Silent channel to address gender-based violence during the COVID-19 lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures led to an increase in gender-based violence worldwide. In this context, the Government of Chile and Argentina, in an international collaboration with Facebook, took on the challenge of creating a silent channel to provide emotional support and information to women who live with their aggressor. In Chile, the project was led by
the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, and the Government (Innovation) Laboratory.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), an increase in violence against women was observed worldwide. In Colombia, lockdown measures generated a 50% increase in calls for counselling in cases of violence. In China, the increase was 50%, in France 32% and in Argentina 25%. In Chile, the observed increase in the number of calls to the 1455 telephone hotline of the National Service for Women's Rights - part of the National Service for Women and Gender Equity (SernamEG) - was 70% compared to the same period in 2019. Lockdown measures make it difficult for victims of domestic violence, who often have to quarantine with their aggressors, making it difficult to ask for help verbally over the phone.

Urgency gave way to opportunity and a public innovation project was initiated with the need to create a silent communication channel to help women experiencing domestic violence. Given the need for a silent and mass medium, an international collaboration was initiated with Facebook Latin America, who own the messaging service Whatsapp, which has an estimated 64% adoption rate in Latin America and 85% in Chile. A cross-border public-private collaboration was therefore initiated with the governments of Chile and Argentina. Both public institutions, in collaboration with the Facebook Latin America team, developed and implemented a new Whatsapp care channel: silent, flexible, confidential and 24/7. The service was publicly launched on April 28, 2020.

In the case of Chile, the process was carried out under the leadership of the Government Laboratory, together with support and technical expertise of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity. In the logic of agile weekly cycles, the phases of the innovation process were developed in an accelerated manner due to the emergency and lockdown situation. The methodological phases of the project were the following:

1. Discovery: based mainly on the review of international literature, together with interviews with experts in gender violence. This led to the construction of empathy maps.

2. Ideation and design: using various digital tools which resulted in the generation of guidelines and recommendations for the design and implementation of the service, mostly related to privacy and confidentiality of the service. For example, that the name of the Whatsapp contact should not be the official one so as to not raise suspicions and avoid risks of retaliation against women using the service.

3. Prototyping and testing: through the design tool of a multi-layered interaction. This made it possible to identify three different types of service and associate the initial recommendations with the technological functionalities provided by the Whatsapp channel. The interactions were tested with experts in gender-based violence and were adjusted according to their feedback. They were also tested with the Botmaker - Whatsapp technology provider team.

4. Implementation and scaling up: which included training for the service team, both in the new protocols for silent and confidential instant messaging, as well as in technical terms for the management and support of the new channel. In this context, operating manuals for the new service were created. In addition, Facebook Latin America's regional team adapted its operating and privacy policies and made available the necessary technological resources for the project's implementation.

The project for the design and implementation of a new silent channel constitutes an important public innovation initiative because:
- It takes advantage of an widely used communication channel such as Whatsapp, transforming it into a support service in face of a global challenge.
- It brings together diverse actors from the public and private sectors in pursuit of a common goal.
- It considers a design process with experimental logic, which allowed the creation of a flexible service according to the needs of the client.

Innovation Description

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Year: 2020
Level of government: National/Federal government


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