Yvon Dandurand

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to work with the Measurement Working Group of Access to Justice BC (A2JBC) to develop an Access to Justice Measurement Framework.  The framework, endorsed by nearly 50 BC justice system stakeholders, is inspired by the triple-aim approach originally developed in the health sector and focuses on measuring outcomes.  It is a flexible framework that can be used by justice system stakeholders in British Columbia to align their various monitoring and evaluation efforts and to learn from each other’s experience with access to justice innovation. However, several issues remain before the framework can fully be implemented, not least of which are the current lack of reliable data (particularly outcome data), the limited access to existing data, and difficulties relating to the sharing and linking of data.

Addressing these issues requires leadership, dialogue, and a shared vision. ICCLR, together with the UVic Access to Justice Centre for Excellence (ACE) and A2JBC, co-sponsored two colloquia to advance the discussion and trace a path towards reliable and credible access to justice data in this province. Last May, in Vancouver, the first colloquium produced a high level overview of the access to justice data currently available from access to justice organizations and government institutions. It also served to clarify some of the potential obstacles, including privacy protection laws, to greater information gathering and sharing within the access to justice sector. One of the conclusions reached at that colloquium was that “…enhancing data quality and empirical knowledge will require an overarching data vision based upon agreement across the justice sectors on goals and strategies as well as methods of data production, collection and sharing.”

Last week another colloquium took place, in Victoria, to further advance the discussion. Part of the discussion focused on privacy protection laws and the legal requirements that must be satisfied before personal data can be shared for research and evaluation purposes. A discussion paper on Privacy and Justice Sector Research and Evaluation produced for ACE by David Loukidelis helped clarify certain misconceptions about data sharing.  Colloquium participants were also asked to consider the idea of building a justice sector “data commons”.

In recent years, data commons have become an effective research tool in the humanities, social sciences, health, and earth/space field for coalitions of stakeholders to come together to share data publicly or semi-publicly for research and other purposes. ACE, working with the Information Systems Branch of the BC Ministry of AG, began a discussion with representatives of the “Data Innovation Program” (DIP) operated by the BC Ministry of Citizen Services. Through DIP, existing data sets from various ministries and agencies are collected, linked and de-identified in a secure central platform (known as a “secure research environment”) to support specific population-level research projects. The platform is designed around stringent security standards and has built-in protections against the risk of unauthorized access to data.

The DIP has agreed to work with ACE and the Ministry of AG and other justice stakeholders to explore how justice system entities might participate in a data sharing platform. ACE, A2JBC and ICCLR believe that this is a very promising and potentially productive opportunity for the justice system to make progress towards enhanced access to justice data.  Colloquium participants endorsed in principle the possibility of collaborating with the DIP to create a BC justice data commons. However, the work must also continue to improve the quality and coverage of existing access to justice data if future data sharing is to be at all meaningful.

Further reading:
A2JBC (2017). Access to Justice Measurement Framework.

Loukidelis, D. (2020). Discussion Paper: Privacy and Justice Sector Research and Evaluation. UVicACE.

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash.

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