How innovation is changing up CLCs
Innovation and new methods of service delivery are having a lasting impact upon the day-to-day operations of Australia’s community legal centres, both for better and worse.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly following the recent Janders Dean #JDHorizons conference, National Association of Community Legal Centres director of policy and advocacy Amanda Alford said that the CLC sector has had to be continually innovative in thinking about ways to best meet the needs of respective communities, given the limited funding available.
“Emerging technology and innovation provides further opportunities for ensuring centres can help people through direct service delivery but also more broadly through increasing people’s access to information about the law and their rights,” she said.
“There are significant opportunities for innovation and technology to improve access to justice and protection and promotion of human rights as well as the everyday experience of people getting the legal help they need from our sector.”
There are already a range of examples of the CLC sector using innovation and technology to improve the lives of clients across Australia, Ms Alford said, including online intake systems, mobile and web-based applications, online handbooks and resources, web tools for navigating particular legal issues and interactive guidance using AI.
“More broadly, innovation and tech advancements also give people we work with new forums and mechanisms for speaking up and being heard,” she added.
But there are also negative and unintended consequences of technology and innovation on vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Australia and globally, Ms Alford reflected.
“These include broad issues such as human rights concerns and breaches, lack of accessibility, digital exclusion and a lack of transparency or oversight of technological developments,” she said.
“They also include specific legislative and policy approaches and implementation such as Robodebt and shifts to online systems at the expense of individual assistance from government bodies which increase demand for legal help.”
According to Ms Alford, there are a range of challenges to overcome, such as how to develop tech and innovation in ways that are mindful of human rights, ensuring tech is accessible and not exclusive, data sovereignty, and the costs associated with all of these challenges.
“Overcoming these challenges requires a range of approaches, including ensuring appropriate regulatory and human rights instruments, mechanisms and frameworks domestically and internationally, focus on responsible innovation and productive engagement across government, industry and private sector, academia and civil society,” she posited.
“[Further, there must be] true co-design, involving people in design and then testing of the systems that will ultimately affect their lives and their rights [and] transparency, for example about access to algorithms and underlying data given AI magnifies systemic bias in data.”
Looking forward, it is “absolutely vital” that the legal community put people and their rights at the centre of innovative thinking, Ms Alford concluded.
“Something that must be on the agenda of governments, business, the private profession and civil society is alike in finding ways to be more innovative about how we protect and promote human rights and uphold the rule of law and ensuring human rights are a front-of-mind consideration as we innovate and develop new technology,” she said.