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8. Conclusion

Image – Inclusive Justice Activity

Many people in the sampled populations encounter legal problems in their daily lives. Three out of four people experienced at least one legal problem in the previous 12 months. While this problem prevalence rate is high, it is positive to see that the vast majority of people do take action when they have a problem (86%), more than found by the JNS (58%). This high action level may indicate that people feel it is possible to resolve their problems, if they take action. In other words, people recognise that problems do not solve themselves and that there are existing resolution mechanisms which can help them. 

The survey also provided valuable insights into why participants do not take action when they have a problem. People most often reported not taking action due to the procedures being too difficult or not knowing what to do. This points to two distinct phenomena in the surveyed municipalities: (1) there are people who do not know what existing resolution mechanisms and processes are available, and therefore do not use them; and (2) there are people who know these routes and processes but do not understand the mechanisms or find them inaccessible. In the context of these prioritised municipalities where efforts are made to improve access to justice, this finding is interesting as it showcases that challenges with access to justice go beyond physical barriers. Bringing justice closer to the people is not just about institutions having a local presence, it requires informing people about the services available and ensuring that these processes are intuitive and easy to understand. 

This is also reflected in the three qualitative interviews. When asked what can be improved about justice in their community, Pacho, Teo and Mari felt more could be done to listen to the needs of people and communities. The existence of institutions with local presence and local policies are a start, but they may not be reaching the most rural communities. As Mari stated, “The structure of justice should go to the fields, to the rurality. Justice should not be [clustered] in the cities; justice should travel.” Furthermore, interviewees feel these institutions need to be built from the reality of people in the community, offering solutions that work for them, and, most importantly, are accompanied by the resources to implement such solutions. 

This finding potentially correlates with the difference between where people go for help when they have a problem and where they anticipate they would go if they have a problem. People may be hearing about potential resources and resolution mechanisms through different institutional actors and the various programmes that promote justice in their region. However, when the time comes to deal with a problem, people may not know how to access and make use of these resources, or may believe there is no competent actor for their dispute. In turn, this leads people to more “familiar” and simple approaches, relying on acquaintances and direct negotiation as their main sources of help. 

The eJNS data also demonstrates that few problems are completely resolved, but when people do take action and complete their justice journeys, regardless of the actor, the outcomes tend to be positive. This finding has positive implications for existing state strategies, such as Local Justice Systems, which coordinate the various justice actors at the local level to provide effective responses to people. Interventions and policies that are collaboratively developed and recognise existing community knowledge, resources, and practices will help to positively expand the options people have to resolve their legal problems. 

Furthermore, there is room for innovation within the justice sector to prevent legal problems and make resolution pathways more accessible, easier to understand, and more attentive to local dynamics. Conflict Resolution Mechanisms, Casas de Justicia, and community justice actors are all existing innovations which bring justice closer to the people. However, these innovations need a stronger presence in remote areas and people need to get to know them better in order to make use of their services. 

To make that happen, we need to further understand the reasons for people’s inaction and the ways in which informal sources of help provide assistance in problem resolution. The eJNS and the JNS surveys, alongside other justice data efforts in Colombia, offer a start to this process and to building a more complete picture of Colombians’ justice needs and journeys.

This eJNS study itself also has an important experimental value. One of the initial objectives was to test a new approach and method for measuring the legal needs of individuals. The study cannot replace a rigorous survey, but it can support the results of a more comprehensive survey, as is the case with the JNS. The key lesson from this exercise is that an eJNS-like study provides fast and accessible insights into the general trends of a specific population’s justice needs. Moreover, if surveys like this can be carried out on an annual basis, it may be possible to see an evolution over time of the justice problems in a particular area, which would strengthen understanding of local dynamics. 

This leads to another experimental possibility: the eJNS approach can be used for rapid evaluations of justice interventions. Quickly gathering feedback from users of justice services can create valuable timely feedback loops for these innovations, helping them to continuously improve their responses to people’s needs and the outcomes they seek. For example, the users of Casas de Justicia could be asked to assess their experiences online. Or, people who go to town hall can be asked online to share their perceptions about the process and outcomes of a particular justice journey. Innovation in justice is not limited to the end results, measuring justice needs and satisfaction can benefit from novel approaches that produce relevant data to inform further changes and support the justice sector as a whole to become more people-centred. There is great potential for innovation in data collection and Colombia’s data gathering strength is poised to lead the way. 


This publication was produced by the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL), with the support of USAID Colombia’s Inclusive Justice Activity.


Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Knowledge and Research Director

Rachel Taylor, Justice Sector Advisor

Simón Díaz Pérez, Survey Researcher

Marla Díaz Arias, Administrative Coordinator

We are thankful for the support of Guillermo Otálora Lozano and Sanaz Jahanshahi

The information published on this site is not official U.S. government information and does not represent the views or positions of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the Government of the United States of America.