Working with young people to develop a mobile platform

How SafeLives and On Our Radar worked with young people to design and develop the Draw the Line mobile platform

“Our partnership was successful because even though we came from very different places, we had the same values''. 

This is how Susie Hay, Head of Research, Evaluation, and Analysis at SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, describes working with On Our Radar, a specialist communications agency, made up of digital storytellers and development practitioners, dedicated to tackling voicelessness from marginalised groups.

The partnership was funded via Tech vs. Abuse, a programme from Comic Relief with specialist technical support and mentoring from CAST, designed to explore how tech can help support people affected by abuse. This meant that both organisations were also supported by the wider network of the programme, including other grantees, allowing access to a range of skills and levels of support. 

Together, the partnership set themselves the following challenge: How might we use technology to help teenagers recognise that they or their friend are in an intimate abusive relationship?

SafeLives and On Our Radar each had complementary skill sets to bring to the table in order to answer this question, says Hay. “We’re striving to end domestic abuse. We brought expertise of healthy and unhealthy relationships, safeguarding and a network of stakeholders, partners and individuals that we could reach out to. On Our Radar amplifies unheard voices from different groups, and they brought brilliant storytelling expertise, journalistic constructs and technological innovation.”

Reaching young people who may be affected by abuse has historically been neglected. Previous research by SafeLives found that young people are often overlooked and underrepresented in the national discussion on domestic abuse and there is limited current research about the needs of those experiencing abuse in teenage romantic relationships. Inevitably, this can leave young people uninformed and vulnerable. 

Understanding the issues

As part of the project, a conversational Typeform survey was launched to understand young people’s opinions and knowledge about relationships, which confirmed the problem. The survey revealed that 51% of young people were left wanting more support to understand what is okay in a relationship and what isn’t. The research revealed that while young people were astute in recognising the outer-edges of what is and isn’t healthy in a relationship, they wanted help navigating the murkier space in between, and, ultimately, knowing where to draw the line. 

The survey was shared widely by a diverse range of UK youth organisations, who all saw value in the work. Hay says she was moved by the external support for the project. “Whatever sector you’re from, you can relate to it. We’ve all been young, we’ve all had those early relationships, we all know young people we care about and we all want young people to be safe and confident. There was something about the collateral good from other people’s experiences that made people stand together, and say ‘Yes, we'll support it’”. 

The 12-month project was split into three phases: discovery, definition and development. Within the discovery phase the collaborators reflected on their own assumptions and knowledge gaps in this area and then worked to test these by listening directly to young people’s opinions and understanding of relationships. 

For Libby Drew, the director of On Our Radar, this was the most fascinating phase of the process. “The 'discovery' phase took us across the country to school assembly halls, classrooms and youth groups, where young people sketched out relationship journeys as comic strips, raised issues using role play and then, in a critical moment for the design, used chalk to draw lines on their school floors to show the confusion they felt around what constituted abuse. As lockdown hit, just ahead of the development phase, we shifted online to form a vibrant online youth steering committee and we moved their energy into co-design, lifting the learning from both the survey and the discovery sessions to form the building blocks of a youth-designed tool.” 

Developing Draw the Line

The result was Draw the Line - a mobile platform that enables 13-19-year-olds to interact creatively with real relationship stories submitted by teens by drawing a virtual line where they identify harmful behaviour. Users then get to see how other young people and domestic abuse professionals annotate the same content. If they want, teenagers have the opportunity to share their own experiences for publication on the platform. Launched in the summer holidays via social media, it was accessed by thousands of young people independently. Currently, it is being adapted for school environments so that expert domestic abuse educators and healthy relationships facilitators can help teenagers engage with the platform and learn from the relationship stories shared.

Suise Hay stressed how essential it was to have authentic voices in every stage of the project. This began with the young people. A steering committee of young people (aged 13-18) was launched to help inform the process and the survey for young people was widely circulated across networks, with support from schools and youth organisations. Workshops and interviews were also facilitated to further understand young people’s concerns. Ensuring that the project was informed by those with lived experience is central to SafeLives. In this case, Hay herself is a survivor, and was also formerly a child and adolescent psychotherapist and clinical supervisor. 

“The whole experience was one of learning for all involved” says Hay. “Stuff like tech design timings, the understanding of coding, and the innovation of tech development was just fascinating”. Hay recognised that while SafeLives had the expertise and experience reaching young people offline, it was exciting to see On Our Radar help translate that to online, too. 

For On Our Radar, “It was a big decision to bring the development in-house” says Drew.  “While we build technology for community reporting and research, building an interactive mobile story platform was a new space for us, but bringing it in-house meant we could keep the development tied tightly to the discovery phase and put the youth steering committee in the driving seat. It also meant we could develop something pioneering on a very limited budget.”

Another key learning for Drew “was around the value in rooting project work in a specific enquiry rather than a task or proposition. This is a really healthy way to approach co-production as it lays out an open landscape for solutions to emerge.”

Both parties were overwhelmingly guided by the young people who informed them of their digital habits and what they believed would be the most effective for the project. “Part of the interviews [with young people] were around relationships,” says Drew, “but a lot of it was exploring young people’s perspective of tech; where they are, how they use it, what duration of time they dedicate to something. They designed and developed all the branding for the project, too, so the learning really came from every direction”. 

The survey found young people are spending on average 4-6 hours a day online, mostly after school and in the evening and they were mostly using Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Their feedback was unanimous: the project needs to be bold, simple, and straight to the point. As one interviewee said “Make it clear, make it bold, make it easily understood [because] I like reading but I think lots of people my age wouldn't want to just sit there and read for ages when they just want a quick and easy help guide.” 

In exchange for input, and in addition to promoting healthy relationships, the partnership was able to offer the young Steering Committee involved insights into different industries; journalism, digital innovation, communications, marketing and social welfare issues, rewarding them for their participation by offering them experience of sectors or ways of working which they may not yet have encountered. 

What's next?

Draw the Line has become the foundation of all of the learning that has gone into the Your Best Friend project that is now being funded by the Tampon Tax - a forthcoming collaborative SafeLives project to help inform young people about supporting their friends who may be victims of domestic abuse. SafeLives is also looking at another partnership with On Our Radar for round two of Draw the Line and is currently seeking funding to continue to host and evolve the platform, including taking it into schools and youth groups.

For Hay, the partnership exceeded expectations. “It was a fantastic opportunity to thrive and learn, together and separately. I was constantly learning from, and inspired by all involved. And the reach and impact of the work only grows with collaboration.”

Libby Drew agrees, “It is wonderful to find a partnership that is such a good fit. For us to achieve what we did together, against the background of the pandemic, was a credit to the vocational drive of the team. Draw the Line does something that's very difficult to do: it combines learning, advocacy, research, and storytelling into one platform. Young people are able to learn while also being heard; and every time a young person interacts with the site, the sector is able to learn from their use to fill in gaps in research and generate evidence for advocacy. We are excited to see what the next phase brings.”