Project Synergy research and development cycle

Project Synergy: Research and development cycle

In Australia, one in four young people aged 16–24 years experiences mental ill health every year.

A compounding challenge is that young people are often reluctant to seek help, with data from the second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Wellbeing indicating that only 21% of young men and 22% of young women with emotional or behavioural problems accessed any form of mental health care in 2013–2014

Technology-based mental health resources and interventions have been highlighted as a key part of the solution for better access to, and quality of, mental health services.

Not only do online health and wellbeing technologies address traditional geographical, economic and human resource barriers, they can also provide a valuable platform for screening, prevention, early intervention and referral processes.

There has been rapid growth in the availability of online health information technologies for young people who report feeling comfortable accessing mental health tools online. Most research in this field has focused on testing the effectiveness of health information technologies; however, engagement and dropout rates have been identified as significant problems.

To address this, involvement of users from the outset is now viewed as best practice. Meaningful involvement of young people in the design and development of health information technologies from the start is an important step in improving engagement and potential impact as it maximises the value of the technology to the user.

Ultimately, engagement of users from the outset, and in all design and development processes, is more likely to result in technology that is far more personalised and responsive to their needs.

However, a recent systematic review of the design and development of technology-based youth mental health and wellbeing interventions reported that youth participation is variable, with 70% of projects being predominantly consultative in nature, and only 30% collaborative.

Co-designing solutions

Utilising strategies to enhance community and consumer participation is now a national priority for 2020 in the health, medical and research sectors. Participatory design (also referred to as co-design) methodologies are one way of achieving this.

As co-design positions users at the centre of the design process, 17 the user’s role is not only as a consultant or tester of technology solutions but also as a co- designer who has involvement from conception to completion of the project.

Co-design as a principle is not new. It was developed in the 1960s in relation to technical communication, and its importance has been advocated for more than two decades. It was not until recently, however, that these methodologies have been applied to design and develop health and wellbeing technologies such as telemedicine services, e-health solutions for women with perinatal depression, information systems in health care, web-based integrated care plans and mindfulness programs.

To find out more, download our supplement ‘Project Synergy: Research and development cycle‘ from the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Australia.