Data Driven Transformation Award Winner

“Project Understood”

Google + FCB + Canadian Down Syndrome Society


With 8 billion voice assistants expected to be in use around the world by 2023, the future will be voice-first, but that future doesn’t include people with Down syndrome. Voice technology doesn’t always understand their unique speech patterns, leaving them behind in the voice revolution. As a marginalized community, their needs were never considered. 

The Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) had two problems to solve:

  1. Make voice technology more accessible to people with Down syndrome.
  2. Shift perceptions of a stigmatized community by showing how access to voice technology can lead to lifechanging independence.


Adults with Down syndrome are capable of living independently; they simply require more structure and assistance. Strategies to help them remember to cook, clean and complete their routines are required; they need more support to be safe. Because of their unique needs, voice assistants would be an invaluable tool, allowing them to set automatic reminders and schedules, build to- do lists and get easy access to help.

Voice technology requires millions of data points (human voices) to perform optimally. Unfortunately, for those with Down syndrome, these AI systems are lacking the data they need to reliably understand them.

Google’s voice assistant currently misunderstands about one in every three words of a person with Down syndrome. This made Google, the market leader, the ideal partner for CDSS as they would have the greatest impact on the Down syndrome community in Canada.

Introducing Project Understood, a campaign that turns people with Down syndrome into Google’s teachers, using their voices to train Google’s speech recognition model to understand them.

Phase 1: Recruiting the Community: The campaign launched during Canadian Down Syndrome Week (November 1–7), with two social videos that detailed the inaccessibility of voice technology for people with Down syndrome and the impact that would have on their lives, today and in the future. The videos mobilized the community to donate their voices to Google. The key was to empower the community, to show that people with Down syndrome could have an impact on voice technology—and their own futures.

With only $1,000 in media, we deployed specific creative and media strategies. We targeted the Down syndrome community organically, knowing the more they engaged, the more the video would be seen by this niche audience. We harnessed Down syndrome community groups across North America through email and organic social, which led to engagement from international groups. The campaign became global.

Phase 2: Changing Public Perception: Earned media amplified our message and changed perceptions of the Down syndrome community by depicting them in a new light, advocating for their right to live independently and empowering them as Google’s teachers. A small, marginalized community was showing one of the world’s largest and most technically sophisticated corporations how to change their platform.

We worked closely with two groups: the Google AI Team who partnered with us in data analysis and platform application and the Canadian Down Syndrome Society and the Down syndrome community. We had a number of participants from 35 countries who were integral in changing how voice technology will adapt and be used by the 78 million people around the world with speech differences in the near future.

In terms of the content of the program, there were two main pieces: 

Destination site (projectunderstood.ca): a landing environment for participant registration, serving as a bridge between media and the voice recording tool, Chit Chat. Chit Chat: an engine for raw data collection and machine learning, where participants were served pre- determined phrases guided by speech pathologists and Google AI scientists. Chit Chat was designed to capture the speech patterns/characteristics required to train Google’s AI and voice assistant technology.

Project Understood was a rallying cry for the Down syndrome community to donate their voices to Google and improve voice technology for everyone. Projectunderstood.ca was built to be inviting and informative. Qualified participants received a login to enter Chit Chat, a platform designed to capture thousands of recordings to help train Google’s voice assistant technology. Participants had the flexibility to record phrases over multiple sessions, at their convenience.

There were a number of supporting channels for the campaign:

  • One promotional and two recruitment videos
  • Paid social to support awareness/recruitment efforts
  • Organic social and email to reach global Down syndrome communities
  • projectunderstood.ca, our content hub and registration platform
  • Public relations to drive awareness

Results based on the campaign objectives:

Recruiting the community:

  • 826,107 organic reach on Facebook (a 678% increase from the CDSS’s best- performing campaign) and 82,995 engagements—with just $1,000 in media
  • 30+ countries and 735 Down syndrome organiz ations answered the global call
  • Over 600 members of the Down syndrome community joined the project, submitting over 1 million phrases to Google’s speech recognition database

Changing public perceptions:

  • 775 million earned media impressions globally

Google and CDSS presented their research at the UN on March 20, 2020, calling on all technology companies to make voice technology more accessible. The full impact of this campaign will be seen in years to come. Project Understood is helping future- proof a vulnerable community.




Mosaic Award 2021 Winners