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From the OJEN Blog

Introducing the Apps for Justice Challenge

OJEN’s newest classroom program, the Apps for Justice Challenge, gives students an opportunity to apply design thinking skills to solve obstacles Ontarians may face when they encounter legal problems.

In 6 one-hour-long sessions, students learn about access to justice issues and some of the technology that already exists to solve them. They are introduced to design thinking processes to find innovative solutions to complex problems. Finally, they apply what they have learned to design their own app or technological solution to solve one of the legal problems described in the course scenario. The program includes the option to compete with other student teams from across the province in the Final Pitch event, which takes place in mid-April.

A partnership with the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

The Apps for Justice program is the result of a partnership between OJEN and the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.  Incorporating content from the university’s  Access to Justice Legal Apps Challenge Modules, OJEN worked closely with a small group of U of O’s law school students and faculty to adapt and build out the program for high school students.

Jazmine Yerbury, a third year law student, is one of the group members who helped to further develop the challenge in the fall of 2022. The first step, she said, involved reviewing each of the modules of the university program. The group then considered what needed to be changed to make it accessible to a high school audience. To do this, they ran through the entire program, playing the roles of teacher and students, pausing to give feedback on what was or wasn’t working.

 “The next step was creating the legal story that the students would engage with. We had to come up with an idea for a barrier to access to justice that didn’t already have an existing solution and that could be solved with technology, like an app”, Jazmine explained.

After brainstorming possibilities for an appropriate access to justice issue, they developed a legal scenario which formed the basis for the program. They also prepared background information and guidance on the applicable law for teachers and a separate backgrounder for students.

Students submit innovative app ideas

In the spring of 2023, the Apps for Justice Challenge was piloted in 6 classrooms around Ontario. At the Final Pitch event, students presented the apps they had designed to a panel of legal and technology experts. The results were impressive.

Jean-Paul Bevilaqcua, OJEN’s program developer for the Apps for Justice Challenge, recalls the student’s Final Pitch event. “The team at OJEN, along with the Final Pitch panellists, were struck by the inventiveness and strength of the app ideas presented by the students. We saw a range of smart, socially conscious ways of directly combatting and alleviating access to justice issues using technology, and we can’t wait to see what this year’s crop has in store.”

Encouraged by the positive response, OJEN took what they had learned from the pilot to make revisions to the program. Feedback from teachers and students was incorporated to finesse the program design for its official launch in 2024.

This year’s program features a new scenario for students to work with. Early in the program,students are introduced to a hit-and-run motor vehicle incident that causes injury to a cyclist. Using this as a jumping off point, students will then explore the legal links that exist in the scenario, what access to justice challenges might result, and how technology could be used to alleviate these challenges.

Later in the program, the scenario expands to show how the same incident could lead to four different outcomes, focusing on issues in the workplace  Each outcome involves a different area of law. Students will break into groups, based on one of these areas of law. They will then use design thinking skills to design an app to address an access to justice issue described in the scenario.

Going beyond abstract concepts

For high school students, who may not have had experience navigating the justice system, the Apps for Justice Challenge offers insight into some of the difficulties commonly experienced by Ontarians dealing with legal problems. As Jazmine explains, the program goes beyond abstract concepts. “It gives them tools if they ever encounter a legal issue. It empowers them with information.”

As with OJEN’s other justice education programs, the Apps for Justice Challenge offers young people an innovative introduction to the justice system, helps them understand

the law, and builds legal capability. It promotes advocacy, critical thinking and research skills, while encouraging teamwork and problem-solving.

As Jazmine notes, “it’s a really good way to engage people who may not know very much about the law yet. It’s an easier way to connect with it. It’s active, it’s cutting edge, it has the technology aspect to it. I think it’s a really awesome project.”

Teachers who would like to register their class for the program, can register until the end of the day on March 4th. For information and registration, visit the Apps for Justice Challenge webpage or contact Jean-Paul Bevilacqua at jbevilacqua@ojen.ca

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