When is duplication okay?

Every Christmas we are bombarded with information about how we should behave over the festive season. Much of this is about safety – drink in moderation, be safe on the roads, swim between the flags, how to survive Christmas day with the in-laws. It’s also often about our legal rights as consumers or employees such as knowing when are you entitled to a refund or exchange or your right to holidays or overtime.

 Sometimes you will hear the same message over and over again from different sources, so why the duplication? Executive Director Joh Kirby tells us about efforts to better coordinate legal information in Victoria.

“Last week the Attorney-General Robert Clark convened a working group to consider how the legal sector could better collaborate on online resources. The aim was commendable. In essence, he wanted to look at how to reduce duplication of effort and resources, and increase the quality of services to the public.

The spectre of the forum made me start thinking about why duplication exists.

In one view of the perfect world, life for the information seeker would be easy: one source of information with answers to everyone’s legal questions, available right here on your computer at the push of a button. But take a glance out of the window or a stroll down the street and it becomes clear that we are not a homogenous society. Different cultural backgrounds, age, education and literacy levels can all have an impact on the type of information that we need and want, and where and how we seek it out. And so duplication of information often serves an essential purpose.

But what about when there is no purpose to duplication? When it happens as a result of poor coordination or when organisations get wrapped up in themselves and lose sight of what their audience wants.

Better using existing information sources and expanding information-sharing forums will help to improve coordination. But it takes a commitment by organisations to bring about change in this area. Perhaps the first step for all organisations is to look to see what others are doing before embarking on a project. Organisations need to ask themselves: does anyone else produce this information, should my organisation do it and why, and could we collaborate to better serve the needs of our audience?

In the arena of legal information, the focus should firmly be on how we can best provide the legal information that people want, when, where and how they want it. Having this focus can bring you into conflict with people whose primary concern is to protect an organisation’s position in the marketplace. Focusing on the audience may sometimes mean sharing information to make it more widely available (even if it results in less clicks to your website!), taking a back step on an issue, and not viewing websites primarily as a marketing tool but rather as a means of providing information to the public.

The outcome from the forum was positive and I suspect it made us all look a little bit closer at how we approach our work.

A working group is to be established in 2013, which will include a range of individuals and organisations from across the sector. While the Attorney-General has his work cut out, with the right attitude and commitment, this is a working group that could really improve the way we help Victorians who need legal information and services.”

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