What does it mean to innovate in the justice system?
The term innovation might also be used alongside other terms like reform, improvements, modernization, or redesign.
The key to understanding justice innovation is that it is about improving the justice system (including courts, legal aid groups, tech providers, and other organizations involved in providing justice) so that people can use the system more easily & with greater empowerment, in order to resolve the problem that has arisen.
Some people talking about justice innovation may be talking about the ‘how’ of innovation:
- The process used to develop new interventions — like services, technologies, and policies — to make the justice system work better for the public.
Or they may be talking about the ‘what’ of innovation:
- The interventions themselves, that promise to make this better justice system.
On this page, we’ll talk about the breadth of innovative ways to intervene in the justice system to make it work better for the public. Elsewhere on the site, you can find more details on the process to use to craft and refine these interventions for your region.
Examples of Justice Innovations
The improvement of the justice system could take many forms. The pyramid below shows the range of possible changes that could be considered a justice innovation. It goes all the way from changes to pieces of paper, through to technology tools, to new organizations and centers, to changes to how things are funded, run, and governed.
At the top of the pyramid, there are innovations around direct-to-public communications and services, that are meant to help them with information, advice, counseling, and other services. We call these “Legal Help Services”.
We could also be talking about justice innovations that are more abstract, and involve changing the legal system’s rules, options, and branding. This is a different category of things, that need to be measured with different kinds of outcomes and instruments.
On this page, we mainly discuss evaluation mechanisms mainly for the first category, Legal Help Services.
Legal Help Services Interventions
What is a legal help service? On this page, we mean it to cover things that go directly to a person with a legal problem. These things aim to help the person make progress on their justice journey of resolving this problem.
Here are some examples of what a legal help service intervention might include:
- Official communications, like court summons, government forms, legal aid explainers, or text message reminders
- Legal help information service, like a website, guide book, FAQ, or chatbot. These tend not to be staffed by humans or customized to the person with the problem. They might be interactive but are mainly about connecting people with non-customized information about their legal options, services, and rights.
- Brief tech help service, like a document assembly tool, a chatbot, or another thing that helps a person fill in a form, file it with the courts, sign up for a program, or schedule an appointment. It might even help them resolve the problem, by going through a screener or dispute resolution program.
- Brief human help service, like a hotline, clinic, navigator session, self-help center session, or other interaction in which a professional with some legal expertise gives the person help with a task (like filling in a form or writing a letter) or gives them advice about what their options and rights are.
- Ongoing human help service, where a person gets continual, deep-dive support with their legal problem from an expert team of lawyers, paralegals, and other professionals. The team helps them through all of the tasks and decisions they must do to resolve their problem.
System-level Policy Interventions
This website does not yet discuss the evaluation of system-level interventions. This category of interventions also aims for the same high-level, big-picture outcomes. But the nature of these interventions means that they are often more difficult to assess through user testing, surveys, or other evaluation protocols we would use for a legal help service.
These abstract, system-level interactions include:
- A right, defense, or counterclaim
- A court rule or business process
- Legislation, ordinance, or other similar act of a legislature
- Funding source or strategy that opens new resources or sets new standards
- A Messaging campaign, that aims to expand public awareness or improve outreach
These kinds of interventions can be very valuable, but they are of a different nature than a legal help service. They are not about providing a legal help service to an individual — they are about changing the system itself.
Do you have other ideas for justice innovation that are not covered in this pyramid? Write to let us know. We’re eager to have a view of the ecosystem of what can be done to improve the justice system.