January 2013

Report: Legal Capability for Everyday Life Evaluation Report
Report commissioned by: Lisa Wintersteiger, Law for Life
Report author: Liz Mackie, The Gilfillan Partnership


Executive Summery :

The Legal Capability for Everyday Life project piloted a new approach to developing public legal education (PLE) practices with advice agencies. The project was led by Law for Life working in partnership with three advice agencies; Afghan Association Paiwand, Community Links and Disability Law Service (working with the Attend ABI project). Law for Life worked with these partners to design and deliver a PLE course for groups of 10 to 15 people over six two-hour sessions. The project took place from May to December 2012.

The achievements of the Legal Capability for Everyday Life project were externally evaluated by The Gilfillan Partnership. The external evaluation used the evaluation framework for legal capability developed by Law for Life with University of Bristol and published in the Public Legal Education Evaluation Framework.1 The Legal Capability for Everyday Life project offered the opportunity to test the values of the PLE evaluation framework in guiding the design of resources to deliver PLE within the advice sector and for evaluating the effectiveness and impact of PLE initiatives. Three PLE courses were delivered. Each partner agency recruited from among their service users to take part in the course. For the course run with Paiwand the participants were refugees from Afghanistan living in north London; for the Community Links course participants were local people who are active in community hubs established within the London borough of Newham; and for the Disability Law Service/Attend ABI course the participants were adults with acquired brain injuries. Around 45 people participated in the three courses with around 30 people taking part in all six sessions. To evaluate the key project objective of improving individual legal capability, course participants were asked to complete questionnaires before the course started and after the course ended. The partner agencies also asked service users who were not participating in the course to complete the same before and after questionnaires.

This evaluation approach allows any difference between the before and after position of participants and the before and after position of non-participants to be attributed to participation in the course. The evaluation results show a strong improvement in the legal capability of individuals participating in the PLE course. Those who took part in the PLE course were better able to recognise the legal dimension of day to day issues and more confident that they could tackle these issues or seek appropriate help when necessary, when compared with service users of the same advice agencies who did not take part in the PLE courses.

The advice agencies that took part in the project consider that PLE is becoming increasingly essential to help ordinary people to cope as funding cuts reduce the availability of legal and general advice services. The PLE course developed and piloted through the Legal Capability for Everyday Life project represents an accessible and relatively low-cost measure which advice agencies can use to help their users to become better able to manage their everyday lives without recourse to increasingly limited advice service provision.

The project demonstrated that the PLE evaluation framework provides a valuable framework for planning and delivering PLE and for evaluating the achievements and impacts of PLE initiatives. The resources produced by the project could now be used by other advice agencies wishing to develop and deliver PLE within their communities. However, the evaluation found that it is unlikely that many agencies will initiate and deliver good quality PLE without central support from Law for Life. There is a strong need for continuing support from Law for Life in order to promote the value of PLE, develop resources for PLE, promote high quality in PLE, share good practice between PLE providers, and to evidence the impacts of PLE through co-ordination of robust and systematic evaluation of PLE provision.

The pilot work that Law for Life has undertaken through the Legal Capability for Everyday Life project should be extended to cover a wider range of advice agencies, particularly agencies working with communities that were not covered in the initial pilot project, such as young people and older people. The paper-based before and after questionnaires that were used for evaluation within the Legal Capability for Everyday Life project are an affordable and useful way to evaluate the impact of PLE on individual legal capability. The project evaluation has produced a pool of tried and tested evaluation indicators that can be used by other agencies when evaluating PLE initiatives. However, further work is needed to find ways of helping agencies delivering PLE initiatives to manage the implementation of robust evaluation methodologies. It may be more effective to move to an on line evaluation process that is centrally managed by Law for Life. This would remove some of the administrative burden from delivery agencies, should result in better quality evaluation data, and would enable centrally co-ordinated data analysis from  PLE evaluations to build a robust evidence base demonstrating the benefits and impacts of PLE.

Although this is a key objective for Law for Life, it has not been possible for the Legal Capability for Everyday Life evaluation to assess the impact of PLE participation on wider socio-economic outcomes such as improved access to justice, improved health and well-being, or improved productivity. The evaluation indicators developed through this project provide useful information for starting to measure socioeconomic benefits, but it is necessary to identify what happens to PLE participants in the longer term to make the links between PLE and wider socio-economic outcomes. Law for Life should explore the possibility of securing funding for a longitudinal research project to measure the longer term outcomes for individuals who have participated in PLE and to identify any causal relationship between PLE and wider socio-economic benefits.