Law students and legal researchers from the University of Oxford asked me recently whether the rule of law agenda could be more innovative, and I do believe that we need a fundamental transformation in the way we do our rule of law and governance work at all levels.
There are many barriers to accessing justice and ensuring rule of law, especially where there are high levels of poverty, exclusion, marginalization and insecurity. Laws and justice institutions – formal and informal – may be biased or discriminatory. Justice and security systems may be ineffective, slow, and untrustworthy. People may lack knowledge about their rights. There may be a culture of impunity for criminal acts.
Despite all these, more can be done to ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups benefit from rule of law, legal empowerment and access to justice, which expand their opportunities and choices. Doing more with less is the challenge here. Our traditional structures, systems and processes are proving inadequate to deal with new development challenges. Our justice system is not the most transparent or data-friendly and bringing information to light is no easy task.
We are in need of new ideas, resources and unconventional ways of collecting and analyzing data, such as using micro-narratives in Georgia or innovative public hearings in Serbia, to complement traditional surveys.
But innovation is rapidly becoming the new buzzword, so I would be careful in applying it here:
· Innovation is not cost-free and takes time so it should be mainstreamed:
· Repackaging is not innovation unless it caters to the specific needs of vulnerable communities which are not
supported by existing mechanisms and services;
· What is innovative in Turkey and Tanzania may not be so in India, Turkmenistan, or Belarus;
· Big data is important, but harnessing it for the right cause is of critical significance;
· Going beyond social networking is key – while Facebook and Twitter play an admirable role in connecting people,
these are not enough to solving a problem and, sustaining a solution;
· Innovative ideas, while refreshing, need to be pragmatic so that they can be implemented.
Evidence of impact is more important than the novelty factor.
My own take is that ideas do not need to be always transformational or revolutionary. Our platforms can replicate or even recycle what already works by introducing successful models to new actors and environments. Even seemingly ordinary things can become innovative in different terms, approaches or settings.
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