Intersections of the 3. By Margaret Hagan

Educational Game Design notes

A photo of some quick, sketchy notes I took about good educational game design.

Educational Game Design notes

A photo of some quick, sketchy notes I took about good educational game design.


Two years ago, there started some talk about US courts using SMS and other phone-based communication to issue reminders for court hearings to people. It seems several other countries have already launched such pilots.

Court Hearing SMS - Qatar

The Qatari government’s Supreme Judiciary Council has one such program live, at Court Hearing SMS Reminder – Hukoomi – Qatar E-government.. Any litigant can register online & in three steps, the Court will let them “receive text message reminders on selected court hearing dates and times.”

The steps the citizen needs to follow:

  1. Sign Up Online
  2. Enter ID number
  3. Enter mobile phone number
  4. Click the registration button

Qatar’s SMS reminder service is free and apparently beyond just a pilot stage.

Court Hearing SMS - Australia

Australia also has an SMS Reminder system, in Pilot phase. The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria runs the pilot in the Criminal Diversion Program. There is no way to register for the system online — like Qatar allows.  The Australian Court provides these details on its pilot:

In order to increase compliance with Criminal Diversion Plans, an SMS Reminder Pilot has been established statewide and administered from the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. Offenders who have not finalised their Criminal Diversion Plans within a month or a week of their stated completion date, will receive reminders via SMS to do so.

The aim of the pilot is to increase compliance of offenders, reduce paper usage by the court, and in doing so, reduce the cost of administering the Criminal Diversion Program. The SMS Reminder Pilot commenced on Monday 2 July 2012 and has so far indicated a strong early result with respect to the aims of the pilot.

For more information, please contact your local Criminal Diversion Coordinator, available at all headquarter Magistrates’ Courts within Victoria.

Another court in Australia, the Adelaide Magistrates Court, also is issuing phone-based reminders to offenders and accused in criminal proceedings. Tessa Akerman in The Advertiser wrote an interview with one of the judges involved.

ACCUSED criminals can expect text messages reminding them to appear in court, as the state’s magistrates courts embrace the use of technology.

Judge Elizabeth Bolton, the state’s Chief Magistrate, told The Advertiser that people needed to realise the world had changed and we needed to “make the most of, within our resources, using those technological solutions”.

“We’ve still got some things in the pipeline from the process redesign project we did a year or two ago. I’m hopeful we will get around to the SMS project that might help people who, as many do, forget or don’t read their papers correctly, whatever it is, just as a reminder as you do from your hairdresser, your dentist,” she said.

But it would have to wait “a little bit” because computer resources were needed to complete the fines transition process, due to start in February.

Judge Bolton said shrinking budgets and changing needs were behind the court’s increasing take-up of technology.

“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to realise we are living in an age where there is much more technological facility than previously and if people habitually put all their stuff in their mobile phone rather than … write it on a piece of paper or have a calendar … then we just have to realise that’s how their minds operate.”

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I’ve been creating lots of tools & props for use by (beginner) designers in their attempts to understand a complex situation & craft good interventions, to improve the system.

The class I’m teaching on Plea Agreement Redesign has been the main prompt for these.  Understanding Plea Agreements, the system they’re embedded in, and the stakeholders involved is a very complex undertaking.  It’s a different scale of a design project from simply designing a product for a single consumer, to make their tasks more efficient, user-friendly or engaging.

The challenge of Plea Agreement Redesign requires the design teams to see the ‘problem’ from many different stakeholders’ perspectives, who define the problem differently, and who have different frustration points & aspirations from each other.

That’s why I’ve been creating some tools to supplement the basic user-centered design methods I’ve learned at the — which are aimed more at designing for a single user type.

Here are a first batch of the design tools I’ve been making for the students in my class to synthesize their understanding of the Plea Agreement System — and discover good directions for their design work.

Please go ahead & use them in your work, let me know how they help (or not).  I’ve included short descriptions along with the prompts on the sheet, to make them more usable to beginner designers.

Design Prop - Stakeholder Notes Decompress

Design Prop - Process Map  Design Prop - Situation 2 x 2

Design Prop - Stakeholder Map-01

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Deborah Rhode - unlicensed practice of law innovation and tech - Margaret Hagan

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A Brief History of Design Thinking: How Design Thinking Came to ‘Be’

This is where things get a bit hazy. Design Thinking and all that it stands for today did not directly come out of the history I outlined earlier- it simply proves that design thinking has a history. Design thinking was a realisation through the evolution of different (collaborative) design process methods that were developed to improve and extend design to other areas of practice.

From where we left off…

What happened from the mid 1980′s to date was a race to discover new methods for improving business, service and design. Each methodology can be traced through history and analysed independently should you wish to interpret historical readings in context of the method under investigation. I will highlight an example of what I mean as we move along.

The purpose of analysing this period was to understand the evolution of major design process methods and to discover from this evolution the moment when design thinking was realised as a new approach and a way of thinking that underlined all other methods before it. It must be noted that through this development there was no clear linear progression of methodologies that arose, as many were developed at the same time in different faculties and industries. I have taken through much reading a very generalised approach at attempting to create a chronological understanding of the evolution of major design process trends. The purpose of doing this is to objectively clarify the history and evolution of design thinking which has been muddy and conflicting to date.

And it all started with….Participatory Design

In the early days, participatory methodology was seen most commonly in urban planning until recent developments in design gave this method its name. As i stated earlier, one could very easily trace the history and development of participatory design in and of itself- independent from design thinking. For example; If you want to get nit picky about history, participatory design can be traced all the way back to Plato’s Republic.

Plato was known to seek advice from his people

Grass roots democracy was once the heart of participatory methodology and is an established method used for centuries for the development of a harmonious society. But i am here to discuss how this and other methods (each with their own unique history) have come together to form the evolution of design thinking.

Back to the Future

Fast forward from Plato to the 1960s. During the design methods movement, participatory design was gaining momentum through research. Dubbed the Scandinavian approach, participatory design was about integrating end-users into the development (prototyping) phase of projects. Technological developments during the end of this decade saw participatory design shift from a social method to a technological one. Prior to the adoption of PD in technology, systems design was the go-to for engineers prototyping within an iterative framework.

The timeline of Participatory Design

As PD progressed into the 1980s, it became synonymous with the emerging field of interaction design. Many of the techniques used in PD were borrowed from science, such as usability testing. Others included mock-ups, prototyping and even role playing.

The Pitfalls of Participatory Design

One of the main disadvantages of participatory design is its negligence towards user experience and stakeholder input. Usability was king, but emotional response to gadgetry was largely ignored. In many instances user testing was abandoned, when users decisions conflicted with those of the stakeholders and the designers.

The pitfalls of participatory design

In response to this end-user dilemma, discussions surrounding co-design (co-operative design) or collaborative design began to take place. This alternative method aimed to transform passive users into co-operative designers.

User-Centered Design

The most significant contribution to the transformation of user development in design was introduced by design theorist Donald Norman. Donald re-defined participatory design into what he coined as user-centered design. User testing became less about usability and more about a users interests and needs. Norman favoured user-control and humanised participatory and system design by “making things visible”. This was to ensure users could discover errors and have control over resolving them.

Donald Norman aka The Godfather of User-Centered Design

Another significant shift in ideology from participatory to user-centered design was the placement of user at the center of the development process. It highlighted the benefits of understanding user experience over user testing. Owing some of its methodology to behavioural sciences, user-centered design emphasised experience over efficiency and adopted a more humanistic approach with the involvement of the user throughout the development of a product or system.

The differences between PD and UCD

User-centered design grew out of speculations towards elevating users from guinea-pigs to co-developers of systems during the participatory trend. This new methodology incidentally spread into broader areas of industry and practice.

Service Design

On the design methodology timeline, service design broke out into the design discipline as a new practice a few years after the turn of the millennium. We can see now that developments through participatory design to user-centered design and the evolution of customer experiences has shaped much of the methodology behind service design. Lucy Kimbell best sums up the development of service design as:

‘[it] Draws on several traditions including product, environment, experience and interaction design” (Kimbell 2009, p. 250).

Kimbell and a few other scholars discuss a new perspective rising in business; from a closed value chain (i.e: we punched out a product we tested on some monkeys and know it works so we can forget about it) to understanding how and what the user **does** with a product (or service); including their journey and experience. This perspective is another step forward in the evolution of design methodology, for rather than thinking about end user experience of a product or service (user-centered design) attention has shifted to understanding the use, interaction and journey of that product/service after it has left the hands of the provider.

So now we find ourselves labelling all products and systems as one service unit. Kimbell argues that the distinction between a service and product becomes irrelevant, for everything is a type of service that plays a role in ‘value creation’ (Kimbell 2010, p.3). Furthermore, service design extended the definition of the ‘user’ to include all stakeholders and individuals affected or interacting with the service system.

It was with this new approach to product/service systems that the idea of a holistic mindset was made evident. And the holistic mindset behind service design owed much of its development to Ezio Manzini through his research in service marketing and meta-design. Additionally, many of the methods used in service design today have been borrowed and adapted from anthropology and marketing.

Most importantly, it is the holistic perspective of service design that distinguishes itself from all previous design methodologies. Rather than focusing on the ‘end user’ (the customer: marketing/user centered and participatory design), service design seeks to collaborate with all users of a service; building relationships between stakeholders to open up communication for the exchange and development of value and knowledge.

Human-Centered Design

Since the early 1990s, human-centered design and user-centered design were often interchangeable terms regarding the integration of end users within a design process. Like many other design methodologies, human-centered design first began within technological and product system industries and was growing under human centered interaction (a method that is still in use). Human-centered design only started to evolve around the late 1990s, when the development of methods described above shifted from a techno-driven focus to a humanised one.

It was also at this point that we found ourselves with a design methodology that was manifested as more of a mindset than a physical set of tools. William B. Rouse discusses the ideology of the mindest behind HCD in his book, Design for Success: A Human-Centered Approach to Designing Successful Products and Systems. His definition of HCD is philosophical:

“Roles of humans in complex systems, enhancing human abilities, aid to overcome human
limitations and foster user acceptance” (Rouse, 1991 pp.6-123).

Despite contextualising his defintiion within the field of systems and product engineering, Rouse introduces a broader perspective of the ‘user’- one that is closely related to service design but situated in a broader, more socially conscious arena. In its final (and current) phase of evolution, HCD

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is seen to hold potential for resolving wider societal issues.

HCD is a mix of meta design and service design but closely related to anthropology. It is used more generally in social development than service development.

The broad holistic perspective introduced in service design allowed for human-centered design to redefine its meaning. Coupled with significant social and environmental disasters, it was appropriate after the turn of the millenium that HCD transformed from a method to a mindset, aiming to humanize the design process and empathize with stakeholders. The mindset approach of human centered design re-introduced design thinking, but this time as a mindset used a method for interpreting wicked problems.

Outer circle (blue) signifies the shifts in design theory along the timeline. The inner circle (pink) signifies the methodological shifts in design practice over time

It is interesting to note that the shifts in design theory and practice that have occured since the methods movement in the 1960s have mirrored one another. Design-as-science trend of the 60s and 70s sit opposite and reflect the methodical inquiry into process methods of the 1990s. Similarly, cognitive reflections in design theory during the 1980s reflect (and sit opposite) the mindset movement we are moving through now. Though this may not have been the best way to depict the timeline of design theory and thinking (infodesign nerds get off my back), I chose a circle to deliberately highlight these reflections and the very fact that we have almost come full circle. If this pattern is correct, we should find ourselves moving back into a scientification (did i make that word up?) of design, and it seems to me that we are already beginning to shift into it; as developments in neuroscience turn attention to design thinking for study.

To highlight my prediction on the next phase in design, here is a Stanford video on the neuroscience of design thinking. Enjoy.

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Legal Design Manifesto - by Margaret Hagan 1Legal Design Manifesto - margaret hagan 2Legal Design Manifesto - by Margaret Hagan 4Legal Design Manifesto - by Margaret Hagan 5

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Lauren Dyson at Code for America wrote up an interview/discussion with Kiran Jain, an attorney in the City of Oakland who has been trained in design & is leading experiments in civic & legal design in the city.  She’s running workshops, launching projects, and piloting new ideas using the design methods she learned at the California College of Arts.

Here’s the interview with Kiran back in January, which is rich with examples of how design can be married with law for the sake of improved legal & public services for lay people — as well as to improve the work-life of lawyers and government workers.

Kiran Jain (@jainkiranc) is an attorney for the City of Oakland with a background in real estate, technology, and municipal law practice. She was also a 2012 Leading by Design fellow at the California College of the Arts. Kiran has worked to bring citizen-centered design into City Hall by leading a series of cross-departmental workshops in Oakland focused on using lightweight, user-centric design methodologies to rethink a cumbersome government process that affects many city agencies and community members: Special Event Permitting.

Kiran recently joined us for a conversation moderated by Cyd Harrell to share results and learnings of applying human centered design in municipal government. Watch the full video here, and read on below are some condensed highlights from the discussion:

Deputy City Attorney is not the typical job title people think of when they think about a “designer.” How did you come to incorporate design principles into your work?

I came to work at the City of Oakland in 2008, right at the height of foreclosure crisis. I was working in this environment where we had limited resources — but unlimited demand. The whole idea of trying to find another way of thinking about traditional government processes really appealed to me. A friend of mine suggested the fellowship at California College of the Arts (CCA).

After diving deeper, I actually found that there’s a lot of similarities between the fields of law and design. Our legal system is based on a set of rules informed by human experience. Those rules have led to layers and layers of process that we now refer to as our bureaucracy. Over time, I think our bureaucracy has become disconnected from human experience — and the intent and feelings that form that human experience. Through design, I’m hoping that we can get back to that intent, and form fresh policies and processes accordingly.

What did you set out to accomplish with civic design in Oakland?

We brought this civic design process to Oakland about a year ago. At that time, Oakland was experiencing about 20 furlough days a year. We were following that old adage by Winston Churchill, “We are out of money; now it’s time to think.” I looked to the design process as a way to rethink traditional government processes and policies in the time of deep budget cuts.

I wanted to apply the methodologies I learned through my fellowship at CCA to a specific process in Oakland. After initial meetings with different city officials, we decided to focus on special event permits. For any event in Oakland — like the Oakland marathon, a street fair, or the Lunar New Year Bazaar — organizers have to get permission from the City. We chose this process for two reasons: there was a deep interest in improving this process among various stakeholders internally, and it touched many different public agencies, including Police, Fire, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, the City Administrator’s office, and Communications. With all the different agencies that are connected to this process, there are many touch points which can lead to frustration not just for event organizers but also for city employees.

In a nutshell, how did you go about doing it?

We broke it down to three different phases. The first was the pre-workshop research, where we gleaned insights from internal stakeholders within government, as well as, external stakeholders who either organized or attended special events. Then, we went through a co-creation workshop with about 15 city employees based on our pre-workshop research, where we were able to learn more about the process and prototype some ideas and solutions for making this a better experience. The third part is execution — to actually develop some of the ideas or prototypes that we developed from our workshop.

What problems did you identify?

Through our pre-workshop research, including stakeholder interviews and a journey mapping exercise, we identified several pain points with the existing process:

  • The process and costs of permitting was not clear to event organizers or city employees.
  • Different city agency stops made the process more challenging and confusing for organizers. That was also felt internally.
  • Communication between our city agencies was not smooth.
  • When event details changed after the permit approval, it was hard to adjust the cost and services accordingly because the request moves between so many different departments.
  • There was no clear metric around the value of the event for the city

What was so interesting was that the pain points in the process for event organizers were very similar to those for city employees.

What solutions did you prototype?

After synthesizing our pre-research findings, we held a four hour workshop where we invited the City employees who touched this process to come in and do some brainstorming with us. There was a lot of white boards, post-its, markers, and the like. We presented our research to the folks in the room. The group made a decision early on in the workshop to focus on the process first, rather than the policy. As we discussed the research and the process, five main principles emerged:

  • Transparency through process visualization
  • Clearly outlined expectations for all stakeholders
  • Simple and codified forms
  • Consistent messaging
  • Create inclusion through feedback loops in the system

After we established these design principles, we had about an hour where we let people just focus on coming up with ideas that we could prototype. Two of our groups actually came up with a similar idea: the online permit platform. This would be a one stop shop where we collect event information online, complemented by designated intake person from the City to liaison with the event organizers, get all the information needed, and then work with other agencies directly to get permission and fees necessary. The online platform would:

  • Communicate overall reasons for the permit
  • Provide detailed instruction
  • Collect all information needed for each agency
  • Create a feedback loop with agency sign-off points

The team also mapped out the step-by-step intake process that would need to be followed to actually implement this idea.

As a follow up to this workshop, we are evaluating two different technology solutions for the one-stop-shop. What was so interesting with this process is that we actually started with stakeholder needs and are now trying to identify a technology solution — while what typically happens in government settings is that the technology solution is presented to us and we address the process concerns second.

How long did this process take?

A workshop like this can happen in a short amount of time, if designed correctly. We were very mindful of the fact that we were asking people to do something extra in their day at a time when they were working with very limited resources.

The post Kiran Jain, City of Oakland attorney, on Law & Design appeared first on Open Law Lab.



I’ve been looking around for different models of promoting entrepreneurship among JDs & young lawyers.  There are a few interesting post-graduation incubators, that help recent law graduates get oriented and start their own practice.  For example, Justice Entrepreneurs Project from the Chicago Bar Foundation.

The JEP not only gives young lawyers training to start their own law practice, it also promotes innovation in how lawyers serve clients.  It’s trying to reimagine different parts of the service relationship, from how to find a client to how you price your services.  For JEP’s current group of lawyers-in-incubation, the program centrally finds clients, and then distributes them among the lawyers — though the lawyers each practice in separate, individual firms.

Here’s a video from a Chicago television program spotlighting JEP:

The program marries start-up incubator techniques with legal training, trying to build more pathways for young lawyers to get jobs and to serve the middle or modest-means market of legal consumers.

The JEP is an incubator for recent law school graduates to start their own socially conscious law firms. The goal is to expand legal services to low and moderate income people by developing new models through which lawyers in solo or small practices can sustainably serve these clients.

Low and moderate income people represent a sizable gap in the current legal market—they earn too much to qualify for free legal aid but not enough to afford traditional firm rates. This leaves them with little access to reliable and affordable legal assistance, and as a result, more people than ever are going to court without the legal help they need.

At the same time, new lawyers are increasingly looking for nontraditional paths into the legal profession. JEP participants are talented and entrepreneurial newer lawyers chosen to be part of the program through a competitive selection process. They are committed to serving the community by providing quality, cost-effective legal services for this market. They are technologically savvy, they welcome innovation, and they understand the need to reinvent the traditional law practice.

JEP lawyers build sustainable, efficient and flexible practices by:

leveraging technology,

offering fixed fees and a la carte services, and

maximizing collaboration with their clients.

Borrowing principles from successful incubators in the business and technology fields, the JEP provides training, resources and support to participants in a collaborative office setting. The JEP also features a strong pro bono service component that places participants at partner legal aid organizations. This provides much-needed legal services for people in need while at the same time providing the JEP lawyers with vital experience and mentoring, and helping them build their networks.

The CBF makes this possible by bringing Chicago’s legal community together to support and collaborate in the program. The CBF leverages significant pro bono and in-kind donations to provide much of the training and resources and connects participants to a vast network of experience and expertise.

The JEP’s first group of 10 participants began in June 2013.

Here’s one more video about the program:

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Open Law Lab - Legal Services Design Deck

Isaac Parker, a digital agency in the UK, has created a tool for designers & lawyers working on mapping flows of user services.  The pack boils down common touchpoints and tools into cards, that can be used in a collaboration or workshop.  The participants can use the cards as modules within a service flow, to play around with potential user journey flows and to reach a consensus.

Here’s their description.

Legal Services Design Deck

We believe legal process mapping should be fun and easy for anyone to get involved. That’s why we made Design Deck for legal services.

Visualising systems is an important part of legal service design and marketing. But we’d rather stick pins in our eyes than map out processes with strange symbols that nobody understands. Design Deck is a simple tool that helps teams collaborate to make effective processes together.

Each card in Design Deck bares a symbol representing a step you take to sell and deliver a client service. Just spread the cards out, arrange the steps, and add extra details by writing on the space provided.

Better together

You can use Design Deck solo at your desk, but its more fun to gather a whole team around a large table and dive in together. Save your work by taking a snap with your smartphone before you tidy up. There’s no fancy software and no tricky techniques to learn.

Get serious later

Decks have friendly versions of standard project management symbols, plus traffic sources, content types and website actions for legal marketers. It is easy to translate our symbols into a lean six-sigma process diagram later if you really have to.

Process-mapping is a great intro activity for a longer design process — and more such tools and props can help non-designers participate in meaningful ways. Great to see this tool, and looking forward to more manifestations of good design work and process tools!

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This is a design method prop that I’ve been using to help workshop goers & students of legal design.  The purpose is to use the sheet to crystallize what starts as a ‘fuzzy’ good idea into a more concretely defined project.

Project One Sheet - tabloid structured

Ideally, you would use this kind of prop after a brainstorm, when you’ve picked one, two, or three ideas with promise, to pursue.  Then, spend some time filling out a sheet for each of the ideas. The process of filling out the sheet will force you to start visualizing, situating, and grounding the idea.  It may even take several drafts to translate the one-line idea into a robust sheet.

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Legal Design Concept - hows my litigating sticker

A concept design that came out of a legal workshop I ran last week among legal aid & self-help lawyers.

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I originally posted this over at the’s Whiteboard.
Org Design - by Margaret Hagan - part 1 Org Design - by Margaret Hagan - part 2 Org Design - by Margaret Hagan 3 Org Design - Margaret Hagan 4

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I’ve started scouting out different courtroom based service & system designs.  Here is one, that my colleague Briane alerted to me: the Online Court Project based out of the University of Michigan.  It features new ideas to integrate tech and automation into court processes.

Led by U-M Law School professor J.J. Prescott, this Global Challenges project seeks to revolutionize how the public interacts with courts. Its technology-driven approach has the potential to create an entirely new case resolution process, one that improves performance and accessibility along numerous dimensions and makes courts better suited for the information age.


Judicial systems exist to provide a way for societies to organize themselves around the rule of law. In order to accomplish this goal, courts need to be (1) accessible; (2) fair; and (3) cost-effective. Unfortunately, due to their reliance on antiquated, non-technological processes, courts in the United States have seen little improvement on these three measures in recent decades.

With respect to access to justice, American courts are notoriously difficult to understand and use, especially for people without attorneys. In significant part, this confusion results from the fact that courts are structured almost entirely around face-to-face, one-on-one interactions with judges and court personnel, which is comparable to providing banking services without ATM’s.

Even the simplest negotiation points in the process require litigants to physically go to court, a process that is time-consuming, opaque, and intimidating. Consequently, millions of people, who have relatively minor issues that require negotiation with the judge or prosecutor, are either inconvenienced or simply avoid interacting with the system. The magnitude of this problem is demonstrated by the approximately 30 million warrants currently outstanding for failure to appear for show cause hearings.

Likewise, the courts’ reliance on snapshot decision-making leads to sub-optimal decisions. One-on-one process simply does not provide judges and court personnel with adequate time to collect and analyze information about litigants. As a result, decisions are often based on little more than general impressions about litigants, opening the door for numerous undesirable outcomes, including:

  • Decisions influenced by subconscious biases.
  • Perceived arbitrariness, such as when misdemeanor defendants with substantively identical cases receive wildly different sanctions.
  • Due process failures, such litigants with unpaid fines being imprisoned due to incorrect assessments of their ability to pay.

Finally, already cash-strapped states and municipalities are crippled by fixed-cost legal infrastructure. Not only are current processes non-technological, they scale poorly; costs are high on a per transaction basis, and remain high even as volume increases, essentially imposing a tax on growth.

What is required is a scalable, web-based alternative to the one-on- one decision making process.

Project Goals

This project will harness emerging insights into how judges do their jobs to build an algorithm-based portal to allow litigants to engage in largely automated negotiations with courts online.

The project’s algorithmic approach is designed to replicate the outcomes generated by the traditional one-on-one consultative process, but with enormous transaction costs savings. This approach works by providing judges with a way to specify in advance what information is required to make a decision about a litigant’s case, and providing litigants with the ability to submit that information to the court over the internet.

Judges apply rules to factual information to generate decisions; these rules can either be clear-cut application of law or what are sometimes referred to as “decisions heuristics,” the individual rules of thumb that judges use to make repetitive decisions quickly. While some thought-leaders in the judicial community have encouraged judges to formalize decision heuristics for consistency purposes, this project goes one step further to achieve a truly novel result: by programming these rules into software, many of the high-volume transactions that currently require the in-person interaction can be handled online. The technology will have two basic components: (1) a dashboard interface where judges can enter decision rules based on the facts they view important; (2) a forward-facing portal where litigants can submit information and requests using a multiple-choice framework similar to TurboTax.

While this method can theoretically automate a significant amount of the work courts are asked to do, in Phase 1 we will create the system for one to three courthouses, designed to process resolutions for a limited subset of transactions, such as unpaid fines and minor misdemeanor charges.

Success in Phase 1 will involve identifying suitable courthouses for pilot deployment, assisting judges in mapping the decision rules they use to make repetitive decisions, building the technology so that it integrates with the court’s data systems, and then assisting the court in encouraging litigant adoption. Assuming Phase 1 is successful, Phase 2 will focus on expanding the types of transactions delegated to the software, and more importantly, scale-up to an entire county or even the entire state.

If successful, this project will result in the creation of an entirely new type of court, one well-suited to the information age. In addition to efficiency gains, the shift away from snapshot, one-on-one decision making will open the door for a more “data-driven” justice system. Finally, in addition to being scalable throughout the United States the technology has potentially strong applications for the developing world, where a lack of effective legal infrastructure acts as a major deterrent to foreign investment.

Project Team:

James. J. Prescott: Principal Investigator

Benjamin Gubernick: Project Research Director.

MJ Cartwright: Pilot Program Director

Court Innovations, Inc.: A U-M startup founded by Professor Prescott and Mr. Gubernick.

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The Parole Hearing Data Project - Open Law Lab

Check out a new data-gathering & redesign project from Nikki Zeichner, The Parole Hearing Data Project.

The Parole Hearing Data Project is a repository of New York State parole hearing data based on:

1 records scraped from the New York State Parole Board’s website; and

2 parole hearing transcripts crowdsourced with help from attorneys, advocates and prisoners/the formerly incarcerated.

So far, we have gathered 30,000+ records and formatted them for analysis. This project is in development. Currently, we are focused on developing a streamlined system of gathering hearing transcripts in collaboration and with consideration of those who are close to this issue. We are also working with graduate students at NYU and Columbia University who are analyzing and visualizing what we have so far. One end product that we look forward to showcasing is a library of multimedia content based on both our data and on documentation of this project’s development.


We are building this dataset because in New York over 10,000 parole eligible prisoners are denied release every year, and while the consequences of these decisions are costly at $60,000 annually to incarcerate one individual, the process of how these determinations are made is unclear. A former parole commissioner stated recently that “[t]he Parole Board process is broken, terribly broken.” We believe that the first step towards fixing a broken system is understanding it; the data that we gather will tell valuable stories about crime, incarceration, personal change, forgiveness, stereotypes, power, fear, and race, among other themes.


The Parole Hearing Data Project was created by Nikki Zeichner, a New York City-based criminal defense attorney developing multimedia public projects that explore the U.S. criminal justice system. Her interest in examining the NYS parole board’s release practices grew out of her experience representing a prisoner who had been denied release 9 times before their work together. More of her storytelling projects can be found at the Museum of the American Prison’s website. For inquiries: info at museumoftheamericanprison dot org

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