Workshop report: Social media and democratic development

  • December 25, 2014

CBA International Initiatives, in partnership with federal Department of Justice, held its 15th annual workshop this summer at the CBA Legal Conference in St. John’s. The Twitter Effect: Can Technology Advance Democratic Development and the Rule of Law? addressed the impact that new technologies are having on the field of rule of law development  and access to justice.

Presentation topics ranged from the traditional realm of formal justice systems to new access to justice initiatives at the outside edges of formal systems, including how:

  • the Justice Centre Studies of the Americas is developing online metrics to measure judicial system performance (and create incentives for countries be more transparent with related information);
  • the “Direct Diplomacy” Group in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada uses technology to engage with citizens and non-state political actors in other countries seeking to increase the openness, inclusiveness and responsiveness of their political systems.
  • the Cyberjustice Laboratory of Montreal is developing ICT-led strategies to modernize and reform access to justice strategies in developing countries.
  • FrontlineSMS Legal is leading the explosion in the use of SMS technologies on mobile phones (with a global penetration far exceeding that of internet access) to improve access to legal information and services even in some of the remotest parts of the developing world.
  • the New Media Advocacy Project is crafting video documentary techniques to support community advocacy campaigns and public interest litigation around the world.

Fittingly enough, this workshop took place at a CBA Legal Conference where the CBA’s Futures Report was officially released. It is clear that the burgeoning revolution in social media, new communications techniques and the struggle for the internet pose major challenges for the legal profession domestically and for development practitioners alike – a conversation that has barely started and which will continue to be important for us all.