60 second interview with Sarah Dougherty
Sarah Dougherty, Content Manager, Éducaloi
What is your background?
I have always loved languages and writing. I studied English literature before going into law. I practiced in a large law firm and later on my own. Then I went back to school to study journalism, and worked as a freelance journalist and translator. In 2009, I joined Éducaloi, a PLE organization in Montreal, Canada, where I create plain language legal information resources for the public. (My title is 'Content Manager') Working at Éducaloi brings together everything I’ve done in the past – legal research, writing, translating, and public education.
Do you do PLE?
Yes. Éducaloi is a non-profit organization that provides legal information to the public in everyday language. We provide a lot of this information via our website. The site has information sheets, videos, forums and stories about legal issues in the news. We also have a very active 'youth division' that creates resources for teachers and students and runs various programs, like a legal day camp. Éducaloi also acts as a consultant to other organizations that have to communicate legal information to the public, such as the courts.
What’s your favourite example of PLE?
We are doing a project to train social workers, educators and other service providers about the legal aspects of family violence situations. The project has a lot of neat features: consultations on the ground to assess needs, a partnership with a community group with roots in communities across our territory, and tailoring the project to the English-speaking minority here, which faces special challenges in accessing services.
I also love Plenet’s Flat Broke project that uses theatre to raise the legal problem-solving skills of young people.
Why do you think PLE works?
People are hungry for knowledge about the law. It is often a mystery to people, and intimidating. PLE works because it empowers people to understand their rights and obligations and to size up the legal aspects of a situation. It can also give them tools to solve problems.
Are there any issues around PLE that you are grappling with?
Literacy statistics in Canada show that many people read at only a basic level. To reach them, our materials should be even easier to understand. But they still need to be interesting. Another issue is making the link between information we provide and services in the community. I think we will be collaborating more with service providers in the future, and training more people on the front lines. Evaluating the impact of what we do is another issue we grapple with.
What are the biggest challenges for organisations doing PLE?
Huge needs and limited resources. Also, trying to reach minorities of all sorts, so people who are not regular users of the Internet, who have low literacy levels, who do not speak a dominant language, who are socially disadvantaged, etc. The complexity of legal issues is also a big challenge: to avoid overwhelming people with information, we constantly have to think about what to leave out. Remaining neutral is also a big challenge, since neutrality is one of Éducaloi’s core values. For example, when we talk about landlord-tenant issues, we cannot take sides.
What’s your top tip for doing PLE work?
Never forget who your target audience is. Ask yourself if they have access to the Internet, whether literacy is an issue, etc. I’d also say be creative and cater to different learning styles. More and more, people are consuming information visually. We are making more videos, especially short ones on common legal questions. To keep things lively, we also use a lot of humour in our materials.
Find out more about Éducaloi's legal information on the web.