Collaboration at the Online Courts Hackathon: We Need to Talk about CoLin

July 23, 2017

How did the initial
idea for CoLin arise?

We started from the viewpoint that we wanted a solution that
was centred around the human, the person in need, rather than the technology,
so we identified Steve and ‘someone’ to help Steve. We thought about the
easiest possible way for Steve to access help, and the idea for Colin was born.

What was the balance
on your team between tech people and lawyers?

We believe in a healthy multi-disciplinary mix, so we had 2
policy experts (Sophia and Peter from the Law Society), 1 user experience
strategist (Bea), 1 developer (Mark), 2 legal engineers (Felix, Ben), and 1
solicitor & lead legal engineer (Drew). And a healthy dose of a shared and
common goal of creating something that would deliver better outcomes for

Was there a division
of roles?

We created a shared vision about what we wanted to achieve,
and we each contributed as required throughout. People led in their own areas
of expertise, and the challenges that we encountered were healthy and
professional. It was the blending of all these together that made it such a
constructive process for us.

How long did you spend
on each aspect of the build and presentation?

We spent approximately 30% of the time on the concept and
the user story, and the relevant legal analysis. We then spent around 30% of
the time on the technical build and the non-technical contributions to the
technical build – for example user interface and user experience. And the
presentation consumed the balance of the time.

I saw Sophia tucked
away on the floor at the end of one corridor scrawling on an A3 sheet. How much
was pen and paper or whiteboard a key?

That was actually an A1 sheet (4 times the size of A3),
which was a massive post-it note. Congregating around these large sheets,
sharing the pen and scribbling are absolutely key to rapid prototyping and
design thinking. The characters were also drawn on the same paper, and these
helped bring the characters to life and were vital in being able to tell Steve’s
story – to us as a team and to those we were presenting to.

Why voice interaction?

Firstly, because it is an emerging area of interest to some
of our own clients. Secondly, because we are experimenting with this
technology, and Mark thought to bring an Amazon Echo. And finally, importantly,
we wanted something that was easy for the consumer to use and that moved away
from simple form-filling, which we know can be a barrier for some. The success
of the reforms, such as those being developed by HMCTS, rely on the interface
for the user being simple, accessible and attractive. Our guiding principle was
to design something that would be as easy as talking to a friend.

You used Alexa – is there
any reason for that and is the solution equally applicable to other ‘helpers’?

Mark brought an Amazon Echo with him, and technically it is
an open architecture designed to allow new commands and conversations to be
created. It could equally have been any other voice technology / virtual
assistant. The hackathon ethos was one of creating solutions which could be
easily adopted and put into practice, so we kept it simple and replicable.

What can CoLin do?

Colin can guide the user through the complexities of legal
issues as if talking to a knowledgeable friend, capture the whole story as
relevant to the user, distil relevant parts for required steps in the process,
and bundle the entire history in chronological order ready for professional
input / online court.

How did you feel when
you realised you had won?

Elated, surprised and shattered. We were very pleased that a
legal engineering approach prevailed.

How did you celebrate
and just how tired were you?

We haven’t had time to celebrate yet. [Too many media

Do you expect the
HMCTS to take the idea forward?

We would be delighted if something like Colin emerged, and
we would be really keen to help with that. More importantly, many of the ideas
and concepts explored during the hackathon (not just by our team) are likely to
find their way into HMCTS online services. We know that HMCTS are looking to
pick up on these ideas, with us and with others. We are looking forward to
being part of something that goes beyond just those 24 hours. From the policy
perspective, the hackathon was a great example of what can be done by tech, law
and policy makers coming together to co-create – we hope this is the start of
something special.

If HMCTS do not take
the idea on, is there room for others to take it forward?

The breadth of the challenges that were the subject of the
hackathon mean that many others will necessarily be involved in piloting and
developing robust services. The hackathon was a community event about exploring
the challenges – not about creating proprietary intellectual property.

Are there parallels
between Colin and the Josh Browder’s Do Not Pay in its newly extended form?

Colin was a classic example of bricolage – blending multiple
disciplines and multiple technologies to create a novel solution. This approach
is at the heart of legal engineering. The desire for people to have a more
natural language interface, combined with the huge unmet demand and the
advances in available technology have led to the growth of new services like
‘Do Not Pay’.

For more on the Online Courts Hackathon, read Laurence
Eastham’s report here.