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Innovations towards access to justice in Uganda through Crowdsourcing - BarefootLaw
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Innovations towards access to justice in Uganda through Crowdsourcing  

Authors:1Kakuru Timothy, 1Sendi Emmanuel, 1Kennedy Kasozi, 1Irene, 1Gertrude Lamunu, 2Ruth Kigozi,  

Affiliations 

1 BarefootLaw Uganda 

2 Research for Transformation 

Abstract: 

Access to justice is a significant global challenge, with millions facing legal issues without adequate resolution. In Uganda, various regions encounter distinct challenges in accessing justice, leading to the emergence of localized legal innovations tailored to their specific needs. However, these innovations often remain limited to their respective contexts, despite addressing issues prevalent across multiple areas. This paper examines the current landscape of legal innovations in access to justice, documenting their application and impact within their communities while aiming to foster broader awareness and adoption of these solutions to enhance access to justice across diverse contexts. The study received over forty submissions, showcasing a diverse range of technological and non-technological innovations aimed at improving legal awareness, reducing costs, and overcoming physical barriers to justice. Six finalists were selected for public voting, with winning innovations addressing concerns such as mobile money disputes, legal education for inmates, and the creation of safe spaces for vulnerable groups. Analysis of the voting process provided insights into voter demographics and preferences. This research emphasizes the vital role of innovative solutions in addressing complex justice challenges and emphasizes the potential of crowdsourcing as a method for identifying and promoting effective interventions. 

Introduction 

Access to justice is one of the biggest development challenges globally with at least 1.4 billion people having unmet civil and administrative justice needs. The world Justice report (2019) showed that almost half of the people in the 101 countries surveyed had experienced a legal problem in the last two years, with the majority not turning to lawyers and courts. People faced a variety of hinderances to meeting their justice needs including recognizing that their problem had a legal remedy (29%) and difficulty in finding the money required to resolve the problem (16%). Over 17% had their justice problem persisting and they had given up any action to resolve it, and over 35% reported that their problem was still ongoing. In Uganda, 53% of the population surveyed experienced a legal problem in the past two years, only 54% had knowledge of where to get advice and information. 

Access to Justice in many developing countries is undermined by several factors including social relations environment, physical location, and inability to reach services, costs, the digital divide, and lack of legal information, among others [1]. Social relations affect interactions and actions of people directly and indirectly, impacting decisions to either seek or not seek help. This is compounded by issues of privacy, feeling of shame, fear of stigmatization [2].  Focusing on physical access, in Uganda, for example, only 18.2% of the people in rural areas can access a magistrate court within 5km, compared to 56% in urban areas [3]. Most Justice, Law, and Order Sector (JLOS) services remain in urban areas and the central region – creating a physical barrier that may result in those in need not attempting to close the distance gap, hence choosing to relinquish their rights. Costs, including lawyer fees, are increased by the fact that there are a few legal professionals residing and/or operating in rural or remote areas.  

Expanding and increasing access to justice is about rethinking what’s possible. Through innovation, one can increase the resources available, use them more efficiently, and provide better and new ways of accessing justice. Innovations in improving access to justice have been slow in developing countries compared to developed countries.  

In a 2016 report (Justice needs in Uganda, 2016), 90% of the respondents in the survey needed access to the justice system over the last few years, but their need was not met [5]. With such ongoing challenges, there is a need to fast-track innovations to improve access to justice for all who need it, more so among those underserved and marginalized. In Uganda, current technology-related innovations have included use of socio-media like Facebook and WhatsApp to provide legal information to those in need. SMS and voice technologies have also been used.  Other non-technological innovations have included promotion of legal literacy through use of paralegals and law students to offer legal information and aid, the establishment of justice centers and conducting awareness outreaches in communities in need [6]. BarefootLaw sought to conduct research on innovative approaches, practices, methods, and services that are implemented in communities to expand and increase access to justice. The purpose of this study was to gather information on innovations, both technologies-based and otherwise, that have been implemented in a bid to make access to justice more readily available to individuals and communities in need in select countries. Presented in this preparation the results of a crowdsourcing challenge conducted.   

Methods 

A crowdsourcing contest was conducted to identify innovations towards improving access to justice in Uganda. The team defined the innovation challenge, designed communication and promotion strategies for the contest. Access to justice and innovation was defined as a process which enables people to claim and obtain justice remedies through formal or informal institutions of justice and in conformity with human rights standards. 

In this study, innovation was defined as a process, a domain, a product, or a service renewed and/or brought up to date by applying new processes, introducing new techniques or business models, or establishing successful ideas to improve access to justice. Key issues to note included process improvement, organization innovation through continuous improvement and development of new solutions, development of innovative products, service innovation, creation of new services for communities, etc. Innovations could also be community-led solutions, improvements embedding information or other technologies. According to the World Bank, the concept of “innovation” encompasses not only “technological innovation”, i.e., the diffusion of new products and services of a technological nature into the community, but equally, it includes non-technological forms of innovation, such as “organizational” innovations. The latter include the introduction of new management or organizational techniques, the adoption of new supply or logistic arrangements, and improved approaches to internal and external communications and positioning.  

Crowdsourcing challenge 

The challenge in Uganda was advertised for 4 weeks running between Sep – Oct 2022, advertised on all BarefootLaw media outlets including organization website, Facebook, and WhatsApp as well as partner websites located in various areas. Contest promotional activities included running the advertisement on local radio with high listenership. Radio stations included. These radios were selected for their higher numbers of listenership. 

At the end of the contest, 40 innovations were submitted. The team of five technical people assessed and scored the submissions. This team was composed of experts on access to justice and legal matters, communications, and monitoring and evaluation. An evaluation criterion was developed and focused on 5 attributes: 1) innovativeness, 2) affordability, 3) effectiveness, 4) scalability and 5) sustainability. “Innovativeness” was defined as a creative, unconventional, or new approach to the status quo in improving/increasing access to justice. The innovation/solution was “affordable” if it demonstrates a more cost-effective alternative as compared to the status quo. The solution was deemed “effective” if it does the work it is intended to do. Scalability was defined as feasibility for the solution/innovation to be applied, replicated, and scaled up to other communities. The solution was defined as “sustainable” if it had the ability to be supported or maintained continuously over time. 

Since the challenge included awarding the best three innovations, the team developed a selection process for the winners. Out of the 40 entries, 15 innovations with the highest scores were selected. These were then verified for existence and functionality.  Verification was conducted through field visits to the physical offices of the participants and having deeper interviews with the leaders of the organization/innovation. Out of the 15, 6 innovations were then put up for public voting. Voting was online using three media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and SMS for non-smart phone users. To create more awareness of the voting, announcements were made on three radio stations, two urban based stations (high listenership) and one local station covering the area where the innovations operate.  

Public voting process 

The voting process on the SMS platform required that the voter type “law add a number that represented the innovation” and then send it to 6115. This was then captured in the BarefootLaw Integrated Operating System (BIOS). Twitter and Facebook voting was conducted using the polls of the individual websites, with the vote numbers being displayed to the public in real-time as they voted. The posts were promoted so that a wider audience may be able to view them and vote. Voting lasted for two weeks. A twitter (now “X”) poll could only be published for a period of 7 days but since the call was for two weeks, a second set of polls were published immediately after the first expired to ensure continuous voting. Votes from the three platforms were assessed, and all duplicate votes removed. Duplicates were defined as a vote from a mobile phone number (for SMS) that had already sent in a vote. Facebook and Twitter (“X”) did not permit votes being cast more than once by the same profile user. With duplicates removed, a total of 471 (25%) votes were cast using SMS, 1098 (59%) using Twitter and 291 (16%) using Facebook. 

Results 

A total of 40 submissions were received from organizations and individuals based in 17 districts in Uganda. As seen in Table 1, majority of the applications were based in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, followed by Jinja, a peri-urban area and Buikwe district. The remaining applications were obtained from other districts, most of which are largely rural.  

Table 1: Districts where innovations were based.  

District Frequency 
Kampala 19 (48%) 
Jinja 3 (8%) 
Buikwe 3 (8%) 
Wakiso 2 (3%) 
Other 12 (30%) 
Total 40 

Figure 1: Regions in Uganda where innovations were based. 

Out of the 40 submissions, 52% reported that their innovations were non-technology based, while 48% reported their submissions to be technology based. Most (85%) innovations were reported to aim towards improving access to information, 37% aimed to improve attitudes and perception to towards the law and justice, 52% aimed to improve procedures and processes, 38% aimed to solve physical barrier challenges and 43% aimed to reduce costs associated to accessing Justice. The team reviewed all submissions. Innovations ranged from those towards creation of legal awareness, provision of safe spaces, use of paralegals, promotion of alternative dispute resolution, mass communication through radio, staging of legal related community dramas, use of websites and socio media technologies including Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube. 

Innovations on creation legal awareness 

Community meeting/outreaches/ legal clinics. Over 10 submissions had a component of community meetings/outreaches. Community meetings/outreaches aimed to create legal awareness on various justice topics including writing wills and their execution, child rights and protection, domestic violence, court procedures and processes, alternative dispute resolution among others.  

On top of community meetings, some participants reported provision of IEC materials to communities like police posts, community meeting spaces district and subcounty administrative offices.  IEC materials included leaflets and charts on court case filling and cash flow, contacts for agencies (non-government organizations, and civil society organization) in the legal space including those that fight corruption like IGG, those that provide legal services, etc. Sensitizations are also made on how to obtain knowledge on legal matters. 

Some innovations were focused on provision of legal and human rights awareness to a marginalized group.  One participant reported provision of such mentorships to young girls who have dropped out of school because of early pregnancy on legal related matters affecting them.   

Providing prisoners legal education to communities in need 

One of the innovations submitted focused on provision of legal training to inmates. The plan was to have these help their fellow prisoners in need, get a fair hearing in court. This helps solve the problem for a significant number of inmates who cannot afford a lawyer and have never been represented by a lawyer. The training enables inmates to become paralegals, teaching other prisoners about bail, court procedures, and rules of evidence. These paralegals are also empowered to prepare petitions and write appeals challenging inmates’ convictions and sentences. Some prisoners have gone ahead to study and earn law degrees.  This training is implemented through websites, but the plan is also to take advantage of social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) to have the training. use radio and virtual meeting mechanisms like zoom. 

Safe spaces  

One innovator submitted their work on the development and use of safe spaces to increase access to justice.  A safe space was defined as a space where girls feel comfortable and free express themselves without harm, intimidation threats or stigma. A safe space was created to teach, sensitize, and create awareness of the law and access to justice for young girls. In addition, the space provides child protection through promotion of a safe and friendly environment for girls and children in communities.  

Use of paralegals 

Several submissions had innovative components running on the model of paralegals. Paralegals are individuals without a law degree but have been given a legal training that enables them to provide a range of services considered to be part of a broader definition of legal aid, such as legal assistance, legal education, and legal information. They inform individuals in their communities of their rights, what, when and how of access to justice. Paralegals can also help minimize the intimidating nature of the justice systems through provision of easy-to-understand explanations of basic legal procedures and court processes, accompanying vulnerable members to court, making police reports, among others. With the aim of bridging the gap between the community and the justice system, paralegals also play an important role in alternative dispute resolution (ADR). 

Mass sensitization through radio 

Some innovations reported using radio in provision of legal information. 

Use of information and communication technology in improving access to justice 

Several submissions were anchored on use of information and communication (ICT) technology to improve access to justice. These comprised of apps to solve legal problems of a particular kind, for example legal issues with mobile money, app to access lawyers, automated case filling systems, websites, and social media including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Podcasts and Twitter.  Social media was majorly used to provide justice information. For example, on YouTube, participants build content through talk shows on various legal topics, and these are posted.  Websites are used for providing information and obtaining legal templates. One innovator reported that they provide support small and medium enterprises to generate legal documents conveniently, efficiently, and affordably using their organization website. 

Provision of free legal services  

Several submissions reported the provision of free legal services to those in need but cannot afford them.  

Community Drama 

One submission described the use of drama in hard-to-reach areas to sensitize communities on legal and justice matters. The drama skits teach and illustrate to the people the process of getting justice in their community. The drama is acted at weddings and other community gatherings. 

Out of the 40 submissions, 6 innovations were selected for public voting, and these are detailed below. 

Centre for Technology Disputes Resolution, Uganda (CTDRU). CTDRU’s solution tackled access to justice on an issue that lacked no prior solution, yet it was so prevalent in the country, affecting many people regardless of socio-economic status. The population of Uganda uses mobile money platforms to send money to one another from anywhere at any time. The major disadvantage with this system is when the money did not get to the intended receiver. Previously, it was possible for the service provider to snub individual customers with complaints, potentially causing largescale losses to many individual users. CTDRU developed a business strategy, where people can lodge their mobile transaction disputes with them, then works with mobile money service providers to resolve the conflict. CTDRU also provides free legal support to mobile money business clients with disputes. The Centre directly interfaces with the service providers to settle the conflict. 

Justice Defenders: Justice Defenders provide legal education and training to inmates to support those inmates who cannot afford a lawyer to have the ability and capacity to represent themselves and obtain a fair hearing.  The training also enables inmates to become paralegals, teaching other prisoners about bail, court procedures, and rules of evidence.  

Concern for girl child; Concern for girl child (CGC) provides safe spaces for girls to discuss the pressing challenges that face them, both social and legal and provides protection to those that need it. CGC has worked in partnership with other non-governmental organization including Child Rights and Violence Prevention Fund (CRVPF) and Luweero Cluster (CGC, TEAM Uganda, Nakaseke Community Childcare, just like my Child) to establish 20 Safe spaces in 2 districts in Uganda. On top of supporting them with justice related issues, girls are trained to be a voice for peers in communities, tackle challenges they face in the community, develop communication skills to address community leaders and develop innovative business ideas. CGC had so far reached out to 800 girls in safe spaces. 

Friends in need; Friends in need sensitize victims in respect of their rights when it comes to criminal and civil procedures. It gives directions and contacts to those who may be able to help community members with legal problems. It’s a project that also provides facilitation to those in need for example transport costs and welfare to victims especially in rape cases and other capital offenses. It’s made up entirely of volunteers who are majorly self-funding. 

Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy; This is an organization that provides trainings on forensic and criminology knowledge to professionals and other lay persons (criminal defendants) wishing to understand the nature, quality, relevance, and admissibility of scientific evidence in criminal proceedings. They train law enforcement officials on the various methods of collecting evidence and preserving the evidentiary chain and have a focus on improving the justice system through good evidentiary practices especially related to criminal procedure. 

Kumam youth group; Kumam youth group increases access to justice through drama. They write and act plays in the community on various legal issues and challenges, depict ways available for resolution, and create awareness on channels to access justice in a comical but educative way. 

Public voting results 

Characteristics of voters  

Facebook results showed that majority of the voters were 25 – 34 years of age (55.6%), followed by those 35 – 44 years (16.8%) and 18 – 24 years (15.9%). Majority (78.1%) of the voters were male, and only 22% were female. Only the Facebook platform enabled documentation of participant age and sex. 

Voting results  

Analysis of the various voting platforms revealed interesting results. While Concern for the Girl Child received the highest number of votes on the SMS platform, CTDRU had the highest number of votes on Twitter and Kumum youth group received the highest number of votes on Facebook. Combining all three voting platforms, CTDRU emerged with the highest number of votes. CTDRU was focused on providing an online platform where aggravated individuals with mobile money issues would log their complaint for redress. Lawyers would then work with mobile money service providers to ensure that client finances are returned. 

Applicant SMS Twitter Facebook Total 
CTDRU. 50 730 15 795 (42.7%) 
Justice Defenders 41 24 64 129 (6.9%) 
Concern for the Girl Child 128 299 58 485 (26%) 
Friends in Need 113 21 12 146 (7.8%) 
Centre for Criminology 28 49 85 (4.6%) 
Kumum youth group 111 16 93 220 (11.8%) 
Total 471 (25.3%) 1098 (59.0%) 291(15.6%) 1860 

Discussion 

This study identified innovations in access to Justice in Uganda using crowdsourcing. It is novel, in Uganda and the Sub-Saharan countries we carried this study in, to use crowdsourcing as a method of understanding the innovations available to improve and increase access to justice.  This approach can provide diversified sources of data compared to those that would have been obtained if only conventional research methods were used. It enabled the identification of innovations among actors operating in both the formal and informal justice centers. Innovations among actors in the informal sector are usually fostered by informal social networks and relationships that often lack the resources to publish their initiatives. This study revealed interesting innovations that have empowered people and those in need with access to justice and the much-needed legal knowledge to apply in and improve their circumstances and outcomes. 

Three voting platforms were employed in this study: Facebook, Twitter, and SMS. While Facebook and Twitter enabled participation from the would-be elites in terms of digital technologies, SMS enabled involvement of those who would be limited by a lack of social media presence. 

Results of the voting process may have been influenced by a number of factors including how wide spread and/or prevalent the justice problem is and therefore innovations towards solving it are highly welcome in the public eye (Ref), the population that is benefiting from the innovative solution; for example if the innovation is solving a justice problem commonly faced by those to do have the capacity to help themselves (Ref).  

The innovation on solving disputes related to mobile money was most popular probably because it solves a problem that is common to all people in the society (Ref). The problem transcends all classes, wealth index and other possible societal groupings and clusters. Overall, Ugandans are aware of the seemingly absolute power that telecom companies have over the users of their services and were happy to find that there was a solution. The solution provides redress to anyone regardless of the size of their claim. The innovation on providing the girl child with safe spaces where they can discuss legal issues affecting them would have been prominent because it provides a solution to an age-old challenge of ensuring protection of the girl child (Ref). The innovation of providing legal awareness through drama has the capacity to reach a group of people that would otherwise not be reachable by technology, and other conventional approaches of providing legal information, for example through a lawyer, and other court processes.  Drama is something that many Ugandans gravitate to. The simplistic approach of teaching people in the villages about their rights and how to deal with legal conflict through drama is something that is not popularized, and if it does happen has not been done on a large scale, especially when organized by a local schoolteacher. The passion for public civic and rights education resonated with the average Ugandan and motivated them to support this daring project. 

Study limitations 

The scope of participants and submissions received in this study may have been influenced by several factors including, the platforms used for the announcement and publication of the competition, time of the study, and the amount of funds that were announced to be awarded. While radio announcements were used to augment publicity of the competition, submission could only be done using the organization website, Facebook, and WhatsApp using Microsoft forms. This could have possibly limited innovators who are not well-versed with these platforms. Other research methods including key informant interviews have been used in the larger study. 

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