Dat’s a Mixed Bunch

If you have an interest in access to justice, our latest and third report from the Data Mapping Project should be on your radar.

Clare Kennedy
Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Victoria Law Foundation has recently released Mixed Bunch: the use and utility of administrative data in dispute and complaint resolution bodies in Victoria, the latest and third report from the Data Mapping Project. If you have an interest in access to justice, the Project and latest report should be on your radar. Before I explain why, first, let me explain what triggered the Data Mapping Project.

In 2019, around the time when the new research function was established at VLF, we consulted with the legal sector and stakeholders to uncover what research was needed to better understand Victorians’ experience of accessing justice. What we found was a strong appetite for research into the administrative data being collected in Victoria’s civil justice system. Such data was seen as a vital, but missing, piece in the puzzle of understanding the legal need of Victorians. There was also a view that given Victoria’s civil justice system generates so much administrative data, there was likely to be important insights to be uncovered.

Before I go on to talk about the Mixed Bunch report, you may be wondering, what administrative data is, and why is it important? Administrative data is the information that is collected and stored as part of the everyday function of organisations. It was agreed in our roundtable stakeholder consultations that while substantial administrative data is generated, there were critical questions around what that administrative data can be used for, and what it can tell us. And particularly, what insights it can reveal into people’s access or lack of access to civil justice.

These are the questions that drove VLF’s Data Mapping Project, which has so far produced three reports. The first looked at administrative data collected in the legal assistance sector, the second covered courts and tribunals. The latest report, Mixed Bunch, looks at administrative data collected by complaint and dispute resolution bodies. A final report will recap the findings and discuss implications for improving the use and utility of Victoria’s civil justice data, and through that, better understanding of Victorians’ access to justice.

For the Mixed Bunch report, dispute and complaint bodies were invited to participate in a survey about their data practices and use. These bodies are an important part of the dispute resolution landscape, many being instituted as an alternative to courts and tribunals, and a better, easier, quicker and cheaper way to deal with what may otherwise be a protracted and expensive legal dispute. The survey included dispute and complaint resolution bodies operating in Victoria that provide a resolution or outcome to individuals. This article is primarily concerned with that report and the significance of its findings.

Dispute and complaint bodies are an essential part of the civil justice system. They are platforms people can use when they have a problem with a professional, such as a doctor, an organization, such as an airline or telecommunications company, or a government body, like a government agency or department.

Dispute and complaint bodies are a vital part of Victoria’s civil justice system as they are typically low cost or free, easy to access, and help many people experiencing a wide range of everyday disputes and complaints. To illustrate the extent of their activities, the bodies that participated in this survey together handled upwards of 230,000 disputes and complaints in 2020-21.

However, surprisingly little is known about the full volume and character of the matters they handle, and the types of people who make use of them. This is significant because it means that we don’t have a full picture of how and when these bodies make a difference, who is helped by them, who is not and what outcomes are achieved.

The Mixed Bunch report represents an important first step in better understanding how administrative data from dispute and complaint bodies is captured, how it is used, where the data gaps are, what might need to be done to improve data practices and quality, and how such data may be usefully employed to better understand their operation and ultimately help Victorians to better solve everyday legal problems.

Overall, the Mixed Bunch report found that while there are numerous complaint and dispute bodies, people don’t always know which is the relevant or most appropriate platform for them to use. This is reflected in the referrals made amongst dispute and complaint and other bodies. Furthermore, due to wide variation in data practices employed by dispute and complaint bodies, there is some work to do to improve prospects for answering access to justice questions.

Notwithstanding variation in data practices, as well as differences in data maturity, our research found that all participating bodies were striving to improve the potential of data. Despite some shortcomings, all were using data for organisational purposes and operational insights, and there were examples of sophisticated forecasting and modelling, as well as a desire to learn more about users.

It was clear that dispute and complaint bodies have clear aspirations to do more with the data, and as the data quality matures, its use for access to justice will improve.

Without attention to data coverage, quality and practices, scope for insight will be limited, and opportunity to fulfil access to justice aspirations are likely to be muted. There is, however, both appetite and ability to do better.

Mixed Bunch: The use and utility of administrative data in dispute and complaint resolution bodies in Victoria

Release Date: December 10

Authors: Hugh M. McDonald, Jozica J. Kutin and Tenielle Hagland

Download the report

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