Are our publications working? The Publications Development Coordinator finds out

If I tell people that I’m a “Publications Development Coordinator,” they have no idea what that means. Instead I usually just say that I talk to people about what they think is working (or not) with our publications and then I bring that information back to the editors and designers so that they can improve them. We can make an educated guess on what information people need and how they’re going to use it by getting input from lawyers, experts, and people who work with the public. We can try our very best to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. But we won’t really know how people use the publication and whether it’s meeting their needs until we hear from people who are actually going through the legal situation.

In some cases, it’s difficult to find people to talk to because they’re dealing with a legal issue that normally occurs away from Vancouver. Or it might be difficult to locate people because they’re dealing with a more sensitive legal issue. That’s where I get help from people around the community. Sometimes that help comes in the form of the organizations like YWCA Metro Vancouver, which helped me meet with people who have experienced abusive relationships to talk about how they would use the Live Safe End Abuse fact sheets. Our legal aid office in Terrace also recently helped connect me to people to listen to what they had to say about A Guide to Aboriginal Harvesting Rights.

For each publication, I have a “worksheet” – a list of instructions and questions that I use to ask the person their thoughts on the cover, design, and content. I also ask them to complete tasks using the publication. During the session, I observe where people experience frustration or confusion or if they have trouble finding a piece of information. I preface each interview with, “I didn’t have any part in producing this publication, so I won’t get offended!” This statement usually draws a laugh but also gives people permission to be brutally honest.

Recently, I was looking for people to usability test the upcoming Gladue Submission Guide. This guide helps Aboriginal people make an oral or short written submission about themselves and their family history which helps the judge apply Gladue principles when deciding bail or sentencing. I needed to find Aboriginal people who had gone through the criminal system for their feedback. With some help I was put in touch with a few people who would be potential users of this guide.

The guide is a little different than our other publications. It’s more of a workbook where people can fill in their answers under different sections to create a Gladue submission. It also provides information about Gladue rights, Gladue factors, and restorative justice. During the session, I asked each person to read a section and let me know if any words or concepts were unclear or difficult to understand. I didn’t ask them to share what they would have written, but the people that I spoke to were very candid and open about their history. Overall the response was positive. One woman said that she wished she’d had it earlier. During a different user testing session two of the people interviewed wanted to take the booklet so they could use it right away.

When I find out that a publication isn’t working for people it’s good news because we can work on making the publication more useful. This job has been a way for me to gain an understanding into the often difficult and complicated lives of the people who need legal help. Everyone who works at the Legal Services Society contributes towards making sure everyone has access to justice. When you’re not on the front-line that can sometimes be hard to see. Through my position as Publications Development Coordinator, I’m able to get a tiny first-hand glimpse into how LSS and its publications can make a positive difference in people’s lives.

-Patricia, Publications Development Coordinator