This is the emerging story of Access to Justice BC (A2JBC): a collaboration of individuals and organizations committed to improving access to justice in British Columbia. Our story shows how, through thoughtful and principled commitment to systemic change, A2JBC has become a catalyst for action, promoting an approach to action that requires a justice system culture shift.
Responding to the Call for A2J Action
In October 2013, a cross-Canada Action Committee published “Access to Civil &Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change”, suggesting that the time for reports was over – and calling for action across the country.
In the spring of 2015, BC justice system leaders responded by creating the BC Access to Justice Committee, made up of leaders from key justice system stakeholders, from the public and from other sectors.
Setting the Course
At its first meeting on June 25, 2015, the Committee confirmed a common goal of access to justice, embraced a culture of innovation and collaboration, defined its scope as civil, family, administrative and immigration – not criminal – and set its top three priorities: the family justice system, changing justice system culture, and aboriginal issues. Chief Justice Bauman was confirmed as the Chair of the BC Access to Justice Committee and its Executive.
Al Etmanski, author of Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation, participated in the first meeting and convinced the group that they should think like a movement if they really wanted to impact the intractable problem of access to justice. This led to the collaborative initiative being renamed “Access to Justice BC” (A2JBC) and the Committee becoming “the Leadership Group”.
The First Steps in Providing Leadership
In September 2015, the Leadership Group met for a second time and struggled with how to provide effective leadership. No one wanted A2JBC to fall into the old pattern of making recommendations for action that would not be implemented. A2JBC was supposed to be about action. But what could A2JBC do without the resources or authority to act?
One answer was that it could inspire action by aligning the justice sector organizations around the common goal of access to justice.
Over the fall of 2015, A2JBC developed the Access to Justice Triple Aim, a concept borrowed from the US-based Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) http://www.ihi.org. The Access to Justice Triple Aim is one user-centred goal – improving access to justice - with three measurable interrelated elements:
- Improved population access to justice
- Improved user experience of access to justice, and
- Improved costs
While it unifies justice sector organizations together in the pursuit of an aspirational goal, it leaves it to justice organizations to determine how the three elements of the aim will be achieved within their respective mandates.
The A2JBC Framework for Action
A second step to providing leadership was to provide the justice sector with a framework for action, based on what other sectors had learned about successful collective impact initiatives. Simultaneously with the A2J Triple Aim, A2JBC developed its Framework for Action that included:
- commitment to a common goal (the Triple Aim)
- user and multi-disciplinary participation
- an experimental approach; and
- practical common outcome measures.
The principles underlying the Framework for Action continue to guide A2JBC.
Demonstrating the culture shifts
At its February 2016 meeting, the Leadership Group engaged in a process to determine what initiatives would attract the necessary commitment to action among the stakeholders, while at the same time provide a testing ground to demonstrate the culture shifts. Ultimately three A2JBC initiatives emerged:
A2JBC working groups were set up to support the development of each of these three initiatives. In addition to nurturing some promising innovations, A2JBC wanted to create the conditions for the justice sector to learn, through experience, how to be user-centred, collaborative, experimental and evidenced-based.
Working with the BC Aboriginal [now First Nations] Justice Council
In early 2016, Chief Justice Bauman met with some BC Aboriginal Justice Council members and was invited to attend a Council meeting. As a result of those meetings, the Aboriginal Justice Council assigned Council Member Colleen Spier to be their liaison member with Access to Justice BC. Now the Executive Director of the First Nations Justice Council is a member of the Leadership Group and the Steering Committee.
In late 2016/early 2017, a small group, including then Provincial Court Chief Judge Crabtree and Aboriginal Justice Council members, met twice to explore areas of common interest. Indigenization of the child protection justice system was identified as a priority, and a possible initiative in this area at the community level was explored. This led to the Aboriginal Justice Council and Access to Justice BC jointly supporting the Cowichan Tribes Justice project and a successful application for funding to the Law Foundation.
Reflecting on Strategy
At its November 2016 meeting, the Leadership Group reflected on its experience to date and what it said about how A2JBC could make a difference. In early January 2017, building on those reflections, the Executive and Planning Committees clarified A2JBC’s role as a social impact network that connects organizations and individuals committed to access to justice, and aligns them around common strategies. From that meeting, there emerged an understanding that A2JBC is looking, in the long-term, for transformative not just incremental change to the justice system.
Engagement was identified as a top strategy – a requirement for A2JBC to grow into a robust network that can impact access to justice.
Realizing the A2JBC Approach
At the January 2017 strategy meeting, the group watched a video about how the introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, for the purpose of controlling the deer population, ended up changing the Park’s ecosystem in unexpected ways and for the better. It asked itself - what is A2JBC’s wolf factor? - and decided that A2JBC could have the biggest impact on access to justice if it set the conditions for a justice system cultural shift:
- From siloed to collaborative
- From court-centred to user-centred
- From reluctant to risk failure to experimental
- From assuming what works best to evidence-based.
This became known as the A2JBC Approach.
From the beginning, measuring access to justice was understood to be a key step towards the justice system becoming more evidence-based. A Measurement Working Group was created to consider how to effectively align the justice sector around a common approach to measurement. A Measurement Framework was developed, which was confirmed at the May 2017 Leadership Group meeting.
In August 2018, the working group published a user guide to measuring access to justice “Walking the Talk about Measuring Access to Justice - Applying the Access to Justice Triple Aim and Measurement Framework: A User Guide”.
The Measurement Working Group continues to meet to discuss ways to further the practice of A2J measurement in BC. It works in partnership with the Access to Justice Centre of Excellence (ACE), based at the University of Victoria.
Looking beyond the Justice Sector to private partnerships and technological solutions
In 2018, A2JBC created an A2J Funding Working Group to consider how to expand the resources needed to substantially improve Access to Justice. The group prepared a report [Link to resource page] that recommended looking to the private sector, both philanthropic and commercial, for partnership and financial investment in access to justice.
On November 20, 2018, the A2JBC Leadership Group met at the Telus Innovation Centre and considered the potential of technology to address unmet legal needs. The Group endorsed in principle the recommendations in the report, and implementing them became one of the priorities for A2JBC.
In June 2020, the Law Foundation of BC gave a grant to A2JBC for the setting up of an Access to Justice Service Innovation Lab.
Imagining possible futures for A2JBC
At its spring Leadership Group meeting in 2019, A2JBC undertook a scenario planning process to consider possibilities for the role it would play in the future, depending on different levels of funding. The consensus developed that it should continue its role as a catalyst for A2J action, aiming at the long-term goal of a culture shift in the justice sector and transformation of the civil and family justice system to be responsive to the needs of system users.
Strengthening the access to justice movement in BC
On June 12, 2019, A2JBC was proud to host a formal signing ceremony and celebration of more than 50 justice sector organizations signing onto the Access to Justice Triple Aim.
The endorsement of the Triple Aim demonstrates acknowledgement in the justice sector that, indeed, there is an access to justice problem, and a cross-sector commitment to do something about it.
Putting Children at the Centre
At its October 2019 meeting, the Leadership Group learned about the immediate, long-term and intergenerational impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), one of which is divorce and parental separation. The Group considered how it could take leadership in improving child and family well-being by reducing toxic stress, enhancing resilience and supporting families who interact with the family justice system.
A guest at the leadership meeting—a very courageous 16-year-old—described some of the painful consequences for her and her siblings of family justice system experiences that thwarted finality, ramped up stress and exacerbated pre-existing risks and problems.
What the Leadership Group heard on October 30th moved them to collectively endorse a joint Statement of Commitment to take leadership in addressing this issue.
Being at the Beginning
This is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning.
Transformative change is always difficult. It does not come quickly, but for the family and civil justice system in BC it began with an understanding that it must involve individual organizations across the justice sector (and beyond) and the users of the justice system. As BC’s access to justice movement grows stronger, the opportunities to address issues that impact access to justice will continue to emerge.