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“Social Innovation by Legal Design”: Through the Lens of a Self-Experimenter

By Ebru Metin.


Being a legal professional usually brings a lot of responsibility. Sometimes we are expected to solve problems that are beyond our impact area. However, what if we can make the world a better place with initiating collaborations, spending meaningful creative time, and dedicating our focus to solve an environmental, social or a governance problem? I would not think of undermining the importance of legal design as a field where legal design practitioners break traditional ineffective practices and create human-centred solutions for a better working environment for us all. However, what if there is a way for every legal professional –who do not have to be trained as legal designers– to apply legal design methodology and do good within their own circumstances.


What is Legal Design?

The go-to definition for me is Stanford Legal Design Lab’s Director Margaret Hagan’s definition. She defined legal design in her open access website, ‘Law by Design’ [1] as “the application of human-centred design to the world of law, to make legal systems and services more human-centred, usable, and satisfying”. The underlying principles applied to legal is human-centred design. However, we also see that legal design thinking [2] where design thinking principles apply instead of human centred design. The difference [3] lies between how you orient your design; either for public value entirely or a balanced structure between your organisation and people you want to serve. Finally, if I need to describe legal design to traditionalists, I would just say that legal design is a people-centred & creative problem solving method.


How It Started: Legal Design Turkey

Before the pandemic hit, I was working as a contract manager at a University Technology Transfer Office. As we had to start working from home, the level of socializing decreased in a great deal. This also triggered me to look for more online communities and socializing opportunities. During the winter of 2020, I had attended a series of training by Atolye [4], a strategic design agency from Istanbul. Being part of a co-learning community was something new and I really enjoyed being part of a group of like-spirited people coming from completely different backgrounds. This experience inspired me to establish my own co-learning community, Legal Design Turkey which was first of its kind in Turkey.


I initiated the community as a Linkedin group [5] on November 11th, 2020. Before this, all the legal communities that I have been involved with had a more professional nature. I wanted to make a difference and in the first couple of meetings we just did icebreakers and got to know one another. After all, the aim of legal design is to create human-centred solutions and I was doing it first by creating a “human-centred community”. Later on, we started sharing information, news, attending events and learning as much as possible as a group. By the end of January 2021, we covered the basics enough to understand the application of legal design. However, we needed an opportunity to experiment. I remember specifically asking Stefania Passera at an online event where we should start, and she encouraged us to “just start experimenting”. This was one of the best advice for us in the beginning. In addition to these, collaborative culture of legal design professionals was also very admirable. We had Erik Nybo, Maria Jesus Gonzalez Espejo and Astrid Kohlmeier as guest speakers in our meetings where they were real sources of inspiration for our community.


How It’s Going: UNDP Social Innovation Challenge 2021 Award

The milestone for us was UNDP Social Innovation Challenge 2021 [6] organized by UNDP Turkey’s Accelerator Lab [7]. Organized in a competition format, we became one of the 10 winners [8] out of 422 applications and also won a pilot support from UNDP Turkey in March 2021. Thanks to the forward-thinking Gokce Tuna, the Head of Exploration at the UNDP Turkey Accelerator Lab, we are now making our preparations for the first ever publicly funded legal design project of Turkey on creating an information design output for women specifically but also all survivors of violence (in all its forms) where they can get timely support from various public, private, and non-profit stakeholders via easing their access to information with legal design. This innovation challenge and the project have been really eye-opening for us. They also created a personal milestone for me where I became a social legalpreneur [9], as I have also established the first legal design company in Turkey.


Why It Made a Difference: Social Innovation Awareness

Stanford Graduate School of Business definition of social innovation by Sarah A. Soule, Neil Malhotra & Bernadette Clavier is as below [10]:


“Social innovation is the process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging and often systemic social and environmental issues in support of social progress. Social innovation is not the prerogative or privilege of any organizational form or legal structure. Solutions often require the active collaboration of constituents across government, business, and the nonprofit world.”


Basically, social innovation is a type of innovation where you dedicate a process to create solutions generally for systemic social and environmental issues that usually requires active collaboration between different actors.


Applying for the UNDP Social Innovation Challenge 2021 was the most important factor that built my social innovation awareness and later deepened my knowledge in the field. Through my own experience and from a growth mindset perspective, I can easily say that if someone wants to make a difference around him/her as a legal professional (irrespective of whether they actively practise law or not), the best way is to dive in the social innovation world.


Social Innovation 101 for Lawyers

In the first “Editor’s Note” of Stanford Social Innovation Review, social innovation is defined as “the process of inventing, securing support for, and implementing novel solutions to social needs and problems.”[11]. Social Value UK emphasizes the principles of social value which is the value aimed to be created through social innovation activities and the aligned with the OECD’s definition that the first principle is “involve stakeholders” [12]. One of the key issues here is that, contrary to the individual nature of the legal profession, in order to take part or lead social innovation activities, one needs to focus on collaborative problem solving and action.


As we mention about social innovation, it is also important to point out that social entrepreneurship is regulated in several countries and not regulated in the others. Thus, social enterprises vary in format like commercial companies with certain limitations in profit distribution and foundations, associations, cooperatives. According to the British Council Report of 2019, “the legal status of social enterprises in Turkey form a broad spectrum, as social enterprises choose one or more of the available legal forms, depending on what best suits their needs”. Also, there is not a separate legal entity for social enterprises provided under Turkish Law. [13]


Inspiring examples of social innovation include the following:

  • Grameen Bank, a microfinance organisation providing “small loans to the impoverished without requiring collateral” [14]

  • Effijay Campaign [15] – “Indiegogo campaign to provide insect repelling t-shirts to children living in Malaria zones”.

  • An example from Turkey, Kodluyoruz.org [16] (Wearecoding.org) Providing free coding trainings to young people to increase their employability across the world.

How to Combine Legal Design and Social Innovation

What we find at the intersection of legal design and social innovation? My answer is human-centeredness, multistakeholder problem solving approach and continuous improvement opportunities. Even though legal design is defined [17] by Margaret Hagan as the approach for humanising legal services and systems, every social innovation project’s legal side is also open to be humanised. For example, if a lawyer is volunteering at a rights based NGO, the legal information packs of the NGO could be designed for the usability needs of the users. Another example could be embedding legal design in your own work like how Robert de Rooy of Creative Contracts’ comic contract enables a more efficient hiring process for the ClemenGold company and eases access to information regarding employment contracts for seasonal workers. [18] Amanda Perry Kessaris’s paper on Legal Design for Practice, Activisim, Policy and Research [19] is yet another inspiration for applying legal design to several other socio-legal studies. In this case, if the application of legal design to a socio-legal issue is innovative in nature or creates an innovative result, then it can also be assessed from a social innovation perspective.


Potential Areas to Work On

Without hesitation, I would suggest to look into the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [20] while searching for potential areas to practice legal design on a social issue. For lawyers, the promising goals are SDG5 Gender Equality, SDG8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG10 Reduced Inequalities, SDG11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG16 Peace Justice and Strong Institutions and SDG17 Partnership for Goals. If you are new to the SDGs framework, the best way to start is partnering up with a social enterprise or an NGO to help them with their work. Besides the aforementioned SDGs, you can always work towards another SDG. For example, SDG 13 Climate Action is a great example. How can you apply legal design for a project related to SDG 13? Check out the Chancery Lane Project. [21] There, lawyers around the world gather to “create new contracts and model laws to help fight climate change”. [22] As a lawyer, you can always contribute to the work locally and also promote the clauses to your clients, especially important when the client is on the buyer’s side. Legal design is such a beautiful concept that it enables you to create solutions that would also create social value within the boundaries of legislation.


Our current project with UNDP Turkey is also a great example where we are creating an information design output in order to combat violence against women and vulnerable groups. Women will be able to easily access information about organisations which provide support and information, empowerment training, and extended support to violence survivors. Most importantly, we will be able to help survivors with their legal, psychosocial and medical needs. During this project, we have been holding many interviews with CSOs, media outlets, legal clinics and soon bar associations. Just holding interviews already made us gain an immense amount of information about systemic problems and insights about what women need. So while we are prototyping, we will provide a solution designed according to the different needs of different vulnerable groups.


Final Words

Legal design has changed my opinion about law completely. Instead of being stuck in an area that is known to be awfully rigid and inaccessible, I feel empowered as I combine it with social innovation. What I love about legal design is that it is collaborative, creative and dedicated to creating value for the users. I hope this paper inspires you to experiment with legal design and social innovation. I am sure it will make you gain a different perspective and feel a bit more positive and hopeful about the humanity.

 

Notes

[1] Margaret Hagan, “Law by Design” https://lawbydesign.co/legal-design/ accessed 7.09.2021

[2] Visual Contracts, “What is Legal Design Thinking?” http://www.visualcontracts.eu/our-approach/what-is-legal-design-thinking/ accessed 7.09.2021

[3] IDEO, “What’s the difference between human-centered design and design thinking?What’s the difference between human-centered design and design thinking?” https://designthinking.ideo.com/faq/whats-the-difference-between-human-centered-design-and-design-thinking

[4] Atolye, https://atolye.io/en/home/ accessed 7.09.2021

[5] Legal Design Turkey, https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12476669/ accessed 7.09.2021

[6] UNDP Turkey, “Kadınların inovasyon potansiyelini ortaya çıkarmayı hedefleyen UNDP Sosyal İnovasyon Destek Programına başvurular devam ediyor” https://www.tr.undp.org/content/turkey/tr/home/presscenter/articles/2021/01/UNDP-sosyal-inovasyon-destek-programi.html (in Turkish) accessed 7.09.2021

[8]UNDP Turkey, “These 10 solutions

reflecting the innovative power of women will come to life with UNDP support and contribute to the Global Goals” https://www.tr.undp.org/content/turkey/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2021/03/sosyal-inovasyon.html accessed 7.09.2021

[9] Legal Design Turkey, https://www.legaldesignturkey.com/?lang=en accessed 7.09.2021

[10] Stanford Graduate School of Business, “Defining Social Innovation” https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/centers-initiatives/csi/defining-social-innovation accessed 7.09.2021

[11] Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Rediscovering Social Innovation” https:/ssir.org/articles/entry/rediscovering_social_innovation# accessed 11.09.2021

[12] Social Value UK, “What are the principles of social value?” http://socialvalueuk.org/what-is-social-value/the-principles-of-social-value/ accessed 11.09.2021

[13] British Council, “The State of Social Entreprise in Turkey” https://kusif.ku.edu.tr/en/publications/social-entrepreneurship-series/ accessed 11.09.2021

[14] Wikipedia, “Grameen Bank” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grameen_Bank accessed 11.09.2021

[15]Indiegogo, “Help us to fight Malaria and prevent children dying” https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-us-to-fight-malaria-and-prevent-children-dying#/ accessed 11.09.2021

[16] Kodluyoruz https://www.kodluyoruz.org/ accessed 11.09.2021

[17] Margaret Hagan, “Law by Design” https://lawbydesign.co/legal-design/ accessed 7.09.2021

[18] Creative Contracts, “ClemenGold Comic Contract”

[19] Amanda Perry-Kessaris, “Legal Design for Practice, Activism, Policy and Research” https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3295671 accessed 11.09.2021

[20]United Nations, “The 17 Goals” https://sdgs.un.org/goals accessed 11.09.2021

[21]The Chancery Lane Project, https://chancerylaneproject.org/ accessed 11.09.2021

[22] Ibid.

 

About the Author

Ebru Metin, LL.M., CCMAP is Founder/CEO of award-winning (UNDP, 2021) Legal Design Turkey. Ambassador of European Legal Technology Association. Legal professional with 10+ years of work and academic experience in Turkey, United Kingdom and Spain.


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