Storytelling, chocolate and research

Guest author Michele Leering, Executive Director of CALC

Guest author Michele Leering, Executive Director of the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre, Belleville, Ontario

In my last guest blog post, I talked about a visit I made back in March 2014 to Victoria Legal Aid (VLA)  in Melbourne, Australia. While there, I had the chance to meet with a community legal educator extraordinaire, Monica Ferrari.

There were many interesting facets to my visit with Monica – including her story about a public legal education and information (PLE) campaign designed to catch the attention of youth. One of the highlights was a hugely popular gorilla cut out, affectionately dubbed Gaby. Young people delighted in taking selfies with Gaby to post on social media.

This is a photograph of Monica Ferrari wearing a feminine gorilla suit.

Monica gets up close and personal with Gaby.

Monica’s team includes a poet and playwright who both love to use storytelling in their work as they develop content and engage with communities. They view stories as a great way to mobilize and enthuse trusted intermediaries and educate them about the legal resources available to their clients. One tip from Monica: whether you’re using storytelling techniques or not, it’s important to vary your approach to PLE depending on the type of intermediary you’re working with – focus on their learning needs. Another tip: chocolate is critical to effective group work. (Anyone who has worked with me knows that I share this view with Monica!)

In addition to her direct work with PLE, Monica was undertaking an M.A. in education at the time we met – seeking to answer the age-old question of whether PLE works. Monica is keen to build on other PLE evaluations and address an absence of empirical evidence of impact of PLE. While this is very challenging, in her view it is needed in the PLE sector.

For her M.A., Monica interviewed culturally and linguistically diverse learners before and after a PLE experience using a mixed-methods approach, and then looked for a measurable change in their attitudes around the legal issues associated with buying a car. Through this study, Monica hopes eventually to encourage a more holistic approach to evaluation and measurement than traditionally demanded by funders and to “make a small contribution to our field, one that can be critiqued and hopefully built on.”

The VLA has been using both qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods of late to determine legal needs in vulnerable communities and inform the projects they work on. The projects in progress at the time I met with Monica included:

  • A collaboration with the Department of Education for young people with special needs
  • Work for newly arrived communities (this project was originally started by community legal centres or CLCs in Victoria)
  • A project to protect seniors, in particular, from door-to-door selling – the “Do Not Knock Campaign” (I believe this initiative was spearheaded by the Consumer Law Action Centre, another CLC – it is now being carried out on a national level.)

At the time, the VLA was also scoping a project which would target legal needs in the Koori aboriginal community.

To learn more about some of these projects, check here.

Michele Leering is a lawyer and works as Executive Director with the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre in Belleville, Ontario. She also holds a M.A. in Adult Education. In addition to the traditional practice of poverty law, Michele has engaged in community development and law reform work, including organizing injured workers, and instigating participatory action research projects into local hunger/poverty, homelessness, and access to justice.  She has worked on diverse public legal education projects including developing a comprehensive guide to living on a low income, referral and resource guides, and “legal health checklist” approaches that reflect her passion for encouraging legal literacy/capability appraoches and holistic legal aid service delivery. She is currently working on an article about the crucial role that “trusted intermediaries” play in increasing access to justice.

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