Project Synergy: co-designing technology-enabled solutions for Australian mental health services reform

Ian B Hickie, Tracey A Davenport and Jane M Burns
Med J Aust 2019; 211 (7): S3-S39. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50349
Published online: 7 October 2019


  • Project Synergy aims to test the potential of new and emerging technologies to enhance the quality of mental health care provided by traditional face-to-face services. Specifically, it seeks to ensure that consumers get the right care, first time (delivery of effective mental health care early in the course of illness).
  • Using co-design with affected individuals, Project Synergy has built, implemented and evaluated an online platform to assist the assessment, feedback, management and monitoring of people with mental disorders. It also promotes the maintenance of wellbeing by collating health and social information from consumers, their supportive others and health professionals. This information is reported back openly to consumers and their service providers to promote genuine collaborative care.
  • The online platform does not provide stand-alone medical or health advice, risk assessment, clinical diagnosis or treatment; instead, it supports users to decide what may be suitable care options.
  • Using an iterative cycle of research and development, the first four studies of Project Synergy (2014–2016) involved the development of different types of online prototypes for young people (i) attending university; (ii) in three disadvantaged communities in New South Wales; (iii) at risk of suicide; and (iv) attending five headspace centres. These contributed valuable information concerning the co-design, build, user testing and evaluation of prototypes, as well as staff experiences during development and service quality improvements following implementation.
  • Through ongoing research and development (2017–2020), these prototypes underpin one online platform that aims to support better multidimensional mental health outcomes for consumers; more efficient, effective and appropriate use of health professional knowledge and clinical skills; and quality improvements in mental health service delivery.

For the full Supplement, download the PDF or visit Wiley Online Library.

Provenance: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Ian B Hickie1
  • Tracey A Davenport1
  • Jane M Burns2

  • 1 Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Swinburne Research, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, VIC.

Collaborating authors:

Jane M Burns (Swinburne Research, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, VIC); Shane P Cross, Tracey A Davenport, Ian B Hickie, Frank Iorfino, Haley M LaMonica, Alyssa C Milton, Sarah E Piper, Cristina S Ricci and Lisa Whittle (Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW); Laura Ospina-Pinillos (Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, School of Medicine, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Colombia, and Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW); Larisa T McLoughlin (Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience – Thompson Institute, University of the Sunshine Coast, Birtinya, QLD); and John Mendoza (ConNetica, Caloundra, QLD, and Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW).


Project Synergy aims to transform Australian mental health services through the use of new and emerging technologies. Project Synergy (2014–2016) was an Australian Government Department of Health-funded initiative ($5.5 million) that was administered by Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre. Project Synergy (2017–2020) is an Australian Government Department of Health-funded initiative ($30 million) that is being delivered by InnoWell Pty Ltd — a joint venture between the University of Sydney and PwC (Australia).

Monitoring and evaluation:

The Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales has been contracted to independently monitor and evaluate the outcomes of Project Synergy (2017–2020), including the return on investment associated with the funding as well as the progress made toward achieving technology-enabled mental health services reform.


We thank the following individuals and organisations for their contributions.

  • Participants and knowledge translation teams: The young people, supportive others and health professionals who consented to participate in Study 1 (Fit Uni Life to thrive), Study 2 (young people in three disadvantaged communities in NSW), Study 3 (suicide prevention) and Study 4 (mental health e-clinic in five headspace centres).
  • Champions of Project Synergy (2014–2016): Nationally, a large number of individuals and organisations assisted with the dissemination of information about Project Synergy and recruitment of participants to Studies 1 to 4.
  • Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre team: Arnel Arce, Dr Michelle Blanchard, Marty Gauvin, Kris Gesling, Siobahn Graham, Cheryl Mangan, Paul Monks, Rebecca Philpot and Zoe Stephenson.
  • Brain and Mind Centre team: Vicky Baldwin, Candace Brennan, Vanessa Wan Sze Cheng, Ellena Danielle, Louise Ellis, James Flynn, Antonia Ottavio, Cary Rogers and Emily Van Der Pol-Harney.
  • Spark Strategy team: Richard Feder, Felicity Green, George Liacos and Rob Pfeiffer.
  • Field Solutions Group team: Fletcher Aragon, Alastair Christian, Atsushi Kobayashi, Stephen Kunkler and Andrew Roberts.

Competing interests:

Professor Ian Hickie is the Scientific Advisor to, and an equity shareholder in, InnoWell Pty Ltd. Professor Jane Burns sits on the Board of Directors of, and is also an equity shareholder in, InnoWell.


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