Small Steps Towards Big Goals

Small Steps Towards Big Goals

The Family Justice & Mental Health Social Lab

The Family Justice and Mental Health Social Lab at the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution aims to improve the family justice system experience for litigants with mental health challenges.  The Lab is led by York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and supported by Legal Aid Ontario and the Ontario Psychological Association. The Lab takes a collaborative and user-centered approach to problem solving. It brings together experts such as social workers, lawyers, mental health workers, psychologists, family physicians, academics, and children and youth advocates in an interdisciplinary team to develop pilot projects that address family justice and mental health needs from a user perspective. “We know that the justice system is struggling to overcome the ‘implementation gap’ and to design solutions that put the public first. Our Family Justice and Mental Health Social Lab demonstrates how working collaboratively across disciplines with proven innovation methods, like design thinking, can improve our ability to create effective user-focused solutions,” says Nicole Aylwin, Assistant Director of the Winkler Institute and the lead designer of the Lab process. To learn more about the Lab click here.

The Public Navigator Program

The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia ( has just launched its Public Navigator program. The program will place trained volunteer members of the public (Public Navigators) in the courthouse in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia (site of the first pilot) to help self-represented litigants navigate and understand options available to them inside and outside the court system for resolving their legal issue.  Public Navigator volunteers will also help people who are considering starting a legal action and assist with form-filling. The role of the Public Navigators is to provide legal information only, not legal advice, and to enable SRLs to access better information, and as a result, make better decisions about their legal problems. You can read about the Public Navigator program here:

Heather de Berdt Romilly, Executive Director of LISNS says “Our goal is to help people help themselves through quality legal information delivered in a safe supportive environment – balancing off the confusion and social isolation many self-reps experience through a community based volunteer who can help them navigate available resources and build a self-reps confidence to chart their own course of action.”

CLEO Steps to Justice: A Collaborative Online Project

CLEO has just launched the Steps to Justice project which builds on the extensive resources and services already found on CLEO’s Your Legal Rights website. Beginning with family, housing, and employment law, Steps to Justice will offer legal information, practical tools like checklists and templates, links to fillable forms, self-help guides, and other process-related materials. Focusing on common legal problems faced by people with low or moderate incomes, Steps to Justice also aims to assist first-contact community workers, who are often the trusted intermediaries for many experiencing legal problems. CLEO is working with a project advisory group and content experts to develop this ambitious online resource. For more information or to get involved, email

Ryerson Social Lab Initiative

Chris Bentley, former Ontario Attorney-General and now the Executive Director of both the Legal Innovation Zone and the Law Practice Program at Ryerson University, has created a Social Lab process to engage a range of stakeholders – including SRLs and the clients of legal services – in a discussion about the future of family law in Ontario. Called, “Building a Brighter Future with a Better Approach for Separating Families and Children”, the focus is on community collaboration to design and build a new prototype process for separating families and children outside the court system. The goal is to produce a prototype program by February 2016, and three meetings have already taken place. If you are interested in participating or would just like to know more, please contact

Chris Bentley comments: “This has been an exciting experiment in community collaboration.  An active group of participants has worked through three sessions to establish a framework, and are now beginning to design one or more approaches to issue-resolution that will work better for families that are separating. We hope and expect that this will mean that many of those who currently end up in court without legal representation will have an additional option to resolve the issues they face that will be more affordable, supportive, and faster.”

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