surveys with Likert scales and open-ended questions
  • Designed and conducted retrospective interviews using memory cues
  • Applied quantitative analysis for mobile application data, UI interactions and Likert scale answers
  • Applied qualitative analysis such as thematic analysis, triangulation and member checking

The main challenges of this work

After my project partner (a computer scientist) dropped out, I took over the lead for getting the technological probes ready for a user study. It was challenging, without any previous experience, to understand the current state of the probes, and the tools and concepts around it (e.g., the use of PhoneGap, GitHub, PhP, Eclipse, SQL). 

In real-world user studies, it is not always easy to get participants, and have them do what they were asked to do in a timely manner (e.g., such as for downloading the application, rebooting the augmented bin when it is stuck, and answering questions/respond).


The system and concept, I introduced and evaluated here, could be of great value, for the design of future home technology, in creating awareness and engagement at both household and community levels in reducing food waste, an emerging global concern.

This work is currently in print for the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies: Lim, V., Funk, M., Regazzoni, C., Marcenaro, L. M., Rauterberg, M. (2016). Designing for Action: an evaluation of Social Recipes in reducing food waste.


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