I have been attending many court innovation conferences over the past year, and taking notes about what points of friction + failure arise as the institutions try to be more experimental, and more human-centered in their work.
One very interesting point, that I had not expected, was the suspicion that the frame of ‘user-centered design’ as an innovation method might actually be a smokescreen for cost-cutting. That the dressing of innovation was a mean to placate staff and other stakeholders, while their budgets were cut and less human-intensive services were put in place.
To me, this concern better fits with more general tech-oriented plans for court reform, in which AI, blockchain, data analytics, and other automation is brought in to ‘streamline’ services. User-centered design is better understood as a way of understanding how to make these new future investments in the court’s future versions, to serve people in the best way. Often, what user-centered design findings point to is the need to still have human-intensive (potentially expensive) services, that complement and support the tech-driven ones.
But the concern is not to be ignored: just because an initiative is carried out under the banner of ‘human-centered’ or ‘design and innovation’ does not mean that it leads to quality procedural or substantial justice.
Other major points of concern with design methods in court are the following:
- that courts have low tolerance for failure, and cannot waste public resources — so it is difficult to experiment
- limited budgets and overworked staff means that people don’t have the capacity for strategic, long term-oriented work
- the IT infrastructure is not modern or flexible enough to support the development of new applications on top of it
- human-centered design — especially participatory co-design — can be expensive
- there will always be trade-offs about who the main ‘users’ are, when prioritizing different possible designs, making it hard to be human-centered for all populations.
What are the other factors that make it hard for court leaders to run more pilots, to talk to their stakeholders, and to create more user-friendly services and policies?