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A Learning Agenda for Legal Empowerment

As legal empowerment efforts grow, we have an opportunity to collectively tackle the most pressing questions for the field.

The Legal Empowerment Network is launching a learning agenda to foster deeper collaboration and address key knowledge gaps by focusing the efforts of hundreds of organizations on a set of common questions. It will provide the foundation for comparative learning among practitioners and researchers working across different issue areas and geographies. Most importantly, the learning agenda will build community, creating space for practitioners to come together to reflect on lessons learned and generate ideas for innovation.

Why do we need a Learning Agenda?

By reflecting on the core questions that emerge in practice and through exchange with others, we can build stronger programs that more effectively address injustice. And by generating evidence about the impact, we can make the case for why growing legal empowerment efforts should be a public priority around the world.

What do we mean by learning?

Learning is often narrowly equated with research but that is not the only path. The Learning Agenda takes a big-tent approach to learning, which includes a range of approaches including practitioner reflection, using program data, and formal research studies using various qualitative and quantitative methods.

What are some of the top priorities for learning?

In a 2018 co-design workshop with 30 leading network members, four themes for the Learning Agenda were identified: impact, program methods, relationship to the state, and scale and sustainability. An overarching priority is to generate learning about the pathways from casework to systems change. For instance: How can legal empowerment efforts to redress specific rights violations contribute to broader changes to laws, policies and institutional practice? How can legal empowerment build power amongst people facing injustice?

Next Steps

Feedback on the draft learning agenda

A draft learning agenda will be shared widely with practitioners and researchers for input in the spring of 2021. This is an opportunity to build engagement and ensure the learning agenda targets the most important priorities for the coming years.

Catalyzing action research on legal empowerment

In partnership with IDRC, we'll support cohorts of action research projects in Africa and Southeast Asia. Over the next 3 years, these projects will generate knowledge on how legal empowerment can achieve transformative systems change. They'll also support wider regional engagement on learning and collective action.

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Learning in the Legal Empowerment Network

Legal Empowerment Network members can engage with the Learning Agenda through a range of learning opportunities including an annual leadership course, in-person learning exchanges, e-learning courses, and collaborations among members of regional or thematic groups.

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An Example of Action Research

Researchers with the Akiba Mashinani Trust examine a map of Nairobi’s Mukuru slum


The Justice Challenge

Residents of the Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi began experiencing a dramatic increase in forceful evictions about a decade ago. In the face of those threats, Akiba Mashinani Trust, a legal empowerment organization, supported a federation of Mukuru residents (Muungano wa Wanavijiji) to defend their rights to housing under Kenya’s 2010 Constitution. In addition to getting a court order halting evictions, they sought to identify longer-term solutions to provide inclusive and equitable access to basic services and dignified living conditions for residents of the informal settlement.

The Research

To support those longer-term legal empowerment efforts, Akiba Mashinani Trust led a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from University of Nairobi’s school of urban planning, Strathmore University’s school of business, Katiba Institute, and Slum Dwellers International, Kenya. With active participation of residents (through Muungano), the research team analyzed planning, financial, land tenure, and other governance challenges and then generated models for affordable re-development of Mukuru.

The research diagnosed a ‘poverty penalty’ in Mukuru – residents paid far more for squalid services than in formal neighborhoods. Research activities included a community-led mapping process to collect data on the physical, social, and economic conditions in the settlements through surveys, focus-group discussions, and GIS mapping. As part of research activities, community members received training in data collection. Findings were also used in rights-awareness sessions, which helped residents to prevent further evictions and contributed to a campaign led by thousands of women residents to claim their rights to health and sanitation.

How Research Supported Systemic Change

The team then successfully used the research findings – which filled key information gaps about conditions in Mukuru – to engage municipal authorities and push for policy action. Their efforts resulted in the declaration of a Special Planning Area for Mukuru, setting in motion a 2-year process to develop an integrated plan for the re-development of Mukuru (led by AMT with a consortium of 40+ organizations). The planning processes placed residents at the center of decision-making and demonstrated a model for widespread citizen participation in urban planning. In late 2020, the government began re-development of Mukuru based on those plans.

Learn more about how action learning helped to promote legal empowerment and improve the lives of Mukuru residents here.