How can the data collected by legal assistance and justice system services about their activities and clients, inform more effective service provision?

Service data, also known as administrative data, is collected to record information about the activities undertaken by the justice system and legal assistance providers.

The information recorded by service providers about their clients, their legal issues and the services provided to them is a rich source of information to inform the planning and delivery of people-centred, cost-effective services.

Data about legal assistance and justice system clients, and the services they receive, provides information on the rate at which different demographic groups access particular legal services, the nature of their legal issue, the pathways they follow, and in some cases, the outcomes they achieve.

This information can be used to inform effective deployment of resources and an understanding of potential demand for services. It can also inform user engagement with services, and a better public understanding of the justice system and how it operates in practice.

Effective deployment of resources

Data on legal assistance services and the justice system aggregated to a state/territory or national level provides transparency on what services are being delivered with the available resources. Disaggregating this data by factors such as service provider, client type, area of law, and/or geography can provide insights on the equality of service use and accessibility within a jurisdiction. Examples of this level of analysis for Australian publicly funded legal assistance services is available in the National Picture Reports.

At a service provider level, examples of how service data can be used to inform effective deployment of resources include:

  • comparing service user place of residence and location of service delivered to identify the most accessible locations for service provision and client outreach
  • describing the most common pathways through the organisation, to identify opportunities for streamlining the service user experience
    for legal assistance services, identifying where clients are referred from and where they are referred to, to minimise clients experiencing the referral round-about
  • monitoring the use and impact of new practices and procedures on indicators of performance, such as waiting times for hearings and appointments

Information on how effectively resources are being used is enhanced by capturing the outcomes that clients achieve, though this is not feasible for clients whose matters are resolved outside of the system or after their engagement with the provider.

See here for more information on a framework to measure outcomes and assess impact in the legal assistance sector.

Potential demand for services

In some circumstances, administrative data such as the number of people arrested by the police, number of AVOs issued, or the number of defendants appearing in court can also provide a broad indication of legal need for specific services and/or in specific settings. The Foundation’s Finalisation Dashboards provide a geographic distribution of the number of defendants whose matters are finalised in court.

Similarly, counts of services for specific legal issues can be compared to the number of these issues occurring if such a count is available. For example, volumes of unpaid fines or housing evictions.

Service data may also inform strategy on gaps in service provision, by:

  • Mapping where service provision is geographically located across a jurisdiction to identify potential gaps in coverage.
  • Mapping counts of potential demand for services (such as the NLAS indicators) and counts of service users residing in the same area, to identify relative under provision of services.

Using service data to estimate ‘met’ and ‘unmet’ legal need should, however, be undertaken with caution: there are multiple factors that determine demand for services and who receives services, not all of which are within the control of service providers. Findings should therefore be considered indicative only and inform further review of the reasons underlying any apparent variations in service provision across communities.

Trends

In some specific circumstances service data may provide information about changes in demand for services, especially at a localised level where data from a specific area – or from a particular provider – may indicate changes such as the emergence or increased prevalence of a particular problem type. This can be informative in the context of major events such as natural disasters.

However, in the context of limited resources and an operating environment where services are targeted at specific areas of law or client groups, changes in the overall profile of services delivered will largely reflect changes in the nature and extent of what is actually offered and available to potential clients (rather than changes in the demand).

  • Trends in services delivered should therefore be interpreted in the context of any changes to service provision.

Informed user engagement

The justice system and associated services are not well understood by the general public. Service data not only provides a quantitative overview of work undertaken within the system, it can also provide insight to the likely experience of users that engage with the system. This can include the amount and intensity of service they are likely to receive, the length of time their matter will take, and the average probability of achieving specific outcomes.

The Foundation’s review of the data collected by New South Wales courts and tribunals identified the potential value of this information in understanding who is using the tribunals and courts, for what purposes, and their experience in terms of case progression and outcomes. Accessible information of this type supports informed decision making by potential tribunal and court users. Access the reports here.

Analysing and reporting service data

See the Foundation’s top tips for analysing service data.