Event recap: Victim Support’s interactive courtroom
At our charity digital event on engagement and participation last week Nila Patel, Webmaster at Victim Support, was kind enough to give us a demo of their new interactive courtroom tool. The web-based tool is designed to help familiarise young witnesses of crime with the court system and guide them through the process of giving evidence.
Here’s a brief summary of Nila’s presentation for those who missed it.
What’s the interactive courtroom for?
Young witness supporters in England and Wales work with young witnesses to help prepare them to testify in court but the process is complex and can be intimidating and scary.
The interactive courtroom tool is designed to guide young users through the process of giving evidence in court as a witness using imagery, text and video.
Why was the interactive courtroom developed?
Even though young people are more likely to be victims of crime than any other age group, only 13 per cent report crimes to the police.
Around 18,000 young people attended court as a witness during 2013-14 and 40 per cent of those were cases of grooming or child sexual exploitation.
Knowing this, it was important for Victim Support to engage with this audience to help support them during their journey through the criminal justice system.
A youth brand was created with the help of young people and the youth branding agency, Livity.
The new youth site, You & Co, developed by Reading Room was created to help bridge the gap and provide a consistent message to young people about the criminal justice and courts system.
What does the interactive courtroom do?
The tool, hosted on the You & Co website, is made up of several ‘rooms’ in which users can investigate and learn about different people’s roles and key aspects of the courtroom.
It shows what a young person can expect from the process of giving evidence at each stage from outside the court to testifying from a live link through to after court.
What were some of the challenges?
Deciding what to include in the tool and what to leave out was really important. Too little information and the tool would fail to provide a good enough representation of what to expect; too much and it could easily become overwhelming for young users.
Nila said another challenge was in how to represent the ‘special measures’ available for young witnesses at court. These include protective screens, removal of wigs and gowns and the ability to give evidence via a live link.
Victim Support came up with a neat interface that allows these to be turned on and off. It also created a separate room to demonstrate the live link testimony with a split screen to convey that the evidence would be broadcast simultaneously – something that was really important for potential witnesses to understand.
The fact that there were many stakeholders (e.g. Ministry of Justice, Crown Prosecution Service) made it difficult to arrange to get feedback from them all at the same time. The feedback however was invaluable – one of the special measures might have been missed but for stakeholder intervention.
The ability to turn off hotspots was also a late requirement that arose after the team was informed by a court intermediary that they could be counter-productive for users with Asperger’s syndrome.
Usability testing with a representative audience was tough to arrange as only 18k young people across England and Wales had given evidence as a witness between 2013-14. Most young people are in full time education Monday to Friday so the team had to be flexible when organising usability tesing.
A decision had to be made about browser compatibility that excluded some users in the criminal justice sector but this wasn’t the intended user group. The tool was also primarily developed for desktop and tablet as the team envisaged that most sessions would be assisted. Happily though it does work pretty well on mobile.
How has the tool been received?
Gathering quantitative feedback from the core audience is a tough proposition as it applies to a very niche user group but Nila said that initial feedback for the interactive courtroom had been really positive. Young witness supporters, key stakeholders such as the Crown Prosecution Service, lawyers and council social work teams have all reported a great response to the tool from users.
What’s next for the interactive courtroom?
The top priorities for Victim Support are to add the ability to change the main character in the tool so that users can choose to select a new female character to use on their journey.
Ultimately they’d also like to expand the journey so that it provides end-to-end coverage of the criminal justice system, not just the courts. This will include choices a young person can make after a crime has occurred.