About the Project
Hello Cass is the world’s first SMS chatbot addressing family and sexual violence. Launched in Victoria in 2019, it provides instant access to discreet, anonymous and localised information and support for people experiencing or affected by family and sexual violence.
We developed Hello Cass in consultation with specialist organisations from the prevention of violence against women sector, as well as community health organisations and leaders, to ensure the information and support provided is culturally informed and inclusive. Together, we created a solution that is trauma informed and helps people overcome barriers such as fear, shame, self-doubt, language and location.
The technology powering Hello Cass is an elegant combination of simple artificial intelligence (AI) concepts and reliable, accessible SMS infrastructure. Through this approach, community members in regional and remote locations who are so often excluded can reliably access information and support for domestic violence, sexual assault, and emotional, psychological and financial abuse.
Real impact is hard to measure with traditional tools
From launching in May 2019 through to when we spun down the servers for Australia in August 2022, Hello Cass sent close to 20,000 messages. Using the average length of conversations, we estimate this equates to just over 1,000 unique conversations, almost one per day.
But this data doesn’t really address impact; we reckon that when people focus on usage data, it’s more about the PR than the actual impact. The challenge is the reliability – or fuzziness – of the data. We can see in the (anonymous) usage data many conversations where help seekers have used the platform for its intended purpose. And we can also see ‘explorers’, where folks are navigating around the service for different reasons. For example, to understand how the platform works (hint – we used simple weighted keywords for navigation for the MVP) or to explore the concept for their own initiative to tackle gender-based violence.
And the last point is where our impact really blew us away. Whilst we are incredibly proud of the 20,000 messages of support we have sent on this pioneering platform, the real impact has been much more significant but impossible to quantify.
Teams from Solomon Islands, Spain, Canada, India, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, Thailand and the Phillipines who found Hello Cass, have reached out for support for their respective platforms addressing family and sexual violence. The goodwill, generosity and shared vision of this community of practice have been humbling; and an incredibly satisfying way to transition to the next chapter for Hello Cass.
Men are looking for help, too
We identified a trend in the data soon after we launched and persisted for the duration of the project: 20% of help seekers were looking for information about men’s behaviour change and support services.
Tech for Social Impact needs to be more transparent about its socialness and its impact.
At Good Hood, we want the Tech for Social Impact sector – of which we’re proud members – to have ongoing, meaningful and transparent conversations about the ethics of our work, user privacy, data usage and usage data, representation, consultation and engagement. We won’t always get it right, and we definitely won’t always have the answers, but we believe that a commitment to transparency, self-reflection and continuous improvement in these areas is essential for everyone working for social impact.
Realising cross-agency collaboration in Australia is really hard
This is a pretty self-explanatory insight, and for any readers with experience in the sector, it probably reads as more of a truism than an insight. Just because an organisation is a not-for-profit doesn’t mean it isn’t seeking a competitive advantage of some description, and some of the behaviour of stakeholders from across the NFP, social impact and gender-based violence sector was less than productive. We’ve observed bigger players absorbing all the funding, misleading impact data, expectations that we should work for others unpaid, plagiarism, and even bullying and trolling at a personal level. Developing and running Hello Cass for Australia was a satisfying but tough job. We’ll tell you about it in longer form some time.
Satisfied with the impact we could achieve with the resources available for the Australian context, Hello Cass Australia has powered down in its current iteration.
But it’s only the beginning! We’re thrilled to announce that the impact continues to grow, as we’re working with partners from across the Pacific who lead the content development and community engagement strategy for their own communities whilst leveraging Hello Cass infrastructure to deliver their own SMS-enabled chat services. We also continue to provide consulting services to other organisations wishing to create their own chatbots to address gender-based violence and sexual harassment in Australia.
An SMS-enabled chatbot, creating an easier way to talk about family and sexual violence.
Myer Foundation – Kenneth Myer Innovation Fellowship (Victoria), Ruah Community Services (WA)
Cohealth, Berry Street Family Services, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (now Safe + Equal), CASA Forum, and No To Violence.