Article by: Tshenolo Masha

The work of community advice offices (CAOs) remains pivotal in realising the objectives of access to justice. Many advice offices struggle with the harsh realities of not having funding and operating in an environment that is not adequately resourced. They encounter challenges that require instant access to information or referral of their matter. In some instances a simple task like sending an email becomes a stumbling block to ensuring that much needed assistance is provided to a desperate member of the community.

Access to technology these days does not have to mean a bulky desktop PC. Today’s technology allows for data collection, office management and communication to be easily accessible from hand- held devices. The most important advantage is that one can use social media, which promotes interactivity and connectedness which are at the very core of social change efforts.

Social change on social media platforms is not restricted to the advertising of goods and services, but these platforms can be used to expand the reach of community based organisations such as the CAOs. They can use the social media platforms in their area of operations to disseminate information on important legal matters and events that could benefit the community as a whole.

The Device Pilot Project is being rolled out in six CAOs situated between Gauteng and Limpopo. The project will provide smart phones to the CAOs for a period of 10 months. During this period they will be using well-known applications such as WhatsApp, Gmail and Facebook to convey important information related to cases, data collection, events, workshops, meetings and other activities. The project’s main objective is to determine if these platforms can be used effectively for data collection and the legal empowerment of the community. This project is also about shaping the manner in which CAOs can use these social media platforms in an innovative way. As Tom Freston, the former CEO of MTV said,

“Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.”

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