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Synthesising research about how abuse survivors & practitioners use tech

thematic analysis of findings

After collecting insights for our research for one month which included discussions in social media forums, focus groups, surveys and interviews — researchers from Chayn, Snook, SafeLives and Comic Relief met for a ‘Synthesis Day’ to discuss our findings and share what we have learnt. Before we discuss what we did on Synthesis Day, let’s first define what we mean by synthesis?

What does Synthesis mean?

Jon Kolko, an associate creative director for Frog Design and Founder & Director of Austin Centre for Design, says

‘Synthesis is the process of making meaning though inference-based sense making.’

What does that actually mean? Kolko simplifies it further by saying it’s a process of learning by making ‘meaning of Data.’ What does our research tell us? What issues are women in abusive relationships facing with technology? Synthesis is the bridge between research and design. By understanding what issues women are facing, we can design effective solutions to improve women’s experience with technology throughout the different stages of an abusive relationship.

What did we do?

1. Reported back our research findings to the rest of the team. 2. Created personas to show a range of women, in different stages of their abusive relationships, who would be using design proposals at the end of the project. 3. Created use case cards to define what requirements need to be met in the design of the solutions. 4. Created user journeys to illustrate a scenario in a woman’s life, in their abusive relationship, to see what experience they are having.

What did we learn from our research?

To sum up, women have used technology to educate themselves on domestic abuse and found the internet to be useful to search for information on topics such as gaslighting, and how to deal with abusers. Some women have found online support groups and forums very useful with regards to awareness of their situation. But there were varying experiences. We’ve found that it was rare to find information and resources online that are transferred into real support offline. Google searches can lead into rabbit holes of information that is factual and not that helpful. We found that privacy and security were some of the biggest concerns among women in abusive relationships. There is a strong need to be able to search for help or information without getting caught easily. This shows why this research is so important and why we need to make sure that women have the best experience as possible to get the right help as quickly as possible.

Here are some feedback from women who took part in our research:

“…to get advice from other people (people on the forums — I didn’t really know anyone on there [found it easier to talk to ‘strangers’ than family]…”

“Bad websites make me have a very bad experience. you go round in circles finding information and that can become very frustrating. Both user journey and not finding what you’re looking for. Realising that this is just a website. This is the worst part for me. It’s only a website with a number that doesn’t work. I had nasty experiences and they make you feel desperate at the point.”

“I educated myself on domestic abuse, how it happens and how to overcome it. There are loads of videos giving advice.”


According to Eeva Llama,

‘A persona is a representation of a user, typically based off user research and incorporating user goals, needs, and interests.’

Simply put, who would be using your product or service? What are their hopes and motivation for using your product or service? Working in pairs, we came up with several personas, each at a different stage of their abusive relationship (pre-awareness, wanting to leave, escaped & in recovery etc.] Personas are really useful to illustrate who we are designing for. It’s also a good reminder for us that we are researching and designing with victims and survivors in mind, at every stage of the project.

Use Cases

Next, we came up with use cases to narrow our requirements for design. Use cases usually follow as structure like,

When [insert situation], I need [insert action] so that I can [insert result].

This helps us in check that we’re meeting women’s needs and responding to their concerns throughout this project.

User Journeys

Finally, we worked in teams of 3 or 4 to create a user journey to show a day in the life of a woman who has survived or is currently experiencing domestic violence. Policy Lab UK define User Journeys as,

‘…a step by step map showing how people interact with services. They can identify the highs and the lows and therefore what aspects new ideas can build on or improve.’

In other words, user journeys for this project were a series of steps that represents a scenario for a woman in abusive relationship. For example, if a woman wanted to leave her abusive relationship, what would be her journey? Can she find help? If not, what obstacles is she facing? How might she go about looking for help? We highlighted which service and/or tools they would possibly use and their feelings. We explored key barriers that she would face and what opportunities are available to resolve her issues. Creating user journeys helps us understand the context of the problem and it helps us to find gaps in women’s experience with technology that need to be addressed in a design proposal. Our user journeys will feed into the next phase — Design, at a workshop that we’re holding in September [more details here], where it’ll be used as a foundation to build on for all design proposals.

What did we learn from Synthesis Day?

  • It’s possible that 4 organisations can work together!

  • Working in teams is the best way to bounce off ideas & challenge them!

  • Have a schedule for synthesis day and be sure to stick to it. Thanks to Eve from Snook with her plan for Synthesis Day, we were able to meet a lot of our objectives for the day and that wouldn’t have happened without a plan in place!

  • When dealing with a sensitive and complex problem like abuse, accept that you may not be able to solve all of the problems. Tackle one problem at a time.

  • Share your knowledge. If someone else isn’t familiar with the way you work, use that opportunity to teach them.

  • When feeling stuck, reframe the question and look at it from a different angle.

  • Always keep the people you’re designing for, at the heart of your project. If it doesn’t respond to their needs and issues, chances are your product/service won’t be used!

What’s next?

Chayn and Snook are co-hosting a workshop in September to work with women, in different stages of their abusive relationships, to create solutions for the issues they’re facing as well as meeting the gaps identified in our research. If you identify yourself as a women with experience of domestic abuse and would like to join us, sign up here. We look forward to see you there! Any questions? Get in touch with us:


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