Assistance and encouragement to report issues provides an interesting field of innovation in access to justice and technology. The issues can cover virtually anything. Just by way of example of the possibilities, no less than three of the list of seven African semi-finalists in the HiiL Justice Accelerator 2017 Challenge related to reporting, all from Zimbabwe. They were an Environmental Justice Reporting App from the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association; a Mobile Corruption Reporting App from Transparency International: Zimbabwe and a Road Rules app to help motorists fight traffic police corruption. This suggests that this represents a distinct type of provision that is worth exploring.
The origin of this type of app that guides a user through a process; maximises the potential of a mobile phone or easy internet access; retains data and can send it to somewhere appropriate may come from those developed early on to help users marshal their evidence in road traffic accidents. These have existed for some time and, presumably, appeal to more pessimistic drivers who think that there chances of an accident are such that it is worth downloading an app to deal with it. As US Consumer Reports put it back in 2012: ‘In the harried moments following a fender bender, it can be difficult to think clearly. But properly documenting what happened and who was involved is critical. Capturing that information can save both money and hassles later on. Fortunately, there are apps for that.’ There are now apps for specific functions such as assisting you to sketch what happened or ones that guide you through what to do more widely after a crash. Assistance has spread to cycling – with Cycling UK, for example, providing an online facility for reporting potholes in the road.
Two projects show the innovative potential for apps or websites that facilitate self reporting supplemented by institutional backup. These are Justfix.nyc which came third in HiiL’s Justice Accelerator Innovating Justice Challenge for 2017 and Project Callisto, a tool to combat sexual harassment on university campuses. The founders of both have achieved a degree of recognition outside the legal services world. Callisto’s Jessica Ladd is a TED speaker. Just Fix’s co-founders, Daniel Kass and Georges Clement, were recognised in Forbes’ list of 30 law and policy stars under 30 (Alas, the third co-founder, Ashley Trent, hit 30 just too early to join the boys). Jessica Ladd come from right outside the legal services context – her background is in sexual health.
The originality of both projects is their addressing of very specific problems through the encouragement of self-help integrally linked to human services. New York has a problem of long term private tenants who face housing disrepair. That probably reflects a distinct housing market different from that, for example, in the UK. Callisto focuses on the issue of repeat sexual harassers on college campuses and is one of a number of apps or websites to use the advantages of the internet. For domestic or sexual violence, the ease of access of the net and the attendant anonymity may be a positive advantage over face to face assistance. Callisto is based on the notion that the repeat offender is responsible for disproportionate numbers of sexual assaults: the ‘Harvey Weinstein’ phenomenon.
Both Just Fix and Callisto encourage users to structure information on their situation. Callisto provides questionnaires to help those reporting an incident. Just Fix facilitates tenants to complete a log of problems and to upload photos. At a point of their own choosing, the two projects then allow the user to report their problem. In Just Fix’s case, this could be to the landlord or a housing organisation.
For Callisto, there is a twist. A user can opt just to store information on the system in an encrypted form unreadable even to those behind the programme. They are notified if someone else names the same perpetrator. If they respond to that, then a co-ordinator from one of the 12 campuses where the project is currently operating can be contacted for help.
Both apps can assist at a systemic level. Just Fix can plot cases against a map of New York and co-operating housing organisations can make links between properties with the same landlord or sharing the same problem. Callisto claims to raise reporting levels by a factor of five and encourages users to report three times more quickly. It also allows statistics on reports that have been filed but not disclosed, giving participating institutions another measure of how prevalent problems might be. Both have videos describing their operation – Just Fix is here and Callisto has been featured by the BBC’s Click programme.
Just Fix New York and Project Callisto are sophisticated products from the US. But they reflect a global interest in how new services might be developed. The HiiL Africa list shows the width of appeal of provision that maximises the potential of easily accessible internet connection. This is an area where more innovation is likely precisely because it has the potential to combine self help with assistance in an economic way.
This article is an edited excerpt from an annual report for the Legal Education Foundation on developments in the access to justice and technology field which should be published in the next couple of months. At this stage, response can be made to comments made via twitter (@law-tech-a2j.org) or email (email@example.com).