Data mapping project: Calibrating Justice

Examining the use and utility of administrative data in Victoria’s civil justice system.

Publication date

August 8, 2023

Authors

Hugh M. McDonald
Acting Research Director
Victoria Law Foundation
Victoria Law Foundation
Lynne Haultain
Executive Director
Victoria Law Foundation
Victoria Law Foundation

Background

The Data Mapping Project mapped use and utility of administrative data across a broad range of civil justice bodies, including courts and tribunals, legal assistance organisations and dispute resolution bodies.

This work identified opportunities and challenges in using existing data to improve access to justice through the operations of large players in the sector, and set out some possible new directions.

This report draws together the findings and implications from the three stages of the Data Mapping Project.

Key findings

Functional and operational focus but opportunity for further insight

Administrative data systems and practices were mainly driven by operational needs. While typically not designed for research and evaluation, administrative data can be used to provide valuable information, and potentially adapted to provide critical access to justice insights. These can go to who is using the civil justice system, for what type of matters, and what happens. Such information can be valuable for both operational and user insight.

Lack of people-centred data

Lack of coverage of demographic characteristics limited utility. Where this data was not available, insights into how different groups of people and different kinds of matters affect organisational performance was highly constrained.

Data utility goes hand in hand with data quality and coverage

Participant organisations showed a mix of quality and coverage. Courts and tribunals were found to have higher data quality but low data coverage, and legal assistance providers the reverse. Dispute and complaint resolution bodies were more mixed in their data quality and coverage. Stronger utility demands quality and coverage.

Appetite for data insights

Participant organisations showed common interest in stronger and more diverse insights about performance, and in knowing more about experiences, impacts, and outcomes for users.

Improvement in use and utility of administrative data

Nearly all participants were on a data improvement journey. This was associated with data system investment: new technology and ways of recording, processing, analysing, reporting, and using data. Where leadership was invested in data practice, there was evidence of stronger data quality, capability, and utility.

Implications and way forward

Current limits and potential

Quality frameworks, minimum data standards, and minimum dataset coverage could significantly increase data quality, coverage, and utility. In general, utility of the data would be improved with coverage of user demographics.

Measuring outputs and outcomes

The administrative data examined in all stages of the Project was overwhelmingly activity and output focused. This is value operationally, but less useful in looking at factors which drive demand and affect performance, and how different legal processes affect different types of users and matters.

Outcomes measurement, particularly in public legal assistance services, could help close the loop in understanding what works to meet diverse legal need and capability, and more effective and efficient matter resolution.

People-centred data

New approaches to civil justice which are people-centred and based on evidence of inequity, requires new people-centred data. If you can’t see different people, problems, places, pathways, and outcomes in civil justice data, then important insights about who is accessing the civil justice system, for what and at what cost, will be limited.

Understanding complexity

Complexity is an important consideration – for operational and access questions. Civil justice system users and their matters vary in complexity, and people have varying degrees of legal capability. Ability to scale user and matter complexity in administrative data would further increase data utility, improving operational performance while adding new information on the people using the services.

Suite of data needed

Administrative data is only one source of information about civil justice. It provides information on expressed legal need but can’t examine people with problems who don’t come forward. It’s also often very limited in determining whether someone’s needs were adequately met.

Other data and types of research, including legal needs surveys such as the VLF’s Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS), qualitative and evaluative studies and outcomes measurement are needed to gauge the totality of community legal need and the adequacy of response.

Civil justice data strategy

Civil justice data is not easily shared or joined, and this leaves many gaps in our understanding of the system as a whole and how people interact with it. One step to improve civil justice data quality, coverage, and joining is through greater collaboration, consistency, and a systemic commitment to a data strategy.

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