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Service design to modernise a crisis support service with Lifeline


The challenge

In 2018 when we undertook this project, the number of young people dying from suicide was at a 10-year high in Australia—in 2017 alone, more than 3,100 people in Australia died by suicide. A lack of well-targeted support and a failure to keep up with the growing demand for services meant young people—particularly the most vulnerable in our community—were not finding the assistance they needed.

Impact opportunity

Lifeline’s support offering was primarily phone-based, which opened up enormous opportunities to leverage the privacy and benefits that accompany the widespread use of smartphones. We worked with Social Ventures Australia to engage deeply with help seekers and bring a new service to life.

The process

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After getting ethics research approval, we conducted in-situ participatory research with highly vulnerable people with a wide range of lived experience including grief, financial hardship, domestic violence, homelessness, mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse.


Not only were we able to simulate aspects of the service to a fine detail, but we were able to co-design the service with the people who actually use it.
This was the first time Lifeline had been able to conduct a conversation with a help seeker and ask them to actively input into improving the service immediately after.

Tait Ischia
Head of Content, Today

“As many as 42 per cent of people who texted said they would not have sought help via phone or another service if the textline had not been available, found the independent review by the Australian Health Services Research Institute at the University of Wollongong.”

“More people from the lesbian, gay, trans and intersex community were also texting. Research by La Trobe University found 71 per cent did not use traditional counselling because they anticipated discrimination.”

Julie Power

Sydney Morning Herald, November 19, 2019

A user-designed service

Our research involved a range of user-centred design activities involving paper prototypes and hands-on activities.

Using activities and materials such as these allowed us to delve deep into the experience of both help seekers and crisis supporters in order to truly understand their needs and expectations of a text-based service.

“Being given options and being empowered to make personal choices about what level of care and what level of support that you want—it makes so much difference.”—Help seeker

Help seekers want text to be used to give them choice and agency. They generally know there are options other than suicide, but lack the ability to understand the full range of choices and the strategies to implement them. Recommendations that are personalised to their situation feel more achievable.


Our research with Today and SVA enabled us to design the service with help seekers and crisis supporters. It has provided new depth to our understanding about what people expect and need when they are in crisis. We also have a better appreciation of the technology challenges, new ideas for evolving the service model and specific directions for how our workforce will need to be trained.

Dr Sally Bradford
Senior Project Manager, Lifeline


The lifeline Text service was launched as a pilot in 2018. The pilot was hugely successful and enabled Lifeline to provide discreet access for people during times of crisis. Lifeline are hoping to secure funding to make the service a permanent offering.


Strategy, ethnography, and service design to help transition young people out of homelessness with DHHS

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