60 second interview with Atul Sharda
Atul Sharda who led on the development of Public Legal Education within the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).
I led the development of Public Legal Education within the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) over the last four years. Working in a job centre helped me to get real frontline experience of the problems people experience when their lives suddenly change. My career has had a strong emphasis on helping the vulnerable access information to improve their knowledge and skills. Managing and widening access to information is my passion. I have been a speech writer, designed and developed a Briefing Information System for the Department for Education and Skills (as it was), managed the development of MyGuide and been an e-learning strategy adviser.
What's your involvement with PLE?
My relationship with PLE has been to nurture the vision as outlined by the PLE evangelists, Advice Services Alliance, Legal Action Group and the Citizenship Foundation and to embed it into MoJ strategy and policy. I helped to form the PLEAS Task Force, chaired by Dame Hazel Genn and consider how their report could help citizens as well as realise the delivery of benefits to the MoJ in an affordable way. Securing the funding for the Public Legal Education Network (Plenet) was a huge milestone! And, the PLE Strategy Group have helped enormously in considering what the MoJ could do in relation to PLE in the longer-term.
What's your favourite example of PLE?
This is a tricky question! There are some really good examples of PLE delivered by many organisations working with young people. I’ve also seen some really simple but effective PLE in places such as India where the challenges arising from low-literacy, technology, and poverty are overcome through community-based projects. However, if I had to choose it would be a project I managed and delivered successfully - the Going to Court DVD. The DVD used animation (to ensure gender-, race-, region- and age-neutrality) to present a range of information and support to prospective witnesses, including telling them of their rights as well as their responsibilities, sources of support ranging from emotional to financial, and explaining in simple terms what would happen on their day in court.
The DVD was piloted and results exceeded expectations: 77% said that they felt ‘more informed about the process of going to court’ having seen the DVD, and two out of three said they felt ‘more confident’ going to court.
Why do you think PLE works?
For me, PLE can only be effective when you go beyond information provision and succeed in engaging people to become motivated and confident in dealing with a problem. This is why PLE is different from general communication campaigns or social marketing – PLE is about building capability through learning new skills and knowledge, often without the person realising they have been educated.
Are there any issues around PLE that you are grappling with?
There are plenty of issues but I prefer to think of them as being opportunities. The recession and changes in social attitudes requires us all to be more creative in introducing and sustaining new ideas. For PLE to be successful we will need to work collectively to make sure that our PLE resources touch and engage with people at the right time and in the right way.
What's your top tip for encouraging PLE to flourish?
PLE needs to learn from others, use that knowledge to grow, and be prepared to pass on the seeds for others to nurture and sustain.