Question 1 – How have you adapted service delivery in response to the bushfires, floods and Coronavirus pandemic? When has it worked and when hasn’t it worked? How will this affect how you deliver services in the future? Have your service adaptations included better integration with other initiatives?
During 2020, Smiling Mind experienced unprecedented demand for our app, tools and programs. Overall, we had 1.25 million new downloads of our mobile application and 8.5 million meditations delivered through it. When the pandemic took hold in April, usage among children under 12 spiked by 346% and among teachers by 224%.
In response to this spike in demand, we developed a suite of new content pieces and programs for families and young Australians then quickly rolled them out.
Last year our Family Program provided meditations and activities at meal times to more than 100,000 parents and children. We developed 30,000 digital care packs to help families and carers cope with being locked down. Our schools program was extended to 600 primary schools in rural and regional areas where access to mental health services is often limited and, to help year 12 students through a particularly difficult year, we produced a video series that engaged 160,000 young people.
We are able to operate at this scale and adapt our service to meet new demand because, as a tech-based not-for-profit, our digital delivery model allows us to act nimbly and responsively. Since being established in 2012, Smiling Mind has been structured to produce interventions quickly and at a large scale, as needed. As we have grown, so too has our capacity to provide “wrap-around” resources for families and schools that build capability and sustainable growth as our programs scale.
Smiling Mind now supports between 270,000-700,000 people in any given month, and is the go-to digital solution to promote good mental health for millions of Australians. The external stressors of the past 12 months have required us to be more responsive than ever and, while this has led to a range of positive community outcomes, it is putting strain on our service delivery.
We expect that Smiling Mind’s ability to respond quickly to a range of future environmental and external factors is going to be critical to prevent negative impacts on families and communities. Now is the time to gear up to be at the forefront of the response.
Question 2 – Are the proposed key outcomes for the families and children programs the right ones? Are there any major outcomes missing? How can we include strengths-based outcomes that focus on family or child safety?
Smiling Mind’s vision is for every mind to thrive, and we aim to achieve this by providing accessible tools to young people and families that support good mental health. Parents and carers are critical change agents in children’s lives, and we believe building resilience that wraps around the whole family is the most impactful way to achieve generational change that equips individuals, families and the community for a productive and thriving future. This approach is in line with the outcomes you have identified for the families and children’s program: for family relationships to flourish, for children and young people to thrive and for individuals to be empowered.
To achieve this, it is critical to provide children and families with everyday tools they can use to proactively build life-skills that help them cope positively to challenges. Waiting until difficulties are insurmountable is not enough, and a suite of accessible, engaging tools focused on prevention and early intervention will be key. As a technology-based not-for-profit, the driving force behind our approach at Smiling Mind is for outcomes to be delivered via flexible, self-directed tools that families can use in their homes to build confidence, capability and familial resilience. Nearly 6 million people have downloaded the Smiling Mind app, and because we believe that every single person within this audience is unique and different, we have created a suite of tools with the flexibility to enable users to choose what suits their needs.
Accessibility and flexibility are foundation principals we apply to every program we run and tool we create at Smiling Mind, and we would like to see this methodology built into the department’s family and children program.
Question 3 – What tools or training would support you to effectively measure and report outcomes through the Data Exchange Partnership Approach?
Smiling Mind sees value in establishing core measures across all DSS funded programs to accommodate a range of service models and ensure consistent reporting methods. Crucially, this reporting needs to be flexible to accommodate a range of service models (including large scale and self-directed tools delivered online), which may require additional methods to supplement the DEX approach.
Question 4 – Do you already have a program logic or theory of change outlined for your program? Did you find the process useful? If you do not have one, what has stopped you from developing one? What capacity building support would assist service providers to develop program logics and theories of change?
Smiling Mind applies program logic and theory of change principles at the program level. This is pivotal to ensure the theoretical framework that underpins our programs is strong and supports program delivery that will deliver the greatest desired impact. With an in-house Research and Evaluation team we are well-equipped to develop this framework at the commencement of programs, and adapt as we deepen our understanding through ongoing program evaluation.
While we agree that developing evidence-based programs is important to ensure funding is well-placed and directed to appropriate services, consideration should be given to accommodating innovative program models and new theories and ideas that require testing – so that the system can remain nimble and responsive to the changing needs of the community.
Question 6 – What does success look like for your service, and how do you assess the overall success of your service?
Smiling Mind delivers its programs and tools by collaborating with service and funding partners. Our program may be designed to target its beneficiaries directly, or via others that support them. Accordingly, we need to apply a range of measures of success due to the complexity of our programs and the unique impacts they are seeking to achieve. Additionally, as we are primarily focused on large-scale prevention programs, there is a need to balance measures of short- to medium-term implementation with long-term program outcomes.
Our program evaluation framework maps out our approach to evaluating our programs and measuring success. Both long-term success or impact measures, as well as proximal indicators to assess whether the project is on track to meet delivery outcomes, are established for each program. Success is tracked through a range of measures using traditional impact measurement approaches as well as more bespoke methods aligned to our specific delivery model. Tools used include participant surveys (to assess feasibility, acceptability, impact and outcomes), web and app analytics (to assess user behaviour and levels of engagement), and qualitative methods (to complement all other tracking methods).
Question 11 – Aside from additional funding, how can the department best work with you to support innovation in your services while maintaining a commitment to existing service delivery?
Smiling Mind sees value in structuring program funding to foster innovation. At the moment, innovative and impactful program models (particularly those which operate at large scale and provide self-directed tools delivered online, like the Smiling Mind app and Digital Care Packs) that can help realise many of the outcomes DSS has identified through the families and children consultation process are not funded because these models do not easily fit within the DEX reporting model.
We believe that a more even funding balance between service delivery and the innovation streams that support new delivery models would enhance reach and ensure equity of access as well as drive benefits for more families. An example of this has been our ability to engage and partner with large corporate organisations, such as Medibank, to leverage their reach and align our work to support Australian communities.