How can we train people with basic education to understand and use complex laws?

Dear Nani,

I am just sharing some of our experience in trying to promote awareness education on land laws and help people understand and apply these laws in solving their land issues. We normally follow the steps below:


  1. Identify the key issues;

  2. Research any relevant laws, regulation, directions/orders that are suited to the specific issues of the targeted community;

  3. Once we know the links between the issues and the laws, we do a deep analysis to find specific sections or key part of these laws to the issue or interest to the community;

  4. If there are many, we will try to split sections of the law; for example; (a) requirements (b) time-frame © key actors/institutions (d) roles of engagement bodies/individuals (e) penalties, etc. By breaking it down into small topics it is easier to focus and help move on to next steps.

  5. Prepare or seek any other available resources that are written or translated in simple language with the same meaning described in the specific section of the law, etc. It will also help to confirm that the complicated definitions or terms are well translated into simple wording.

(In the preparation steps we need to consider not only laws and issues but also other supporting factors such as, setting time, locations, receiving support for logistics, resources, formal or informal approval/permissions, understanding cultural sensitivities and behaviors of respective target group., etc. It is also great if we can have a separate discussion about this)

Actual Training Session step

We can start with highlighting a few issue areas, just to warm up. Then, we can move forward to go through reading exercise of relevant law:

Reading exercise

  1. First round of reading : Distribute actual text bodies of specific laws and ask for quick skimming through the document. Then, the facilitator can guide the participants to skim again in a given time to search specific parts of the law. Eg. What is the page number where it mentioned the role of the engagement body mentioned in the law?, Where can you find the points mentioned about the requirements? etc.

  2. Second round of reading: Facilitate the participants reading specific pages or sections referring to one of the questions mentioned above. Give the participants time to reflect on what they understand. Give time for individual reflection. Then, the facilitator can form small groups and allow them to share how they understand it among each other.

  3. Written exercise: Each group writes down on paper in their own language as they understand the clause or section. Then exchange the written documents or read out loud. We can start with small paragraphs or sections, and repeat the exercise, depending on the time and topic. Then, the facilitator can distribute handouts or documents which are already prepared in simple language followed by the explanation to clarify the key points raised during the discussion.

  4. Presentation: After that, each group can again reflect on the topics/sections of laws and prepare for an actual presentation. The facilitator will remind the participants of the key points that the presentations should include: (a) correct laws, sections, and key points of that clause (b) link these with the issue/interests of listeners © use local words or examples to help the listeners understand (d) use interactive ways of communicating, etc.

Reflection on the exercise

Then, reflection on the section of the law can be done. It usually draws on what we have learnt from the exercises. Eg. The reading exercise help the participants familiarize themselves with structures of actual laws.
The writing exercise helps the participants better understand the wording and meaning of the law’s terms in comparison with the common local wording usages. The presentation exercise helps the participants to support more understanding on the law sections, through the practice of sharing with others.

By doing these exercises with people with basic education, it helps to build more understanding of respective laws and also build up the confidence of the individual participant. It also allow them to try more with other similar laws individually or in a group., etc.

It is also great to hear any other thoughts or more techniques from other team members as well. Thank you very much.


Dear Yeyinth Thank you so much for your respond, and it is very helpful and seem like workable to my community. I will bring this inputs to our legal empowerment strategy discussion.



@naniz this question is very important for our work on environment justice too. Infact more often than not we have to find creative ways of being able to communicate complex environment regulation to the people we work with. Paralegals and other team members have tried creating games, used street plays, drawn dialogues or sequences from popular cinema to be able to communicate law to people who need it the most. In some other instances, it has been long and free wheeling discussions around these procedures that linked to real time problems, so that law is not an abstraction but a meaningful learning.

One such experience is shared through this case: where there is a description of a game used with illiterate women to understand the Municipal Solid Waste Guidelines in India. They not just learnt these but also showcased their knowledge when the government officials came for a site inspection! Will be great to hear your thoughts on this.



In legal empowerment programs that focus on the education of grassroots communities on laws and legal remedies, it is important to follow one of Freire’s fundamental principles of popular education – start where the people are. Instead of starting with the law and legal remedies, the discussion must start with the situation and the legal problem.

In your case, you focus on problems related to legal identity and violence against women. The discussion of the community’s legal problems must then lead to the community’s identification of their desired solutions. Educators must help communities articulate their idea of justice.

Even before the discussion of laws, the participants should have the opportunity to think about, and express, how they want the issue to be resolved. Do they want the perpetrators of violence detained? Do they want the police to intervene? What about the victim/survivor? Only after the participants have voiced out their idea of a just solution will the discussion then present the law and the available legal remedies.

Ideally, the solution provided by the law will somehow match or meet the community’s desired solution to their problems. By starting with the community’s situation, and the community’s perspective of the legal problem and the desired solution, the discussion of the law and the legal remedies will be more relevant and easily understood.

Lastly, the discussion of the law must focus on what the community can do and how the community can use the law to avail of legal remedies. It should be more than knowledge of what the law says. The discussion must center on how the community must act to use the law and actively seek the available remedies.


Because of the low level of education of the rural poor especially women and their exclusion in making decisions in land deals and decision making, we usually conduct special educational sessions for women only to get them to understand the law/policy and be able to use them to their advantage

In one of such meetings on women’s land and property rights, we start with role plays that illustrate the various issues relating to topic of the day e.g. women’s land/property rights. The participants themselves are use as cast in the plays. After the play the participants are asked to tell what they learn from the play. The discussions around the play will facilitate learning and will create the stage for the facilitator in our case the paralegal for teaching on the topic of the day.

  • The content of the session should be simple and straight forward

  • Make it as short and to the point, don’t keep the meeting long- you can agree to have a long topic into multiple short sessions spread over a period of time

  • Integrate the training with practical exercises, energizers, and role play, songs etc.

  • Session should be made interesting and participatory


Those are really great points, Daniel! The role play exercise or energizers are also important. These help a lot to attain more focus, attention and concentration too. If anyone has favorite role play or energizers to use during the complex law training sessions, I would also be pleased to learn. Thanks.


Dear Kanchikohli. Thank you so much for the inspiration. Yes, I think games would be great, and we also use for our other workshop process. The challenge would be to develop games which is not so difficult to be connected with the content and further discussion on the law it self.


Very much agree Marlonmanuel, thank you for the discussion. The popular education as Freire’s principle is the key in the process our our paralegal training. And yes, it leads to action. However, in some stage especially when they have to deal with the authority, they have to articulate the “law” - so that they gain attention and respect from them.


Here are some useful tips for training people with basic education to understand complex law;

Training/educational curriculum should be well tailored to fit the context of the training and educational level of the trainees. You should stick to only those laws/legal topics that are relevant at the time.

A trainer/facilitator should not attempt to do lengthy session in a day or within a short time, instead the session should be broken down into several smaller sessions…remember that the educational level of your participants is low and that law/legal concepts in themselves are complex to understand. So trying to get participants to comprehend everything at a go or in a short time will further confuse them instead of getting them to understand the concepts. Make the sessions simple and to the level of the participants. Break all big legal languages into smaller ones that could be easy for the people to understand- avoid using too much legalized languages.

Observing the behavior of the participants during trainings is very crucial, if you notice that their participation level is getting low, stop the session and do some energizers-this will get them back to live for effective participation. If after two other breaks to do exercise and the participation level continue to drop, stop the session and continue later. Sometimes their non -participation is because they are not understanding the topic, in such cases, go over again and again until they show signs of understanding. Don’t assume they understand until you get it through their responses and participations.

Using practical teaching techniques such as case study presentation, use of pictorial illustrations, relating concept to everyday life situations, using human stories etc. could be of great benefit. The sessions should be made as practical as possible to enhance effective learning. Always ask questions that will provoke participation…don’t forget, the class should remain actively participatory throughout.


Dear yeyinth,

Thank you for sharing your well thought training process


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Dear Nani. Thank you for raising important topics and nice to see all important suggestions in this regard I just want to add few others such as

  1. To develop few mobile apps with audio, video training materials on basic education to understand and use complex law ( if possible)
  2. Create groups on social media or separate platform to follow up the trainer after just completing the training



Thank you Zia. The idea of mobile apps is interesting.

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Thank you Daniel. I agree that stories and cases are effective way to link theory and live reality. Time management is very important especially we facilitate the grass root women who have millions responsibility on their plates.


Hello Nani and friends. This is a great thread, and it’s exciting to hear of the work that is going on. Our NGO Law for Life works with many different groups and organisations both in the UK and in other countries to support public legal education and information as a cornerstone of access to justice.

I’d be happy to share some of our resources here if they are helpful.

By way of short sumary of methods, we tend to start with legal needs survey data. Our last population wide work helped us to set priorities and policy directions. It is linked here:

Of course it isn’t always possible to get access to large scale survey data. Sometimes we do smaller qualitative work - with excluded young people for example. We fit the needs survey to the budget that we can manage.

Once we are clear who the priority audience is, we do a closer assessment of learning needs and think about literacy level, skills, language and cultural barriers and levels of fear or confidence in dealing with law. We also always work with someone who is close to a community or trusted - like a community leader or peer, to make sure we get the needs assesment right.

We will then design a curriculum and teaching style to meet needs - it might be theatre, role play, story telling, film, workshops or information (and many more) - often a combination of things is best to build legal capability.

I’ve linked to some of our free teaching resources here which contain lots of exercises:

Our senior tutors wrote a blog recently about how we teach about law:

Finally, we evaluate all of our teaching and make sure we have really had an impact, that we can see a change in the level of legal capability an individual or a group has. We usually do a ‘before and after’ type evaluation based one some main competencies ir capabilities. Our evaluation framework and materials are here:

There are lots more resources on our public legal information service - advicenow:

and we collect tools and resources to help practitioners here:

If we can be of any help with anyone on the thread or you have an questions I’d love to hear from you!


dear nani Thank you so much for sharing this important topic

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Dear All. Greetings from Hulhumale, Maldives. Thank you for the discussions and I apologize for jumping in late into the discussion mix. It has been a pleasure to read the inputs and in doing so I have only found suggestions that I am fully supportive of. I especially appreciated the suggestion put forward about having the community members conduct reflection on the exercises.

I therefore wanted to try to identify some ideas that may not have been put forward, or possibly I have missed them.

In working with communities what we find very useful after this reflection activity mentioned above is to have the participants plan and implement the teaching of the information they have received to others in the community. This teaching to others helps to more fully secure the information they have learned and it embeds this information much more fully into their memory. Moreover, in the teaching of the information to others the former “Participant/Learner” now becomes a “Trainer/Facilitator/Educator” and in doing so is placed in a position to experience the newly discovered knowledge in a slight to very different way. This broadens his/her understanding of the materials and information. As well, the teaching to others further disseminates the information into the community, often in an exponential way.

In conjunction with doing this we also suggest engaging the community members in their own pre-training community assessment activity prior to their teaching the information to others. In essence, they are develop an ability to conduct basic monitoring and evaluation techniques and this experience and practice can be applied in many ways moving forward.

Finally, and similar to the above, it can be helpful to have the community members develop their own post assessment/evaluation instruments for the trainings that they conduct. Doing so has the reflect on what goals they want to achieve during their trainings and then helps to enable the trainings to see if these goals have in fact been met.

I hope these suggestions are helpful in some way and want to thank all of you for what you do.



I liked this point very much.

Create groups on social media or separate platform to follow up the trainer after just completing the training

You can always refer people to join this network. The link to share for people to learn about us and to sign up is simply

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We start by first getting the people themselves being actively involved in knowing and understanding in the most simple way how these Laws operate. Start where the people are @ marlonmanuel

Daniel in addition to making the sessions simple and straight forward ,training of the indigenes themselves should be paramount. This will empower them to know how to tackle issues relating to complex Laws,procedures and how to seek redress in possible situations.Lack of Knowledge of the Laws relating more especially to Land rights was the main course of the SOCFIN issue in Pujehun (Sierra Leone). I am very certain if the indigenes knew their rights at that time ,then they would have been in a better position to address that particular issue.

Secondly train the youth of a particular community to become paralegals.They relate well with their people.


The approach should be to offer holistic capacity building programs. Just like in any other discipline, piecemeal approach will not yield results. When taking a group of para legals through a capacity building process, it is important to do follow up work, either by organising structured sessions, or by on the job hand holding, or both. Capacity building work should not end with few sessions. It is not effective, whether for the objective of building skills & understanding, or to bring attitudinal change. For on the job hand holding, it can be helpful to pair the paralegals with a mentor, from within the organisation or outside, who can help the person connect her/his learnings from structured trainings and practical experiences, or act as just sounding board. Also, this mentor may not necessarily be her/his reporting authority.

From our experience, important aspects to look out in training programs are:

  1. APPROACH: The approach should be to make this experience as holistic as possible. For example, one of the approaches could be to also address the identity of paralegals, and connect them to their historicity, for them to acknowledge & understand the discrimination & violence they have witnessed or faced in their own lives. The approach should be to teach law in as innovative way as possible.

  2. CONTENT: The content, over & above the course content, should also include some tools which can help the paralegals in self assessment as well as participant’s assessment.

  3. METHODOLGY: Needless to say, the methodology has to be participatory. This, however, should not be limited to participants participating in discussion. This should essentially mean that participants are given opportunities to question, reflect and discuss the problems and solutions. How diverse the trainees group should be will depend upon the objective of the training, trainers’ ability to handle the diversity, as well as organisation’s specific context in this regard.

Shaveta Sharma-SAILS


Hello Tina The idea of train the youth to become paralegal is interesting. However, in many context youth are not interested, and we only have grass root women who have very limited formal education background to support the poor community. But, I agree that if we still can, have youth to be part of paralegal movement is great.


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