DSA initiates policy change

Published on 05 July 2019

What happens when you put users first?

Great technology is just a part of truly transitioning to a digital government platform. Crystal Sprague, Court Administrator, Kansas City, KS, found that by following OpenCities user-centred best practices, even before touching technology, her team was able to make actual policy change. The best part was that it only took 24 hours.

During a Digital Services Academy (DSA) session with OpenCities, Sprague suggested that the Kansas City, KS, Court team look at the process for filling out court date continuance forms. During this journey mapping exercise, Administrative Judge, Brandelyn Nichols-Brajkovic pointed out that the process for continuance was straight forward if it was initiated by a lawyer. However, if a defendant decided to represent themselves in court for a smaller offence, like a traffic ticket, the process was daunting and expensive. Simply requesting a new court date could not be done online.  It required time away from work, a trip to the courthouse and standing in line. Further, defendants were required to pay a $100 appearance bond, even if they requested the new date before their current scheduled appearance.

The City realized that this process was unjust to people who were not able or couldn’t afford to take the time from work to simply ask for a new court date. In many cases, this was the exact reason they were requesting a continuance to begin with. And although the $100 needed to file the continuance was a bond, it was impossible for some people to come up with or be without the money until their day in court.

By journey mapping this process (a half-day session of the OpenCities DSA), the Kansas City, KS, judicial team saw clearly for, the first time, the challenges their current process created, not only for defendants, but Court staff as well.  Not only did the process highlight opportunities to make the service simpler and enable it online – the Court recognized they needed a policy change. Within 24 hours, Judge Nichols-Brajkovic ordered a change in policy allowing pro se continuance prior to first appearance and without bond.  

Today, there is no longer a $100 appearance bond and Kansas City, KS, is now working on technology to help them offer this service online, eliminating the requirement of having to file in person.

“Equity and equitable access to justice is a core value for the Kansas City, KS, Courts. OpenCities not only brought new technology to the table, but a new approach of helping Court staff explore how to make services digital, and just for all our users. The OpenCities Digital Service Academy helped provide a space for our frontline staff, leadership and judges, to focus on our business processes and the challenges we had in making them user-centered,” replied Sprague.

The Kansas City, KS, Digital Services Academy was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and in partnership with Code for Kansas City and Kansas City Digital Drive. During the weeklong Digital Services Academy, a team of nearly 20 government staff were trained in the principles of user-centred design and writing for the web by OpenCities. The City is in the process of implementing those learnings in a new private, Alpha website, which will include an online continuance form.



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