Creating Technology for Social Change

Liveblogging #ODR2016: Afternoon sessions on innovating justice

I’m here at the #ODR2016 conference at the Peace Palace in The Hague. ODR2016 is the annual meeting of the Online Dispute Resolution Forum, an international assembly of lawyers, mediators, technologists, and others who care about technology and dispute resolution. It is cohosted by the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, where I am a fellow.

This liveblog represents a best-efforts account, not a direct transcript, of the lecture, presentation, and/or panel.

After lunch, we have three speakers lined up for afternoon sessions:

  • Making ODR happen: an executive branch perspectiveTom Wynne-Morgan, UK Ministry of Justice
  • Making ODR part of cutting edge innovation strategies of governmentsH.E Al Majid, Chief Innovation Officer UAE Ministry of Justice
  • HiiL Innovating Justice approach to ODR and justice innovationSam Muller, CEO, HiiL Innovating Justice

Tom Wynne-Morgan is a designer who currently works as a product manager within the UK Ministry of Justice. A few years ago, the UK announced a ‘Digital by Default’ standard for their government, and implementing this has required a massive amount of work to transition basic (and advanced) government services into usable digital experiences. Doing this well has required focusing on the user, shifting the role of government from IT procurement to service delivery, and setting UI/UX standards.

Tom has been working on a project for UK MOJ to facilitate divorces. He quotes a UK legislator working on family issues who issued a call to “to foster a cultural change to enable people to solve their own disputes in a less acrimonious way and not look to government to do it for them.”

~50k Britons attend court to make arrangements for children as a result of marriage disputes. There are an increasing number of litigants who may not fully understand what the courts can (or can’t) provide them. Part of his mandate, Tom says, is to design systems that better understand and facilitate user needs and expectations so they don’t have to fall-back on the courts.

Tom argues that policy-making and service-design are (or should be) the same thing. He quotes Herbet Simon: “everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” He describes the methods by which the UK MOJ mapped user ‘touchpoints’ in family courts to abstract needs that a newly designed service could fulfill, as well as the challenges of trying to implement conventional best-practices for digital service design (i.e. agile methodology) within a legislative context and culture that accepts and generates change much more slowly.

Tom views the future of building government technology for the UK as one where the government does the work of settling political questions (e.g., what kind of taxonomies should be used to structure public data) and making available data, and then both public and private partners build on that base to design new products for constituent/consumer use.


H.E Al-Majid opens with a history of the foundation of the UAE and also a vision of its future. The seven touchstones of UAE Vision 2021, includes a safe and fair public judiciary..

Al-Majid says that UAE is innovating to achieve justice by transitioning toward more ODR. Based on the metrics outlined on the UAE website, it seems that one way that UAE self-evaluates is by a set of World Bank metrics, e.g. “A composite indicator that measures the effectiveness of enforcing contracts within the “Doing Business” report…” So, from my perspective, it seems like ODR makes sense in terms of helping UAE meet certain goals.

To be honest, this talk was way more about how UAE is trying to create national happiness than it was about anything substantively related to ODR or justice.

I wanted to ask whether ODR would be available to the migrant workers laboring under so-called ‘modern-day slavery’ to build much of the UAE, but unfortunately, I was not able to get access to the microphone during Q&A.


Sam Muller, the CEO of HiiL, wants to share some insights on why he helped start HiiL and what he sees the future of ODR to be. Sam believes that ‘a good state’ offers its citizens a ‘bundle of effective procedures’ that helps people negotiate disputes as they encounter them in daily life.

The traditional solutions, argues Muller, are more of everything: more courts, more lawyers, more rules, more systems. But, Muller argues, the continued accretion of traditional legal concepts and entities will not actually provide more justice to anyone. He points to the ICC (which he was involved with initiating) as the ultimate, inadequate legal institution. Instead, a more ‘innovative’ approach will contemplate new actors and ways of approaching and resolving disputes.

Part of this approach requires better data on the kinds of actors who have disputes and the disputes that they have. Muller points to a survey HiiL carried out in Yemen at the behest of the UN. They assumed that most of the problems would have been in the traditional ‘human rights’ realm, but most people actually reported consumer complaints, like buying a cellphone or car that didn’t work. This kind of empirical work can help set priorities for governments, NGOs, and companies in this space, which can be consolidated through political coalitions. Muller sees the ‘innovation of justice’ as proceeding through a combination of this kind of data-driven and compromise-enabled empirical/political work.