DreamTX - Making justice digital and accessible in British Columbia

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez December 17, 2020 Audio mode
Canada’s British Columbia province has been embarking on a digital journey with Salesforce that allows citizens to access justice easily - with a focus on outcomes, not process.

Image of British Columbia landscape
(Image by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay )

The western most province in Canada, British Columbia, sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. The region has a diverse population of 5.1 million people living across a vast and - in many parts - wild terrain. With this in mind, the Government's Ministry of Attorney General has been looking to improve accessibility and ease of use of the province's justice system for all residents, through the use of the Salesforce platform. 

Daniel Darche, Director at the Government of British Columbia (Ministry of Attorney General), was peaking this week at Salesforce's virtual DreamTX event, where he explained how the use of digital tools are front and center for improving accessibility. He said: 

My responsibility with the Ministry of Attorney General is around delivering justice digitally. So one of the barriers that we see to people effectively achieving justice in our societies is around accessibility. So the platforms that we're developing are around supporting that access to justice for whatever barrier they may experience.

The Justice sector is one that has been around for centuries and, and the delivery of justice is one that is very strict and very structured and very process driven and very paper based. And we were tackled with a mandate from our Minister to deal with accessibility, within something that is very, very old, and somewhat resistant to change. So, that age and that tradition provided a number of barriers to people achieving justice.

Darche explained that the justice system is complicated for most people and that there are barriers to access that include cost and simply the ability to understand the system. He said that it traditionally has been a very stressful experience for individuals, within a structured environment, dealing with an authority that has a great deal of power over you. 

In addition to this, British Columbia has its own unique challenges. Darche said: 

Not only that, we have a geography that spans mountains and rivers and remote communities, and we have cultural interactions with the justice system and that way of delivering it needs to be transformed in a way that's accessible for people, so that they're getting away from that stressful experience of justice and getting into one that's about meeting their needs. In parallel to that you have a shift in our population to one that's used to Amazon. They can get anything they want online 24 hours a day. And we need to shift our services to be more reflective of that model.

Digital justice

Darche outlined how the Ministry of Attorney General over the past few years has been making use of the Salesforce platform for specific justice use cases, in an attempt to get away from paper processes and reinvent itself around a service-orientated architecture. Using technology to remove people's barriers to access. 

To identify how the platform should be used, British Columbia carries out research that focuses on the needs of citizens. Darche said: 

It was getting an understanding of our citizens and what their needs were and then trying to baseline that. It's hard to measure a transformation in terms of a KPI - what we're looking for is results to the citizens that matter. And some of those don't fit into a percentage here, or a or a number of days there. From the instance of actually putting in an alternative dispute resolution system online in 2016, which was the first in Canada, we were able to put tools in people's hands that allowed them to get easier access to justice, meaning that they could get things resolved quicker and at a lower cost. 

And it is this dogged approach to delivering outcomes, not processes, that is driving success across the province. Darche said: 

And that system was focused on these themes that we structure it around - we designed for outcomes not processes. So, we weren't trying to encode the business into the solution, we're trying to encode the outcomes. We designed for users rather than our organisation. And finally, at every opportunity we employ technology to allow those barriers to be removed. And then measure that against satisfaction and other KPIs. 

For us there was a focus that we wanted to look at outcomes, and we wanted to engage partners to achieve those outcomes. And so from a platform perspective we were really looking at: do we have a platform that is stable enough? One that is fulsome enough? One that is industrial enough? One that will allow us to not worry about the legs coming out from under our chair. 

Since 2016 when British Columbia went live with the civil resolution tribunal system, Darche said that it has resolved tens of thousands of cases on the platform. This has resulted in a number of benefits. He added: 

That has been a relief to citizens, getting quicker decisions, but at the same time it's a relief to the adjudicated portion of the justice system where a lot of time and energy can be saved in the courts. We've given people tools to solve their problems and that actually has been a very valuable outcome from this. And we know through our statistics that the time to resolution has decreased. And, specifically around things like small claims and stuff like that, the cost of them have actually reduced quite a bit, making it much more accessible to get remedy for individual citizens. 

But I think the thing that we're most proud of is we actually gather the opinions of the people that are using the system and we have over 85% of the users of the system that get remedy through it that said: not only did they like the system but they would actually recommend it. 

We started this journey around creating accessibility for a portion of society that was disadvantaged, either due to their economic situation, or their language, or their geography, and then overnight everybody was disadvantaged. No one could access justice, and so we had to shift.

The impact of COVID-19

British Columbia, like the rest of the world, has had to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. National lockdowns and the public health crisis has forced organisations - including governments - to rethink the way they work and how they deliver services. All of a sudden, the use of digital and data are at the forefront. 

Darche said that the province's previous digital work benefited the Ministry of Attorney General greatly, in that it was able to adapt fairly quickly. However, the strategy around COVID-19 has been that changes to how it works as an organisation need to fit into the Ministry's long-term digital plans. Darche said: 

The direction from the executive was that you need to make this happen. But they said we need to make it happen within the context of lasting transformation. I think what was really fortunate for us is that we were already on an extended digital transformation. So, for those people that had already undergone the digital transformation, it was easy, they went home at 5pm, and then started work the next morning from their desk at home. We were able in a lot of places to make that happen and that allowed us to focus on those who hadn't made the digital transformation. 

But the tools and the way of thinking that we've been embracing over the last few years, allowed us to come up with really quick solutions for those who hadn't made the jump yet. We were able to apply the technologies we had in our ecosystem, to be able to solve those immediate problems, those immediate shifts that needed to to happen. Not only were we able to react to COVID, but we have a number of systems and a number of solutions in place that are permanent additions to our justice ecosystem. And you know, while i feel unfortunate for the year, I feel fortunate to have been able to actually take part in the transformation that we've been able to achieve over the last year.

Darche added that COVID-19, in many ways, has actually helped the Ministry to execute on its strategy with more clarity and at speed, because of the necessity to get things done. He said: 

I think the urgency allows us to get rid of noise - that's been a really advantageous thing that we've experienced. The other part of it is change management used to be about getting people to adopt, and now change management is about having us act in a sustainable way. There are so many demands for things to happen so quickly that our change management issue isn't about getting adoption, it's about putting something across the line that actually is fit for task.