My Story Matters: Discovery Report Launch

My Story Matters was a Comic Relief funded collaboration between On Our Radar and SafeLives that worked with young people across the UK to better understand why they were missing from domestic violence services, despite the risks they face in their young relationships. Speaking at the launch event, Radar Founder and Director, Libby Drew, describes a co-production process that was driven by young people’s experiences and resulted in a dynamic platform for their stories and voices. 

Asking Questions

At Radar, we continue to ask our partners and funders to have the courage to start a project with a question or an enquiry, rather than a pre-defined solution or outcome. We ask them to be brave in moving away from the log frame; the defined milestones; and the fixed costs. Because to embark on a co-production journey means to embrace uncertainty and go into something with the authenticity of simply not knowing the answer.

When Comic Relief opened up their Tech for Good fund, it was clear that they were aiming to bring together a community of partners who valued discovery by pairing up learnt experience with lived experience. In doing so, it opened up the opportunity to have a go at answering the hardest questions about abuse and violence in society. And as we know, asking questions is powerful as it gives permission for others to ask their own. 

We partnered up with SafeLives because of a shared interest in opening up a particular ‘black box’ around the specific vulnerabilities in teenage relationships. We shared a concern that young people continue to be poorly understood and rarely represented across domestic violence services in the UK. 

When researchers do look into young relationships, they flag concerns around the specific and, often, heightened risks that teenagers face around relationship-based violence. So what is preventing them from coming forward to seek support? To understand this absence we knew we had to go directly to the experts. The young people themselves.

Young People guided us every step of the way: Discover; Define; Design; Develop; Disseminate

Talk about Toxic

Complex issues are best unpicked through conversation. Radar will rarely use surveys alone as they are fundamentally extractive rather than collaborative. They request and dig for information without enabling a dialogue or shared journey with that insight. That said, they can offer a degree of anonymity and the potential to hear from people organically, at scale. As a starting point, and as one tool in a broader toolkit, there is a place for them to enrich and broaden research and journalism.

Talk about Toxic was a national survey launched via Typeform. Through a conversational frame, it gathered anonymous responses to a range of questions around young people and their relationships, both on and offline, looking at how they make judgements as to what was care or coercion; love or control. 

Over 500 young people responded to the questions and, among a great diversity of answers, two responses were almost unanimous and went on to define the rest of the development journey. When asked ‘who they look to for help, clarity and guidance’, the resounding answer was ‘my best friend’.

An Invisible Frontline of Peer Support

As we poured over the survey, this concept of an invisible frontline emerged, almost like a national ‘shadow’ service of advisory support, tackling teenager relationship-based violence. Best friends across the country, being asked to provide care and support, and critically, to provide clarity on what constituted abuse and toxic relationships. This isn’t new. Friends couldn’t be a more ancient form of support. Yet, to see it named so readily, and to acknowledge how little investment and support this invisible frontline gets, is rather chilling. 

The survey also found that there was a real lack of clarity among young people as to what abuse actually looks and feels like in the context of their relationships. Of course, every generation looks at the next as more complicated. Yet, there is no doubt that young relationships have become more complex and multi-layered as a result of cultural, social and digital shifts over the last decade. Even trying to define a relationship is more difficult. This means the tools and language that services are using are out of touch with the channels and phrases that teens use within their peer groups.

Young people do not relate to the term domestic abuse

From the survey arose a more enhanced question:

How can we use technology to help young people better clarify what constituted abuse and toxic behaviour, so they could help themselves and their best friends to spot it, call it out, and get help?

The Co-production Journey

This sparked a lively and fast-paced co-production journey. It took us across the UK, into school assembly halls, classrooms and youth groups, armed with chalk, gaffer tape and storyboards to try and get deeper under the skin of some of those original answers. This way, we could bring them to life, starting to incorporate both the language and experiences that young people shared into the beginnings of digital production, getting us closer to answering that huge question.

As the young people scribbled on their boards and chalked up their floors, they shared the complexities of their relationship journeys. Flicking back in my mind, I can see their eager hands up, asking again and again for clarity on whether a certain harsh word or controlling action constituted abuse. We drew a line on the floor and read out stories asking them to position themselves at a point between care and control. As we shared each story, one child stood firmly on the ‘care’ point every single time.

Their hands straight up in the air as they hit a stumbling block, the chalk lines on the floor, the storylines from their boards and, of course, the knowledge of this invisible frontline of best friends, was all taken with us as we went into a design sprint and started to try and give those ‘lines’ some shape.

Unwanted sexual behaviour was a common feature in the stories young people shared with us.

Is there ever really a clear line between loving and toxic relationship behaviours?

Before the project, we contemplated that there was perhaps a grey area. Some lack of clarity around those lines. It was quite powerful, then, to sit in a room with SafeLives and hear them say that there is absolutely a line, one that could be documented and shared. It wasn’t blurry at all. Nor was it grey. It was undeniably black and white.

Again, the best practice around co-production isn’t extractive or prescriptive. It doesn’t suck information out of young people, ending the conversation there. But nor does it block any interaction or response.

Just telling young people what relationship abuse looks like would have been a satisfactory activity but it would have missed an incredible window of dialogue and discovery. The co-production sessions reminded us all how interactive, kinetic, and physical young people are. They are a generation who have grown up with micro-engagements: responsive, playful interaction with short, sharp information bites. To complement this, we wanted to develop something that responded to that interactive energy.

Moving Online

As lockdown hit right in the middle of our co-production journey, not only did it shift our work online, it also fundamentally altered the very nature and fabric of the young people’s relationships, almost overnight. There was an increasingly desperate need for clarity around the online abuse of young people and that any tool would also have to meet young people online. It needed to reach them where they were – out of school and out of their usual social relationships.

Now as a remote steering group online, several demands emerged. They didn’t want another app. The app-athy amongst the generation, whose handsets are cluttered already, was easy to understand. They also didn’t want to give away any data or personal information in order to get advice. Clearly, this was one of their own red lines. They told us how they were accessing the site via mobile rather than desktop or laptop, and, most importantly, they discussed how they didn’t want to hear adult voices. They wanted to hear their own age group speaking to them, without the framing of service language.

Young people want support in understanding what is and isn't okay in their relationships

So there we had it, we needed to create a tool that was creative and interactive. A tool that focused on young people’s voices without adult mediation, was mobile-first access through a URL and didn’t ask for any identifiable data. All of this together needed to offer clear advice on how young people can draw the line and enable them to seek support.

Next to this, we wanted to provide insight for the sector itself, so that they could also learn from this tool. We wanted to generate information about what young relationships looked and sounded like, highlighting which behaviours were most confusing for young people.

Adding to the challenge of development during a pandemic, we also had to carry out the whole project within 12 months, from the start of that initial enquiry to the co-design, development, and rollout of a brand-new product. 

Draw the Line

Draw the Line emerged out of this messy but incredibly engaged co-design journey. It’s an interactive mobile platform that asks nothing but your age and invites you to scroll through short, anonymous, real-life relationship stories that were collected through the co-production journey and have been submitted by young people via a safeguarding screening process. 

Users can... Read real relationship stories by teens; Draw a line through harmful behaviours; Compare with other teens; Find out where abuse experts draw the line; Submit their own story; Find support or help a friend

Users can physically draw a line with their fingertips through elements of the relationship they feel are harmful or abusive. They can interact with them to see where peers have drawn their lines, and then where SafeLives have drawn the line and why. There is an option for users to submit their own anonymous stories which, after their safeguarding screening, can appear on site within a day. With this, they can then both contribute to helping their peers learn but also experience their own story being marked up by SafeLives, perhaps giving themselves more clarity over when they control their own line. All users can access resources around helping their best friend and seeking support.

With each story submitted, and every line drawn, the sector learns more about young relationships and where they lack clarity. We can read the stories and see how the language compares to the scripts and phrases that services are using. We can see which stories are read the most and which are the most compelling and relatable.

Last summer, we rolled out the platform via social media. We had no idea whether we’d reach young people, yet, in the first six weeks, we had over 2000 users, many of them submitting stories, with 10,000 unique views of the platform. 

Filling the Gap

One of Radar’s driving points has always been to shift the power through both listening and producing solutions. No different, this project was led from an asset-based approach, seeing young peoples lived experience as a valuable asset missing in society, and pairing that up with professional learnt experience in technical development, research, and graphic design. It shifted beyond a rights-based approach whereby young people have the right to be heard and should be invited to speak, turning this on its head. 

The sector desperately needs these young people to speak and contribute, otherwise, we can’t do our jobs properly. This changes it from an invitation to an ask, which is far more powerful and dignified. The idea of an inclusive approach is laudable. Still,  one young person said to us that waiting to be included is a bit like waiting to be picked for the netball team. Anyone who has stood on the side, where every second feels like a lifetime, can remember the lack of power and agency in waiting to be picked.

95% felt more confident to seek help; 98% said reading the stories helped them understand the different forms an unhealthy relationship might take; 75% said the platform felt relevant to them; 93% felt more confident in their understanding of what an unhealthy relationship is

Looking Back 

We didn’t get everything right with Draw the Line. We were ambitious in our 12-month window, possibly overly ambitious. We ploughed through the pandemic when, perhaps, we could have slowed down and been braver about asking for an extension whilst we waited for the dust to settle. Yet, in hindsight, we would still be waiting.

Although we were proud of the breadth of diversity in the voices that we heard, in some cases, we were hearing just one story from a particular excluded demographic. Clearly, we need to look ahead to the depths of our engagement as well as the breadth of that diversity, hearing from a whole community of excluded young people, rather than one brave soul.

Still, Draw the Line is possibly one of the most exciting projects that Radar has worked on within its 10 years of running community voice enquiries.


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QR code for the Draw the Line platform