An innovative approach to family violence

Government agencies are using innovative processes to remove barriers to addressing family violence. Laura Walters takes a look at the latest projects in the pipeline.

Two new initiatives aimed at removing barriers in the area of family violence response and prevention are being developed through a little-known government technology accelerator programme.

Lightning Lab Govtech, a public sector accelerator programme run out of WellingtonNZ’s CreativeHQ, is mandated to solve urgent problems, which would have a big impact on the way government agencies and citizens interact.

Last year, the programme helped create the police Safer Sooner programme, which is now being piloted in Kaitaia, Christchurch and Manukau.

Safer Sooner aims to improve the information flow and case management of family violence cases.

Lightning Lab Govtech programme director Jonnie Haddon said currently victims had to tell their stories to different agencies, at numerous points in the process, which could often do more harm.

By connecting the backend systems of the agencies involved, including police, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and health, victims and survivors could get better outcomes.

The solution saw agencies given access to the same data about a case, without breaching anyone’s privacy or compromising their data.

Police who run the family violence Integrated Safety Response unit identified issues with the way data and information was gathered, stored and shared between agencies.

As part of the focused efforts to reduce family violence, they decided to try a new approach.

“I would argue it’s a lot more risky to take a long, slow, traditional approach than it is to take a short, fast, much cheaper approach where you are experimenting and testing whether you’re going to achieve the outcomes before you build it."

The accelerator project team worked with public departments, community members and leaders, as well as those with lived experience, to identify the problem and come up with concepts for solutions. They then tested those concepts to see whether they would get the desired outcomes.

Haddon said the process was fast-paced, with an emphasis on feedback and testing. The testing enabled the team to determine whether the concept solutions would get the desired outcomes before money was spent on building the “widget” or platform.

The project was a recognition that in order to tackle New Zealand’s high rates of family violence – more than 120,000 reported incidents a year – it would take a multi-agency approach.

Following the accelerator programme last year, Safer Sooner was given funding from the Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund to create a digital prototype and pilot the system.

Breaking down barriers

This month, Lightning Lab Govtech announced its 10 projects for this year’s accelerator programme. Among them was another family violence-focused issue.

Women’s Refuge and MSD would lead the work on figuring out how to create a ‘family violence portal’ or effectively a one-stop shop for information and support for those affected.

Women’s Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said this was an opportunity to solve a problem that had been plaguing the sector for years.

Women's refuge head Ang Jury said this project would not stop family violence but it would help people access the information as assistance they needed, when they needed it. Photo: Supplied

There is a raft of crisis lines and websites running throughout the country, but they were not connected and the responses was fragmented.

The inconsistency of the system created a further barrier to receiving help or information, Jury said.

At the moment, agencies like MSD were spending a lot of money on a lot of different lines and resources, she said.

This approach was not economical and there was a high dependence on volunteers.

“If we’re going to keep talking about wanting to change things, we need to make it easier for people to do the right thing.”

A one-stop portal would allow people, including victims, perpetrators, and other concerned parties to get information “right then, right there, at the right moment, from the right person”.

“We’re sick of seeing the continual stories in the paper. We’re sick of it and we’ve got to get serious about making sure we can get help to people when they need it."

“This is not going to stop family violence, but it just takes away another opportunity to do nothing.”

The accelerator programme gave those involved the ability to dig into the problem and come up with solutions without worrying about things like contract conversations or cost, she said.

Testing solutions before building the platform, and rolling it out, was an attractive part of the process because the stakes were too high to get it wrong.

“This is not going to stop family violence, but it just takes away another opportunity to do nothing.”

A different approach

Haddon said the accelerator approach was an ideal fit for New Zealand, with its reputation as a wellbeing innovator, size, high-technology adoption rates and lack of corruption.

However, the country was not currently leveraging its advantage in the innovation space.

There were a lot of smart and passionate people in government but the traditional approach to creating a new platform or initiative was laborious, costly and often did not achieve the desired outcomes.

Government was risk-averse and the system was not set up for fast, innovative processes, he said, adding that it was hard to find department managers who were willing to try something new.

“I would argue it’s a lot more risky to take a long, slow, traditional approach than it is to take a short, fast, much cheaper approach where you are experimenting and testing whether you’re going to achieve the outcomes before you build it," he said.

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