How to plan for effective international pro bono assistance?

26 October 2018

Through international legal pro bono, legal and judicial experts from the UK can contribute to strengthen the rule of law and access to justice in developing countries. To ensure this kind of technical assistance really has a positive impact, it is important not to fall into common traps, such as generic trainings applied regardless of the specific context. The ROLE UK Programme has been developed with an assumption that the legal and the development sectors can learn from each other. To this end, the ROLE UK team commissioned the conception of a guide to introduce relevant development sector tools to pro bono legal and judicial experts.

The guide, ‘Maximising the Relevance and Effectiveness of Technical Assistance in Support of the Rule of Law’, is divided into four sections, ‘Analyse, Articulate, Act and Adapt’, relating to stages in the planning, delivery and monitoring of pro bono legal technical assistance.

To complement the launch of the guide, ROLE UK organised a workshop bringing together development organisations, barristers, lawyers, and pro bono providers’ networks. To ensure the training would enable practical application, a case study was developed in collaboration with Equal Rights Trust. This workshop focused on the first two stages of developing technical assistance: analyse and articulate.

The first session emphasized the importance of analysing the context as a first step for effective technical assistance. After having been introduced to the concept of ‘Political Economy Analysis’, participants applied a simplified version based on the iceberg analogy. Typically, only 10% of an iceberg is visible above the surface, but the 90% that we cannot see is the most important. Likewise, to conceive an efficient strategy to address a rule-of-law problem, we need to be aware of the many factors surrounding or underpinning this issue.

The following discussion revolved on how, in practice, we can gather this contextual information. Participants agreed that partners on the ground have first-hand information and a strong understanding of the political and legal contexts. However, partners can sometimes be unreliable narrators as they might have incentives to give ‘the best version’ of the context in which they operate. It is therefore important to triangulate information by consulting other in-country actors and conducting desk research. The debate also highlighted the potential of partnerships between law firms and NGOs, the latter being better equipped to run this contextual analysis in depth.

The second session focused on articulating a clear rationale as to what change is needed and how it can be brought about. The key message was that we should first identify the change we want to contribute to and then design the activities appropriate to achieve this outcome, rather than the other way around. The Theory of Change methodology is a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. Participants were asked to critically assess a theory of change linked with the practical case study. It emerged from the discussion that technical assistance aimed at strengthening rule of law always is intertwined with complex political processes and, since it is impossible to have control over all factors, theories of change need to be realistic. Moreover, conceiving a theory of change should be a participatory and evolutive process: it is crucial to involve the local partner and to regularly adapt the theory of change based on evolving circumstances.

This workshop allowed for a fruitful exchange of views between lawyers, barristers and development experts. It also highlighted their particular strengths and weakness and, as a result, the potential for mutually-beneficial and effective partnerships. When used in a collaborative and evolutionary way, political economy analysis and theory of change are useful tools to analyse the context and articulate an action of pro bono legal assistance. This workshop was a pilot that is intended to be replicated and developed as a series, combined with another workshop focusing on the ‘Act’ and ‘Adapt’ phases.

The workshop was well-received with most participants indicating that the workshop will lead them to improve their approach to analysing context and articulating their international pro bono interventions. Some have already used political economy analysis or theory of change in their work, but the workshop will help them to either further develop or formalise what they already do. For others, these were new tools that they will use to analyse requests for technical assistance in the future.

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