This month we feature Making the Law Work for People: Legal Empowerment and Inclusive Innovation, by the Open Society Foundations, Pascal Soboll, and Network member Matthew Burnett (@mburnett).
This resource also features the work of Network members through 4 case studies:
- ACIJ, from Argentina (@SebastianPilo)
- SWEAT, from South Africa
- JustFix, from the US (@daniel_kass @gclement)
- LET STATION, from North Macedonia (@vesnashapkoski)
In nearly every part of the world, grassroots legal empowerment organizations work to address our collective, systemic, and sustained failure to protect and defend the rights of vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities.
Core to this work is a fundamental critique of the law and systems of justice: that they are largely designed to protect those in power, and that any meaningful, equitable, and accessible system of justice must put the power of law into the hands of everyday people.
Our question is this: if access to the law and legal protections are largely designed to safeguard the interests of the privileged and powerful, how might they be re-designed and re-imagined to protect and promote the rights and interests of the most vulnerable?
The legal empowerment model consists of three pillars of individual and community action: know law, use law, and shape law. These pillars form the legal empowerment cycle. The legal empowerment approach is bottom-up, rather than top-down. When individuals and communities are empowered to know and use the law, this opens up new possibilities to shape and remake it.
Effective legal empowerment interventions thus inform new ways of knowing and applying the law, as well as addressing systemic change. Dismantling systems of rationed justice and arbitrary power and creating systemic change are fundamental to the legal empowerment approach. This gets to the heart of why we have created this handbook. Transforming systems requires innovation and experimentation, but most efforts to increase access to justice are focused only on designing solutions to address the first half of the equation–making existing laws more accessible and entrenched legal systems more usable–rather than designing solutions for systemic change.
This handbook guides organizations on how to bridge both ends of this spectrum, giving teams that are pushing boundaries within the legal empowerment field access to innovative tools and approaches that will help them design solutions to increase access to existing laws and legal remedies as well as to share approaches for shaping innovations that are focused on systemic change. Along the way, we pay special attention to providing practical ways to co-design inclusive innovations that are designed with, not for, affected communities.
Finally, this handbook is intentionally designed to be conversational and visual; it is a practical, applied resource that includes real-world case studies and lessons from frontline organizations. Its audience is legal empowerment practitioners as well as designers, researchers, and policy makers working with legal empowerment organizations. We pay particular attention to how to apply these tools in ways that are aligned with core values and objectives of the legal empowerment field, including an overall approach that explicitly centers equity and inclusion throughout. The work of legal empowerment changes constantly, and grassroots advocates and civil society organizations around the world are driving the field ahead. This handbook represents a modest contribution, which would not be possible without the work and dedication of the thousands of legal empowerment practitioners and frontline groups that work tirelessly in the pursuit of justice for all.
As always, please let us know your thoughts on this resource by commenting below.
The Featured Resource is a short profile of a key resource found in the resource library of the Legal Empowerment Network. These resources can be older or brand new, but they all touch on important themes within legal empowerment. If you have a resource you would like to profile with the network, upload it directly at this link or email it to email@example.com.