Reliable data is powerful. It has potential to illuminate the forces shaping our society. Data is increasingly used to help us understand complex issues and one important source is administrative data.
Administrative data is information collected and stored as part of the everyday function of organisations. It can be used to generate insights into the operation of the legal system.
In the legal context, service providers are demanding more from their data to improve and design effective services. Used well, administrative data can measure not only the volume and type of work done, but the success of services and programs.
To unlock the potential of this data, we first need to know what data exists, its form and quality, how it is currently used, and what it can be used for. Hence this project to map data collected by the Victorian civil justice system.
This is key to more fully exploiting its potential as a tool for answering important access to justice questions.
What is the data mapping project
Victoria Law Foundation’s data mapping project examines how administrative data is collected and used in the Victorian civil justice system. The project investigates what data is available, its accuracy and consistency, how data is used and what needs to be done to improve its utility for addressing access to justice questions.
The project is in three stages. The first explores administrative data collected in the legal assistance sector. The second will cover courts and tribunals, and the third will examine other dispute resolution and complaint bodies.
Stage one: Apples oranges and lemons
For Apples, Oranges and Lemons: the use and utility of administrative data in the Victorian legal assistance sector we interviewed 29 public legal services. These included a cross-section of legal assistance providers in metropolitan and regional Victoria, covering both generalist and specialist services. We also spoke to representatives from peak bodies and funders.
Implication of findings
Administrative data is imperfect and carries risks
In its current form, the administrative data collected by the legal assistance sector is not sufficiently reliable for sector-wide analyses, to compare organisations or meaningfully monitor performance.
A data quality framework could help improve legal assistance data
Victoria’s legal assistance sector data is currently not filtered through a data quality framework. This is a common tool used to interrogate administrative data before using it for analysis and decision making. It would be a valuable addition.
Administrative data is only one tool in understanding access to justice
Even if the quality of legal assistance sector administrative data is improved, its limitations must be acknowledged. Administrative data is only one of a range of information and data sources required for a comprehensive picture of access to justice in Victoria. Collection of other sources and forms of data is also needed to build the evidence base to inform service design and policy.
Strategies to unlock the utility of administrative data
Strategy 1: Improved data quality and standardised data practices
Modern public legal assistance services require data management systems that meet organisational needs.
Strategy 2: Quality data requires leadership, collaboration, and coordination
Building a quality evidence base needs strategic thinking and commitment to drive improved data culture and practice.
Strategy 3: Quality data requires investment in people and time
There needs to be investment in the data capability of individual organisations.
Strategy 4: Quality data requires funding
Increasing the data capability across the legal assistance sector to a consistent standard requires dedicated funding from all governments.