As you may have read in Jillian Theil’s blog post, Pushing the Envelope of Innovation, earlier this spring Pro Bono Net attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) in San Francisco, where we shared lessons from our and our partners’ uses of technology in the justice community, and also gained insights from other nonprofits. Fast forward a month and 3,000 miles to the Equal Justice Conference (EJC) in Jacksonville, FL, in May, where Pro Bono Net staff members Liz Keith, Tony Lu, and Claudia Johnson presented during a combined total of 10 sessions. (Materials from some of these are posted here.)
It’s at this conference where the work we do connecting justice communities through the use of technology really shines. During our panels, we presented on a number of topics that illustrated the large scope of the work we do, such as:
- Improving language access to better connect non-English speakers with access to legal resources and institutions
- Taking advantage of internet and mobile technologies to allow volunteer attorneys to engage in pro bono remotely
- Using technology to connect rural communities to pro bono lawyers and other justice resources they need
- Expanding efficiency in the courts and improving access for self-represented litigants through the use of online document assembly forms
- Collaborating with librarians to provide access to legal information for a broad population of individuals
In addition to presenting on a number of substantive topics, we had the opportunity to attend other sessions related to the wider worlds of legal services and pro bono. As an EJC first-timer, I bounced from one session to another, picking up a wealth of interesting information from each presentation. One of the sessions I enjoyed the most was the Community Action Poverty Simulation, led by Pro Bono Net board member Tiela Chalmers. The Poverty Simulation is an interactive exercise enabling participants to experience, in detail, the barriers and challenges low-income families face each day. As Tiela notes on her website, the Poverty Simulation “simulates a one-month time frame, with each week consuming a 15-20 minute period. Participants are divided into ‘families,’ ranging in size from 1 to 5 persons. Each group is assigned a different life scenario, and volunteers live the life of that family for one month, trying to work and access benefits, buy food, and maintain housing. The training also uses participants or volunteers to play the vital roles of community resources, such as the bank, the employer, the doctor and other resources the family members will interact with during the ‘month’.”
With a room full of legal services and pro bono staff acting as participants, it was very useful to be reminded of the more minute and personal need for the work we all do. One participant played the role of a mother who inadvertently ended up neglecting her children while trying to take care of other logistical aspects of everyday life. This participant commented on how the experience made her think of mothers she assists at her organization who experience trouble discussing their children. She stated that the experience provided her with a reminder of why that seemingly simple topic may be so difficult for some mothers.
The simulation was a good reminder of those details of peoples’ lives that serve as drivers in the work that we and our partners do. The challenges that people face while navigating their daily lives inform the ways in which we build technology solutions to lighten the already heavy burden of claiming and fighting for one’s rights.