How non-profits are using technology to put help at the fingertips of young Australians
Posted on September 11, 2018
6 min read
Who remembers going to the library to borrow books for a school assignment, or if you were a child of the 90’s perhaps you used CD-ROM encyclopaedias like Encarta? For today’s generations, the internet is now the first port of call for research and information gathering.
As we know, the internet is about so much more than that, from improving social connectedness to providing greater accessibility to essential services like banking and government support, the benefits of being online are well documented.
However, with such a wealth of information available now available, we’ve all experienced challenges around finding the right answers quickly.
Through the Tech4Good Challenge, three remarkable non-profit organisations – Infoxchange, Youth Law Australia and Youth Junction – are exploring ways to make accessing essential information more efficient for diverse and disadvantaged young people.
“Youth homelessness in Australia is a bigger problem than many people realise. Every night 116,000 Australians are sleeping rough, and 40 per cent are under the age of 24,” says Infoxchange Senior Program Manager Lisa Fletcher.
“Our Ask Izzy mobile website provides information on more than 360,000 services for young people experiencing homelessness, including where to find food, a safe place to sleep, showers, toilets, clothes for interviews and support services like lifeline.”
Whilst up to 80 per cent of people experiencing homelessness have access to a smartphone, the way young people are using mobile technology is changing. One fifth of mobile enquiries are now by voice and 40 percent of adults use voice searches more than once a day.
Armed with data from more than one million searches through the platform since it first launched in 2016, Lisa and her team are using the Tech4Good challenge to explore adding a voice activated digital assistant to the website.
“Not only will a voice assistant help users access the information they need quickly, it also enables us to address some accessibility challenges around low literacy, vision impairment, limited hand dexterity and English as a second language, whilst providing a human two-way connection for users,” said Lisa.
Users will also have the option to receive more information via SMS following a conversation with the voice assistant.
The pilot will initially run in Melbourne, a hotspot for homelessness, to allow the Infoxchange team to develop a good user experience and ensure people’s needs are being met. From there, Lisa hopes to add more translation services for languages other than English, and expand to a national roll out.
“The digital assistant has been co-designed with young people and I’m really excited about the benefits it will bring to Ask Izzy users, most importantly by providing a personalised, conversational and supportive way for young people to find the services they need,” said Lisa.
Youth Law Australia
Annually, 1.5 million Australians aged 15 to 24 will experience a legal problem, but what’s more surprising is that the great majority won’t receive any legal help to resolve their issue.
“There are two factors at play here – often young people don’t realise what they are experiencing is a problem that would benefit from legal help. Secondly, they find it incredibly difficult to identify the right solution for their situation,” says Youth Law Australia (YLA) Director Matthew Keeley.
For more than 25 years YLA (formerly the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre) has provided free legal assistance to young Australians experiencing problems ranging from cyber bullying to debt stress and relationship breakdowns.
“With legal support that is tailored to the individual and communicated in a way that’s easy to understand, young people can avoid or at least mitigate the effects of these problems,” continues Matthew.
“Research shows adolescents are more likely to search online for help than approach their peers or parents. However, they’re often getting lost in complex and poorly organised service systems.”
Through the Tech4Good challenge, Matthew and his team are exploring adding a digital assistant to their website to transform the way young people discover and receive legal help.
“We’re calling our digital assistant AYLA – Ask Youth Law Australia – and she will be the first point of contact for people visiting our website. By having a conversation with users through a variety of new platforms including an artificially intelligent chatbot, we’ll be able to provide young people with tailored solutions and referrals to the services they need,” said Matthew.
Looking further ahead, AYLA will also be available on some of the YLA’s partner websites that support mental health, youth workers, people with a disability and more to ensure that when young people and their advocates search these services online, there’s legal support available too.
“These organisations already value our support and we see this as an innovation the whole sector can benefit from.”
The Youth Junction Inc. is a unique ‘one stop shop’ of services designed to support the ever changing and complex youth dynamic in the North West Region of Melbourne.
“With up to 20 not for profit organisations operating within the hub, we support approximately 18,000 young people who face a range of disadvantages, through multiple services and programs delivered by psychiatrists, GPs, mental health professionals, lawyers and more,” said The Youth Junction Inc CEO Dr Karen Hart.
Currently, 12 to 25 year olds requiring access to these services are formally referred through schools, legal representatives, community organisations or the court system.
“What we’re finding is that meeting us in person is much more effective than talking over the phone but we still need to get young people through the door by using a variety of methods including SMS, telephone, Facebook and website. Often young people become anxious or confused about how best to use our services and a youth user-friendly app would offer the best solution to this problem,” says Karen.
Through the Tech4Good program, Karen and The Youth Junction Inc.’s Program Coordinator Kristine Bugeja are developing a mobile app called ‘YouthSpace’ which will allow young people to navigate the system, stay connected, engaged and informed, and control their interactivity and help-seeking in a confidential way.
“The app will allow users to access helpline services, speak with a case worker confidentially, make appointments, view video tutorials to guide them through law enforcement situations and explain their rights and responsibilities in different youth-related scenarios. “ said Kristine.
“By providing this information in a digital format and using language that’s easy to understand, we’re able to connect with, and educate, young people facing disadvantage through a platform they feel comfortable to use, respond well to and engage with ease.”
“Ultimately, we hope the app will help reduce some of the fear and anxiety young people have around receiving professional help. We want to stop young people from falling through the cracks, and instead help them on pathways to better health, housing, employment and further education opportunities,” said Karen.
Visit The Telstra Foundation’s Tech4Good hub to find out more about the Tech4Good Challenge and the 15 participating non-profits.