Claudia Johnson Bloggs on Online Interviewing Issues

Claudia writes:

The recent post here on online document assembly and the corollary issue of online interviewing techniques triggered may thoughts I want to share w/the readers of this blog.

  1. Online interviewing techniques in legal aid, is a very new field.  Online interviewing is a requirement to create a document using document assembly. However online interviews can stand on their own and do so, without producing a document—so we should view online interviews as field separate and related to online document assembly.  For example, in LawHelp Interactive, which is the national server for legal aid groups and courts using online interviews to assemble pleadings, 443,276 interviews have been served from January to September 2012, and 236,923 documents (letters, pleadings, and self assessments) have been assembled in the same time period.

Online interviews can be used for a lot of different purposes:

a)     Online eligibility intake—there are various programs doing TIG grants to develop online intake interviews to ascertain LSC eligibility. LSC has some requirements on this type of intake, one of them for example, to verify some of the income and asset information.

b)     Online screening to refer to online resources—in this type of use the person answers questions to get a referral (not a document) that gives them links of materials that could be helpful..

c)     Online interviews to find red flags in a case (this can include a document being printed out at the end of the interview or not). In this type of use, a final document is not assembled, rather red flags are described to the user based on the answer providers. Right now this type of screening use is mostly being done with a document produced at the end, but it can be done also w/out producing a document.

  1. The Ol’ GIGO principle: garbage in/garbage out

At Berkeley in graduate school we used to talk about GIGO—your work is only as good as the information you gather.,_garbage_out

So GIGO applies here also. The end product of an interview will only be as good as the information you gather.   In this case, open text boxes pose a great threat, because a lay person may not write open text answers in a way that express a cause of actions, or highlight relevant facts, events. Thus, an open text box needs to be approached with caution—the question needs to be very simple, not ask double questions.

Some developers use open ended boxes to gather information because some people think that providing a list of facts, or providing an example, is giving legal advice or counsel, or leading the person to answer in a certain way.

I believe that a work around to the open text danger GIGO, is to provide list of actions and common scenarios—that then the person can customize in an open text box.  So for example, if questions are being asked about violence, some active verbs  or nouns could be provided, for example: the person I need protection from used this weapon:

  1. Knife
  2. Gun
  3. Household item (name)
  4. Furniture
  5. Personal item (like clothing, name)
  6. Other
  7. Body part (leg, arm, hand, elbow, knee, head (name).

One big piece in online interviewing for legal services is the issue of plain language. The question and the answers (or guidance provided) to verify the information received need to be in plain language. Otherwise, we are back to the gigo principle. If the question is complex, the answer may not be accurate.

3.     LEP Interviews

The art of online interviewing is vital when doing interviews in another language. The best example of this was done by ALAS, Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

They needed to create a domestic violence petition form. To be ableto gather the information to assemble a declaration, using an open text box did not work, because a non-English speaking person could not type the text in English. Machine translation is too risky to use to translate the open ended text. So ALAS worked carefully to arrive at a very good solution.

They set up their interview to solicit specific facts, enough to support a declaration on very individual facts.

LawHelp Interactive/Pro Bono Net staff  provided three  trainings on related topics this year. Two are posted here and where part of the LSNTAP training series.

Perhaps the most relevant in terms of online document assembly and eliciting detailed information from interviews is this one. The focus was on developing online interviews to assemble multilingual content in May. We presented the work being done by multiple states, including PA, GA, and NY Courts, in developing online interviews mostly in Spanish. (password required)

The other training was related to the first point, the issue on online intake in the context of Legal. By intake I mean, ascertaining if the person qualifies for services by a legal non-profits. The webinar was done as part of the LSNTAP training series, and the presenters included Utah, and Alabama.

The last recording webinar, also done as part of the LSNTAP series, was focused on using online tools to reach LEP communities. We highlighted the work being funded by TIG in Illinois, and we also covered recent  Census research as it impacts legal services providers  just published in the latest edition of the MIE Journal by Jesus Salas and Monica Buckley from Ohio.

Readers of this blog should know that next year, LawHelp Interactive will have the capacity to provide online templates in Mandarin Cantonese and Vietnamese, so if legal aid and courts are interested in creating interviews for these communities, this will be an option shortly. Right now we are supporting Spanish users.

I think we should continue the dialog on online interviewing skills and best practices in the legal aid community.  I agree that further evaluation and research is needed, however before we look at this subtopic or separate topic from a document assembly perspective, we first need to garner the resources to do a meaningful evaluation (including cost benefit analysis) of the impact of online document assembly across the board. CQ Researcher recently published a report on legal aid, where Mark O’Brien  ED of PBN is quoted  on the need to garner adequate resources for evaluation of online forms initiatives across the nation and by variety of setting.

That baseline evaluation, would then allow us to test different interviewing techniques to improve the overall access and quality of information and/or forms that are produced using online interviews.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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1 Response to Claudia Johnson Bloggs on Online Interviewing Issues

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