By Daniel Stein, President, Stewards of Change Institute

COVID-19 is unleashing numerous, profound consequences that we hear about on the news and feel in our own lives every day. One effect of the crisis that has received little attention to date, however, is its impact on the civil courts, where critically important personal matters such as child custody and eviction (among many others) are still playing out during the pandemic and will continue to do so into the future.

The need for the courts to digitize and modernize existed before the pandemic, of course, but now the urgency for reform is even greater in order to help the millions of Americans who face civil legal issues. To better-address that need, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Civil Legal System Modernization initiative is partnering with the Stewards of Change Institute (SOCI) to help highlight how other domains, such as medicine, have grappled with complex problems like the digital divide and user privacy.

The intent of Pew’s initiative is to make the nation’s civil justice system more efficient, affordable and accessible. To achieve those aims, SOCI is working with Pew to identify emerging/innovative technologies and practices across the human services, healthcare, public safety and Information Technology domains – all of which already use advanced technologies. Once identified, Pew will conduct tests around the U.S. in the coming years to determine what works best. Ultimately, the objective of this work is to implement tools and approaches that level the legal playing field for millions of people for whom the courts are too often an impediment – rather than an opportunity – for achieving justice.


Please fill out this form if you’re interested in participating in a focus group in October, November or December on this important project.

You can access a recording of our recent webinar on the project here. If you have questions or comments, please write to


Those other domains are ahead of the courts when it comes launching innovations, integrating multiple systems internally and externally, using data as a strategic asset, and implementing governance models. The courts therefore lack some key learning when modernizing systems or utilizing new technologies that can be gleaned from other sectors that have been steeped in this work for decades. Drawing on the expertise of relevant professionals, a review of existing research and new research produced by Pew, a diverse working group of subject matter experts assembled by SOCI and its National Interoperability Collaborative (NIC) will offer insights into considerations when launching new tools and applications in the courts; they will also help determine what changes to court procedures, policies and rules would bolster the implementation and effective use of advanced technologies and practices.

Pew’s larger Civil Legal System Modernization Project seeks to make the courts more efficient overall by:

  • Increasing the availability and quality of free online legal tools that help everyone navigate complex problems and connect to resources.
  • Developing, promoting, and evaluating technologies that improve how people interact with state and local courts.
  • Conducting research to identify policies that can improve outcomes for people involved in the civil legal system.
  • Building partnerships with the private sector, policymakers, and other stakeholders to advance comprehensive improvement to the civil legal system.

SOCI is assisting Pew by utilizing our large national network to virtually convene subject matter experts in focus groups in order to discuss technologies and processes that the courts can learn from in other domains. The multidisciplinary findings and recommendations of these focus groups will help Pew and its partners in the civil justice community to identify the next generation of tools that hold the potential to improve broad accessibility to and the affordability of civil justice. We will also create a framework to assess the methodology needed to adopt emerging, promising and/or next-generation technology innovations and expedite their application in the civil legal system, based the experiences of the other domains. To accomplish these goals, SOCI will:

  • Facilitate engagement with stakeholders from the civil legal system and areas of intersection to include the Human Services, Healthcare, Public Safety and IT domains;
  • Ensure involvement by a diverse, skilled group of stakeholders who work with communities that intersect with the civil legal system to inform Pew’s ongoing work;
  • Help fulfill the civil legal system modernization project’s goal of assessing research, technologies and related changes to court procedures with the greatest potential for significant impact on improving access, affordability and efficiency of the civil legal system,
  • Elevate the awareness and importance of reforming the civil justice system in the eyes of the judicial, political and executive leadership across the health, human services, public health, public safety, education and IT domains, among others, and:
  • Share the progress and outcomes of Pew’s efforts through NIC’s Collaboration Hub to advance dissemination of the work, solicit feedback and build stakeholder support.

We welcome participation in the focus groups we’re putting together in October, November or December. Please fill out this form if you’re interested in joining this important effort. We recently held a webinar on the project; you can access a recording of it here. Finally, if you have any questions or comments about SOCI, NIC or this initiative, please write to


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