This Jam is the first in a series of three (read more here and here) that I organized during my research visit at KU Leuven’s ICRI (Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT), within the framework of the EMSOC Project and Visual Law Lab pilot.
During this LDJ we tackled the implementation of the Regulation (EC) No 1896/2006 of the European Parliament.This Regulation created a uniform European order for payment procedure to allow creditors to recover their uncontested civil and commercial claims across Europe. The forms are envisioned to empower SMEs and consumers to recover credits without having to litigate and, in the EU Commission’s intent, even have to hire an attorney. However, it seems that this tool is often not used by its intended audience, as it seems too difficult and many do not know how to use it.
The Jammers were a multidisciplinary and diverse group of judges, designers, researchers, professors and experts from the European Commission and European Consumer Centres: Damian Clifford, Andrew Vande Moere, Genevieve Vanderstichele, Franky Hulpia, Delphine De Bal, Hugo Rogghe, Georg Haibach, Margot De Baets, Silke De Bontridder, Marie Alpuerto, Laura Cuypers, Jonas Denil, Johan Van Looveren, Peggy Valcke, Kristoph Hanssens, Karen Ghysels, Anouck Meier, Edith Appelmans, Ibtissame Benlachhab, Ellen Wauters. Stefania Passera, Veronica Donoso, Valerie Verdot and Tom Vercruysse acted as facilitators.
Scope of the Jam
We decided on two practical challenges for the Jam. Teams 1 & 2 took the first challenge, and Teams 3 & 4 took the second:
- How can we improve the forms and the guidelines related to the European Order of Payment? How can make it so that small businesses can find out the EOP, and apply without a lawyer? Can we make all forms easy to use?
- How can we better explicate the whole process of the EOP, from application to cashing in? How can make it so that small businesses understand what EOP offers, what to do and what to expect? Where should this information be available?
Team 1 & 2
Both teams worked on creating usable online forms, experimenting with different approaches to provide guidance to the person filing for a claim. Some of the key problems that the teams identified with the current EOP forms were:
- The guidelines are too complicated and do not always explain in simple terms how to decide among different options (for example, how to choose jurisdiction?)
- Both the forms and the guidelines are in legalese
- It is not easy to find information about the EOP, and the online portal to file EOPs are also hard to find!
- General lack of user-friendliness, the whole system is not really optimized for the intended user (SMEs should be able to file a claim even without a lawyer)
Team 1 created a paper storyboard, showing how the user can find the online form and fill it in.
Firstly, the online form should be much more findable in Google: at the moment, many top search result are about law firms that can file EOP for you! The SEO of the online form should definitely be improved, and “official” results in .gov domain should be clearly highlighted.
Secondly, when landing on the right page, a clear, simple overview of the process of requesting a EOP should be given to the users: a flowchart could be of use.
Then the user then starts to fill in the form: the content is chunked down on different pages, topic by topic, and with guidelines easily available in case the user needs support; the tricky issue of jurisdiction is shown more clearly through a map; the claimant is transparently informed about processual fees; evidence is clearly requested as attachments; finally, an overview is presented to the claimant before s/he can submit it.
Lastly, the data collected through this online form could help in creating databases about claims in Europe. In this way, policies and remedies could be built on facts and based on real needs of European businesses.
Team 2 had a similar approach, but disagreed on the need for continuous guidance. The idea in their design is that guidance appears on the left hand side of the online form, and is contextual to each page of the form, but expert users -who already know what to do – have the choice to close it.
A second idea is to give a possibility for the claimants to save their incomplete forms, online or as a file, so they can continue working on it on a later moment, without losing the work already done.
Team 3 & 4
The teams took fairly diverse approaches to solve their challenge, even though they identified similar problems to start with, for instance:
- The procedure is absolutely not clear
- SMEs do not know what EOP is and what to do, there is a lack of awareness
- The language is difficult, and prose is maybe not the better format to explain and illustrate an unfamiliar process
- There isn’t a document explaining easily the whole process. The available sources are too extensive, or hidden, or present the EOP in a complex way
Team 3 worked on creating a chart to explain the EOP process for both claimant and defendant, showing the alternative actions available for each. For instance, the claimant, after submitting the EOP form, faces 3 alternatives: the application can be accepted, can be rejected, or needs to be modified before a decision can be made. In case the EOP is accepted, then the defendant will receive the payment order, and will also face 3 alternatives: paying the money s/he owes, contesting the order (which may or may not lead to traditional court proceedings), or not reacting at all – in which case s/he will be forced to pay in the end.
Team 4 instead tackled the challenge of explaining the EOP process by creating a prototype for a brochure that explains what to do step by step. There is one step or topic for every spread, and each of these steps/topics are clearly color-coded. The brochure is folded in an unusual zig-zag way, so every spread shows a small colored margin on the right. The final effect is similar to a rainbow, and it allows to find the right topic straightaway.
This work shows how one can create easily paper prototypes of whole documents, sorting topics, headings and materials in a fast and sketch-like way. Still, the result manages to explain the idea quite effectively. One of the important learning point from the Jams is that is better not to solve fine-grained problems to start with (e.g. the exact wording of a sentence, or the exact shape of an icon), but rather to focus on solving first problems of format, structure, headings and general look and feel.
All prototypes are Licensed under the CreativeCommons CC BY-SA 4.0 License