SafeLives design workshop

Working with SafeLives


SafeLives is a national charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse: something 2 million people in the UK experience every year, 1.3 million of them women. Seven women die each month at the hands of either a partner or an ex.


SafeLives’ CEO, Suzanne Jacob, had experienced first-hand the transformative power of digital while working with an NGO in Delhi, India, where she had seen mobile technology help Indian charities extend their reach, spread information and create community activists for thousands of miles around.

Motivated by a sense of unexplored opportunities and missed potential, Suzanne was excited to see what SafeLives could achieve with a little digital guidance and embarked on a CAST Digital Fellowship in 2016. She told us, “When I started at SafeLives I had a glut of enthusiasm but very little knowledge. Friends laughed at my passion for tech. I had the verve of an evangelist but nothing to do with my energy!”


Throughout the Fellowship, Suzanne ran a series of lunch and learn sessions for her team to share practical takeaways; lean and agile processes, putting end users at the heart of service design and how to map out sustainable revenue models for new digital products.

When it came to the design workshop at the end of the core programme, two key organisational challenges presented themselves.

Comic Relief and Microsoft had already awarded the charity a £20,000 grant to build an online peer-support and learning site for the 2,000 independent domestic violence advisory organisations (IDVAs) that it is SafeLives’ job to train. At the time of joining the Fellowship, there had been a couple of team changes on the project and progress on rolling it out had stalled.

At the design workshop and under CAST’s guidance, SafeLives reconfigured the platform they had set up for this online community, mapped a workable growth strategy and developed a rollout plan that included rigorous user testing.

A separate group used the workshop to tackle a serious time-sink in the organisation: their inefficient and convoluted system for data collection and measurement.


Less than a year from launch, the site has already attracted more than 800 specialists in domestic abuse, from voluntary sector IDVAs to police officers, children’s social care workers and mental health professionals. It is constantly being updated with new content that responds to the sector’s needs.

But the collaboration with CAST had an impact far beyond the duration of the Fellowship and far exceeding Jacob’s expectations—allowing SafeLives to become much more nimble and iterative, connected and responsive to its users. The charity now runs off analytics and data; has a Digital Steering Group and is overhauling its inefficient data-collection and measurement system.

Crucially, the charity has really grasped the very specific threats and opportunities digital poses for victims of domestic abuse, for whom online is both a means to research and access help, but also a space where an abuser can track efforts to escape which carries a tremendously high risk of retaliation. It is in this area that SafeLives has had its most dramatic impact: leading a £35,000 design research programme for Comic Relief to chart the ways in which technology can help address domestic abuse, mapping what support already exists, and drawing up a set of design principles on which every charity in the sector can now base their product design —an invaluable, shared tool for fellow charities. The SafeLives report is available at the and has informed the work of all 12 grantees for Comic Relief’s £530,000 TechvsAbuse fund.

As part of this work, the charity recently convened a roundtable of major technology companies and domestic abuse organisations to discuss how digital platforms are being used as a tool for abuse, and ways this could be mitigated. By kick-starting this vital conversation SafeLives has bridged two sectors and brought the voice of frontline organisations – and the beneficiaries they represent – into timely debates about technology design and ethics. In conjunction with this, the charity’s new #EveryStoryMatters platform is helping to capture written, video and audio uploads of domestic abuse survivors. With over 1,000 stories shared in the first month alone, the initiative is enabling SafeLives to place their users front and centre of designing new projects and advocacy programmes, and influencing wider policy and industry change.

“Working with CAST triggered a real process of transformation at SafeLives. We are living proof that charities can achieve their ambitions much faster, more cheaply and more effectively if they embrace tech and digital. SafeLives now has the capability – added to the motivation we always had – to put our end users front and centre in service design. We also know how to map out sustainable income models for new digital products.

“We face the future knowing that we are more resilient to funding volatility and much better equipped to hear, learn from and respond to our end users and the way they live their lives.” – Suzanne Jacob, CEO and Digital Fellow