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Climbing the HiiL of innovation: A book review of Innovating Justice: Developing New Ways to Bring Fairness Between People

Ab Currie, PhD

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Innovating Justice by Sam Muller and the team at The Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law (HiiL) is a very timely and valuable source of ideas about developing and implementing innovations in the justice field. Based on their pioneering work at the Justice Innovation Lab in The Hague, the authors provide food for thought for anyone contemplating entering the promising but often challenging waters of innovation. Let me share a few of their insights:

The HiiL innovation process is built around six major building blocks.

1. Focus on Citizen’s Needs. Engage the people who are experiencing the problem or the need. Find out how they are experiencing the problem, what solutions they feel would work for them and what outcomes they would be happy with.

2. Release the Mind. Innovation involves breaking rules and normal practises. The professional training and socialization of legal professionals may limit the skills available in the justice sector; go outside to get different perspectives on what might work.

3. Shape Solutions.  Work backwards from outcome goals. Select the most fruitful ideas from around the world and from outside the box. Build prototypes but avoid early standardization or premature closure. Have a clear idea of what makes the solution new and unique and why it is better than what is already there.

4. Reframe the Constitution.  A promising innovation may be revolutionary. It may involve very different ways of doing things and new partners or participants. A new way of doing things will frequently produce winners and losers.  Determine what reactions can be expected and how you should respond. A vision is not sufficient in and of itself. However, a vision is needed to animate and inspire the process and to transform purpose into action. Recruit influential champions to support the vision.

5. Judge the Business. Although justice has value in itself, quantify the economic benefits and determine the sustainability of the innovation. Plan the costs and the cost savings. Focus on the key partnerships, resources and skills that will be required to implement the innovation successfully. Can savings be made on the cost of professionals where they are not really needed?  Can some functions be outsourced?

6. Get it Done.  During the implementation stage determine how the innovation is organized to stay focused and manage by results.  It is easy to get sidetracked! Set up the project to ensure there is continuous monitoring and feedback. There must be continuous learning and adjustment as the project moves forward.  Determine the metrics for success and how to measure them.

This is a practical book on strategies for successful innovation. The book is based on the successful innovations HiiL has developed at the justice innovation lab and projects from around the world that the Hiil Team have studied in the course of their work.  With hundreds of years of experience between them, the experiences of the authors, so well distilled and presented in the book, makes Innovating Justice essential reading for anyone wanting to invest time and resources in justice innovation.

The publication of Innovating Justice is timely in Canada as the need for justice innovation has never been more pressing. Budgets across justice systems are being cut or are not keeping pace with normal cost increases and the urgency of long standing needs, that have never been met, loom ever greater. The results of legal problems research following the justiciable problems methodology have uncovered layers of legal need that were previously not considered legal at all, rather, just the problems of the poor.  And, finally, it is becoming increasingly clear that holistic approaches to legal problems for which we currently do not have the service delivery infrastructure are the only way to provide effective and durable solutions to many legal problems.  Although innovation, driven by the need to do more with less, has been a perennial fixture in the delivery of legal services, the pressure to innovate is increasing.

Despite these problems, the environment for innovation in Canada has never been more promising. The final report of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters will soon be released with recommendations for expanding access to justice in Canada and the Canadian Bar Association has just released their report, Equal Justice: Balancing the Scales, which contains a and ambitious and forward thinking “justice plan”.  These reports are encouraging and suggest that an environment for innovation is emerging from this unique moment in the history of access to justice in Canada.