Introducing our deep dive into the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Take a look behind the scenes of our research and development efforts to reimagine a mental health care system where technology is in service of people.

Content warning

This article describes mental health challenges, a broken mental health system and potential triggers for people facing or supporting others through mental health challenges. 

We encourage anyone who is affected by this article to reach out for support. If you’re unsure where to go or who to reach out to, we recommend reaching out to Lifeline 24/7 crisis helpline 13 11 14 or any one of the following services linked here.

Introduction to Research and Development at Portable

At Portable, we’re currently working through an 18-month, independent deep-dive into the mental health sector. We’ve just completed our second sprint. Our first led us to develop a set of Mental health design principles, which guided us through our most recent sprint as we reviewed the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System report. This research is self-initiated, it is not attached to any project or client. It is our independent deep-dive into the mental health sector, aligning to our company mission.

This is the first in a series of articles, sharing what we are learning, developing and thinking about as we progress through our 18 months of research.

Our mission at Portable is to seek out areas of social need and policy failure and make transformational change using research, design and technology. We work in a series of impact areas including mental health, justice and the public sector

Royal Commission into Mental Health

The Royal Commission report launched in August 2021. It sets out 65 Recommendations and an ambitious reform agenda that will hopefully positively impact the lives of everyone living in Victoria. 

The future described in the report champions a community-based model of care. While the Commission recognises the integral role of medical service providers in the future mental health system, the report acknowledges the role communities of place, communities of interest and communities of practice play in supporting people’s wellbeing.

According to the report, this might look like ‘50-60 new Local Mental Health and Wellbeing Services providing treatment, care and support, for adults and older adults’ across Victoria. They are acknowledging the importance of having non-medical, culturally safe mental health care service providers be available for all Victorians alongside medical mental health services. 

Our original research and development brief was to learn how we might set up tools to enable people to navigate the new mental health system. Initially, we wanted to understand the role data will play in the future, and how data insights could inform decision making across the new service model and explore ways we might develop a data dashboard. 

Through a two week research and development sprint, a cross-disciplinary team at Portable collaborated to:

Focusing on what’s important; people experiencing the mental health care system.

Working within the constraints of a two week sprint we chose to focus on people relying on the mental health system and their supporters.

Our research brought us back to remember what people need as they move through the system. While the Commissions’ reports expertly lays out recommendations inspiring digital solutions, we wanted to ensure that all future solutions acknowledge people’s diversity, respect people’s rights and encourage people to explore options available to them.

As systems, product and service designers, it’s important to always remember that all experience is subjective, and no two people might experience the same event in the same way. So we decided to take a step back from the ‘data dashboard’ to instead look at how we think about people’s perceptions of data and how it is used across the Mental health care sector.

Listening to and learning from the personal stories and case studies documented by the Commission, we chose to focus on people who support others through mental health challenges. People who are not medical professionals and are unlikely to be familiar with mental health care services. We refer to these people as ‘supporters’ throughout the article.

If you’d like to see how our concepts bring these ideas to life, keep an eye out for our next articles, which will unpack our two concepts:

  • Exploring mental health conversations about support and consent.
  • Digital tools mediating face to face conversations about how to support people through mental health challenges. 

What we hope happens in the future

We want to acknowledge that a tremendous amount of knowledge and effort is and will be directed towards realising recommendations from the Commission. It’s important that our work helps to build up, shape and guide the work of other designers, researchers and technologists working in the mental health sector. Our initial work here should be used as a launch point for anyone working in the sector. 

It is important to us that each concept puts people’s needs first, and technology acts in service of their needs and experiences.

For us, diving in to understand outcomes from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System felt like the right thing to do. Our understanding is that there is a long road ahead to realise all 65 recommendations. However, whatever is built, decided or developed next should always remember that technology is in the service of people. As a byproduct of this, we really want to see, and strongly recommend, anyone working through the recommendations to carry the following insights as a starting place when considering their project or brief: 

  • To co-design with communities, industry experts and people with lived experiences.
  • To develop, test and reiterate on ideas with the people who will use the systems and services you are redesigning.
  • Remember that technology isn’t a solution, it’s in service to the people who interact with it.
  • Put people up-front and policy in the back.

What’s next?

This research is continuing at Portable and we’ll be looking to further expand on our initial concepts outlined above over the next 18 months, through sprints, workshops and community engagement, much of which we hope to publish and share with the sector. 

This article is part of a series. Check out our other upcoming articles to see where our research into the Commission takes us next, they will be released over the coming months.

If any of our work resonates directly or discreetly with work you or your organisation is addressing, we would be happy to connect, share insights and continue working on these important topics. You can find us at

Keep an eye out for future articles in this series, explore these concepts and more findings from our research.

This research and development work was guided and completed by our cross-disciplinary team:

  • Allison Snow, Lead Producer
  • Chris Rickard, Lead Technologist
  • Greg Corlett, Senior Business Analyst
  • Maria Garcia, Senior Experience Designer
  • Lucy Boehme, Experience Designer
  • India Lock, Strategic Designer
  • Aishling Costello, Strategic Designer
  • Emily Pearce, Senior Content Strategic Designer
  • Andrew Apostola, CEO, Portable

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