How can we make the eviction system more equal, dignified, and fair?
This is the class page for Justice By Design: Evictions. It’s a 4-credit class at Stanford Law School/d.school 806Y, Autumn and Winter 2019-2020.
It also documents the work of previous iterations of this class, including the 2018 pop-up on eviction system redesign.
Three out of four people with cases in state court have no lawyer, but are often navigating issues with profound importance to their lives. At the same time, the courts are trying to manage a massive volume of cases, with particularly large numbers of cases concerning housing.
How can we make courts that help people resolve their problems, avoid a poverty crisis, and still operate efficiently?
This class will have students partnered directly with a court that is interested in reimagining how the eviction system, and especially court processes around it, could be more human-centered. We will work on site at court, with observations, interviews, ride-alongs, and workshops to understand how these eviction cases work and what outcomes they result in. And students will map out key user types, opportunities for change, and a vision of what a several year redesign process might look like.
This class will be part of a multi-year partnership to carry out a human-centered design process in the civil justice system. The students will learn how to do design research, facilitate multi-stakeholder system redesign, and envision a government innovation process. Their work will directly feed into future classes, pilots, and studies into how to make housing and debt court more fair, accessible, and just.
There is a great deal of energy in many cities to address eviction system problems — especially after Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted gained massive coverage, and the numbers of eviction has risen with the current economy — but there is not necessarily a strategic blueprint or network — of what ‘innovations’ have the most promise, what jurisdictions are rolling out which.
Many efforts (including several classes we have taught in the past 2 years) have proposed many new ideas. But which of them should be given priority? And how can we get more promising interventions piloted, evaluated, and scaled?
Our central work product will be the creation, detailing, and publication of a Strategic Blueprint for eviction system innovation. This will help us capture things we learn, synthesize, and create together — and make it into something of value for other people who want to improve this space.
Teams in the class will dig into specific areas for more detailed, specific work product:
- How might we build a strategic network and blueprint that many jurisdictions can coordinate around, to get scaled and evidence-driven eviction improvements? An Ideas and Evaluation strategic overview, that catalogues the current proposals and pilots for improving eviction, what knowledge we have gathered about them, and what evaluation techniques can be used in future pilots.
- How might we work with our local courts to see what promising eviction improvements can be piloted here, and how to make a multi-jurisdiction network work locally? In this track, teams will work on interventions in our local court, Santa Clara County Superior Court, and our statewide judicial agency, the Judicial Council of California — to get specific about which of these proposals (and combinations of them) have promise, and moving forward on actually implementing and evaluating them.
Want to read more about Eviction System design and improvements? Come visit our Eviction Innovation Map + Reading List, where we are compiling a strategic blueprint and ongoing resources about how to address key dysfunctions of eviction in America. This Innovation Map spans this April 2018 class, our Winter/Spring 2019 Justice + Poverty Innovation class, and our Autumn 2019 class on Design for Justice: Housing Court.
The 2018 class, Design for Justice: Eviction
In late April 2018, Daniel Bernal and Margaret Hagan taught the first part of the d.school pop-up Design For Justice: Eviction. The class focused on how we might better empower people who have received eviction notices (specifically, in Arizona) to know their rights, their options, and to go to court to fight eviction. Read more about the motivation and background for the class, in Daniel’s November 2018 article in Stanford Lawyer: “Eviction and the Promise of Self-Help Technologies.”
In the class, our 2 teams focused on what intervention we might send in the mail to activate someone right after they have received an eviction notice, and what intervention we might point them to for greater support and guidance.
This class resulted in a number of prototypes moving forward to pilot in Pima County, Arizona, in partnership with local court and legal aid groups. We are running a randomized control trial to see if the interventions are effective at getting more tenants to come to court.
- We built a self-help website for tenants to learn their rights and prepare for court.
- We designed and are distributing a new Know Your Rights flyer for those who have received an eviction notice, to encourage them to attend court through behavioral nudges and referrals to legal help.
- We have a text message reminder system to send coaching and reminder updates to tenants, about their upcoming eviction hearing.
We are now expanding the project beyond Arizona. We are working with the Clerk of Courts in Hamilton County, Ohio — where Cincinnati is. There, we will replicate the suite of interventions we created in Pima County, and we are also working with the court to change the notices it sends to litigants — to make these Eviction Summons and documents more clear, actionable, and likely to get people to come to court.
What we did in the 2018 class
We worked in 2 phases. First, we did a recap of key insights, personas, players, and trends regarding the eviction process, user experience, and legal help resources in Arizona. We did this with calls to Arizona legal help leaders, a service designer who has been working on eviction help, and Daniel’s presentations on his research into eviction trends and strategies in Arizona.
Our second phase of work was brainstorming and prototyping. Our 2 teams focused on the different intervention points, to create an Idea Catalogue of possible ways to empower users through a mailer or a digital resource.
From this brainstorm, we critiqued the ideas with some help from our service and system designers from technology companies. We wrote these ideas, formalize them slightly, and invite a panel of legal, sociology, behavior change, technology, and design experts to receive further feedback. From there, we began to develop first versions of several of the concepts that we will test with the public in our second half of the class.
Before part 2 of the class, our Lab’s software developer Metin Eskili, our designer Carolyn, and Daniel Bernal created more refined versions of:
- Envelopes that would be sent to people who had received eviction notices
- Fliers inside the envelopes that would direct people to the website and encourage attendance at eviction hearings
- A web application that would orient people in what to expect, get them text reminders, and help them see what defenses our counterclaims they might have.
Class, part 2: Testing and Co-Design
In our second part of the class, we invited community members to visit us, review our ideas, and help us choose among different envelope, notice, and web app designs. The goal was to have input before finalizing the paper and application design.
We used their recommendations and ideas to refine the website, and the testing instrument.