A theory of change for Legal Design work

I have been reading a tremendous amount of policy and design literature, to find some worthwhile grounding of my Lab’s design work in the civil justice sphere, in other academic and policy literature that is also concerned with creative, participatory strategies for social impact.

I have been hashing out — what is the connection between running design workshops, doing user research, holding co-design and evaluation sessions — and then actually making an impact on big policy and social problems? Especially as my Lab at Stanford is now reaching its 5 year birthday, it is time to think at a larger scale and more deliberate path on how to translate empathetic, rich, human-centered design work into meaningful change for people.

The path I see is for design-tech innovation labs (like my own at Stanford, or others at universities, non-profits, research groups, or in the government), is to be shepherds of better interventions fully from user-driven insights to scaled roll-outs across jurisdictions. This means investing in a much wider set of capacities, to do:

– creative and participatory exploration of problems, needs, and possible solutions are at the beginning (as many design labs and civic tech have been doing)

– tech and policy development (as many law school labs are beginning to invest in)

– systems design to conduct multi-stakeholder political work, getting buy-in for trying new ideas, for data-sharing, for pilot evaluations, etc. — and also seeing what systemic effects/complementary efforts are related to this new solutions

– statistical, data, and research design skills to conduct rigorous evaluation work, and to know how to work with data, and to identify new data to be generating/using

– marketing/community outreach power to attract more users and providers to know about the new ‘innovation’ and to use and spread it

This means having a more diverse research group than our current law school labs have, or combining different labs’ skill sets to allow this combination of roles to work together to bring projects from early-stage concepts to impactful innovations.