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Chayn is a global nonprofit that creates resources for survivors of gender-based violence.

Use this Guide if you would like to build a digital service for people who have experienced harm in the past, or who may still be in a dangerous situation.

When people have faced a risk of harm or danger they may struggle with the effects of trauma even after the danger has passed.

Making services 'trauma-informed' can make them more effective. It can also make them more accessible to the people who may need them most. This can be particularly important if you are offering a digital service rather than something face to face.

Steps to building a trauma-informed digital service

People who have experienced conflict, abuse, poverty, homelessness, discrimination, and many other harmful situations often live with trauma.

Trauma affects people in different ways. It can involve high stress levels and overwhelming emotions. It can also cause memory and sleep problems, and many other challenges. It can contribute to mental health problems, self-harm, and substance misuse.

New products or services can be improved by considering trauma and its effects at the design stage. Some key ideas behind a trauma-informed approach include:

  • People with lived experience of trauma are involved from the start.

  • Services and products put people’s needs above business goals.

  • Safety and choice are very important, and services should reduce the risk of further trauma.

  • Products and services are useful and easy to understand. They should be accessible and inclusive.

  • Feedback and testing takes place throughout the process and after the service is launched.

It's also important to make sure personal data and sensitive information is private and secure. Only ask for personal information when it's absolutely necessary. People in your team should only access personal data if it's essential to deliver the service. Be open with your users about data storage and privacy.

Chayn are a trauma-informed organisation that puts the lived experience of survivors at the heart of all their work. Their volunteers help to make decisions about the organisation’s work and shape Chayn’s strategy; many are themselves survivors of abuse.

Chayn have developed eight trauma-informed design principles:

  1. Safety - prioritise people’s physical and emotional safety.

  2. Agency - give people control of their experience and respect their wishes.

  3. Equality - recognize that inequality exists. Design services to be accessible and inclusive.

  4. Privacy - keep people’s information secure.

  5. Accountability - be open and transparent. Listen and act on feedback.

  6. Plurality - don’t assume what people need. Avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

  7. Sharing power - interventions should be designed and created with survivors.

  8. Hope - speak with empathy and warmth, support people to ask for and accept the help on offer.

Chayn put these principles into practice in every part of their organisation.

The first step when creating a new digital service is to understand what your audience needs. Both the content of the service and the way it is delivered should be designed for the people who will be using it.

There are many ways to identify what the people who will use your service need. This is known as user research. User research methods can include:

  • Interviews with people who currently use the service (or a similar service)

  • Interviews with people who might use the service

  • Observing how people use a digital product or service (with their permission)

  • Reviewing analytics data

  • Asking people to share feedback on your ideas or designs

  • Reading through feedback form responses, common email queries, and complaints

  • Interviews with staff or volunteers

  • Carrying out an online questionnaire or survey.

It’s also important to understand your nonprofit’s goals. Ask yourself:

  • Does this service support our wider strategy?

  • How will this service fit with our existing products and services?

  • What is the gap that this service will fill?

  • Why are we the right organisation to offer this service?

A screenshot of part of the Bloom service homepage.

Chayn’s online support service for survivors, Bloom, offers self-guided online courses. They combine the insights of survivors with therapeutic practices to help survivors heal from trauma.

Bloom was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many survivors couldn't access their usual, in-person support or healing services. You can read about how Chayn set up Bloom in another Guide (linked below).

After a year, Bloom had so many users that the service and tools no longer suited their needs. Chayn also had a lot of data about the needs of people who had experienced gender-based violence and were living with trauma.

People needed:

  • reliable information about trauma and healing practices

  • emotional support, on an ongoing basis

  • support which was discreet, secure, and private

  • the option to connect to support without speaking out loud

  • access to further support and resources if needed.

As Chayn developed the service, they carried out user research. They talked to people using the existing service, and worked with their volunteers, most of whom had lived experience of abuse and trauma.

They identified a need for the information and support they offered to be available to people around the world and in multiple languages.

Think about:

  • the needs of the people you want to support, especially if they are living with trauma

  • what resources are available to you

  • what your team is comfortable setting up and using.

You may want to look for a single online platform which offers all of the features that you want. Another approach is to build a more bespoke service by combining several tools.

If you develop a service using several different tools, you’ll need to think about how to make sure they work well together. For example, making sure data is stored in a single place and kept up to date across all the different platforms. People shouldn’t need to create lots of different accounts to use the service. Tools like Zapier or If This Then That can help integrate different digital tools securely.

Data protection and information security are especially important for survivors of abuse or other people who may be at risk of harm.

A user receives a Bloom message on WhatsApp, even though its drafted in and triggered to send by Twilio

The Chayn team noticed that many people would join a Bloom course and then stop following it. Through user research they learnt that this was often because:

  • people didn’t have time to watch the videos at the moment when they signed up

  • people forgot to come back and use it

  • they weren’t in the right headspace to engage with in-depth content at that time.

Chayn developed a new reminder service using three tools:

  •, where they draft the messages.

  • Twilio, which triggers the messages to send.

  • WhatsApp, where people get the messages.

People who sign up get two affirming messages every week. They are encouraged to reflect on course content, and reminded about the Bloom service.

The messages are less intrusive than an email reminder. People don't need to respond to the messages, but they can start a chat with the Bloom team if they want. They can also unsubscribe from the messages at any time.

With this service, Chayn had to be especially careful about data protection. People only supplied their phone numbers to sign up. They didn't provide any other personal information about themselves or their experiences. Chayn decided to disconnect this data from their online Bloom platform. They wanted to avoid storing users' phone numbers alongside their email addresses or chosen user names.

Chayn also made sure to only send the exact necessary data to each third-party tool. Chayn never lets that data be traceable or used for any other purpose.

Trauma-informed design can be applied to content too. Try to:

  • Involve people with lived experience of trauma in content development, where it is safe and appropriate to do so.

  • Prioritise safety, choice, and consent. Consider using content warnings. They can help people navigate content safely.

  • Make content clear and easy to understand.

  • Don’t overload people with information. Break it into manageable chunks.

  • Use inclusive and respectful language.

  • Avoid negative, distressing, or sensational language or imagery. Use a warm, calm tone of voice.

An example of trauma informed content from Bloom, on a WhatsApp screen.

Chayn wanted to make sure the messages felt supportive. They didn't want people to feel guilty or stressed that they hadn’t spent more time on Bloom courses.

Their approach is informed by trauma but focused on healing. They don’t remind survivors of the “work” they need to do or the time still ahead of them in their journey. Instead, they empower them. They remind them they are part of a community of others, all in the process of healing.

They thought about user needs in other ways when they wrote their content:

  • Using ‘we’ and ‘our’ to remind people that they are part of a community of survivors. For example, ‘Today we’re thinking about boundaries and how we might be able to use them’.

  • Ensuring the messages are short and easy to digest

  • Using names and emojis makes the messages feel more informal. It reminds users that there are real humans behind them. For example, ‘Hi there, Francesca here 👋🏼 this week I’ve been reflecting on…’

It’s a good idea to test your service with people who might use it. You can invite people to try out the service and give you feedback. Try to give people a choice of ways to share their views, for example through an interview, or a brief survey.

Check that the service works for you and your team as well. Ask yourself:

  • Is everything private and secure?

  • Can you access the data you need?

  • What will you do if there’s a problem?

  • If a large number of people use the service at once, will everything still work as expected?

Bloom's advice to people on how to keep themselves safe, as a screenshot from their website

Chayn has experimented with different user research methods. For example, sending people tasks to complete or messages to read and comment on. This is a way to gather feedback from people who would prefer not to take part in a user interview.

They also sent a link to a short survey through their WhatsApp service. The survey allowed people to quickly agree or disagree with ways the service was helping them.

This helped Chayn collect more feedback from people who didn’t have English as a first language. These people didn’t feel as comfortable signing up for a user interview.

When your product or service is live, check how well it is working and respond to any problems.

Make it easy for people to let you know if they experience an issue with the service. Also, make it easy for them to give general feedback on the product or service. Listen and act on their comments. Keep in mind that people living with trauma may be struggling. They might be in distress when they contact you.

Use analytics data to measure things like reach, engagement, and performance. You can also set goals or targets as a way to show the impact of your work and apply for funding.

Think about how you can keep making your product or service even better. You can continue to do user research through interviews, surveys and usability tests.

Chayn uses analytics data to see how people use the messaging service. For example, they:

  • Track the number of subscribers and unsubscribes. They measure if social media promotion causes spikes in sign ups.

  • Use to check how many messages were delivered, and opened

  • Use UTM links that feed into Google Analytics. These show the number of users who are returning to Bloom through a WhatsApp message they received.

The team use a ‘continuous iteration’ approach. This means that they constantly review how well the service is working and keep making small changes to improve it.

Further information