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The Big Think on Justice - Pursuing Access to Justice for All


On 15 November, the Platform partnered with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies to host The Big Think on Justice. Bringing together justice experts and practitioners from civil society, academia, and policy makers from The Netherlands and abroad, The Big Think served to gather experiences and perspectives from the community on justice needs at the community and country level, innovations in the way justice is measured or pursued, and lessons from (un)successful initiatives to feed into the Pathfinders Think Justice initiative, to be presented to the Task Force on Justice.

After making the case for justice, The Big Think took a look at some of the pressing questions surrounding justice: financing, the gender justice gap, innovation, prevention, and transitional justice.

Investing in justice

What can the justice community learn from global funds that focus on other specific issues, like health, agriculture, or climate change? Marcus Manuel of ODI outlined experiences of global funds, exploring whether some of the lessons could be applied to achieving equal access to justice.

Over the past decades, global funds, such as The Global Fund and Gavi, have evolved to become key players within the international aid architecture. These funds have improved the way that aid is delivered, ultimately leading to better results. In particular, global funds have markedly improve or strengthened a number of aspects of aid delivery, such as:

  • Strengthening political commitment: the funds have enabled better mobilization and consolidation political support for their aims.
  • Bringing in more resources: the funds have been able to marshal resources more effectively than smaller initiatives.
  • Using data, learning and innovation: by harnessing the power of large datasets, more impactful lessons have been extracted, leading to better evidencebased organizational learning and innovation.
  • Developing new partnerships: by bringing in new players, some funds have built strong multistakeholder partnerships centered around specific issues.

Manuel explored the potential of a Global Justice Fund, examining what opportunities that might offer for the justice community. By creating a global funding platform, the fund would create an accessible resources for a broad range of initiatives, from national government efforts to combat the justice gap to grassroots, NGO-led projects at the community level. Additionally, through a rigorous, independent and transparent selection process focusing on “will it work” criteria, funding can be channeled more effectively to obtain better results. However, this type of fund would require more work on establishing current justice funding gaps and priorities before commitments at the international level can be made.

4 in-depth sessions

After the introductions, the experts in attendance shifted into smaller groups centered around four themes: Innovating and Investing in Justice; Transitional Justice; Justice for Women; and Justice as Prevention.

Innovating and Investing in Justice

What kind of solutions do people with justice needs require? How can we innovate within the justice sector to better match these needs? And which initiatives are currently underway that can guide further innovation in the field? These questions formed the starting point for this session, led by expert from HiiL.

Through wide-ranging population surveys on justice needs, HiiL identified recurring patterns: many of those surveyed are dealing with issues relating to family, employment, crime, land, and their neighbors. Disputes relating to inheritance, land, borders, petty theft and redundancy were central concerns in the lives of many of those suffered. Their recurrence shows the need to find solutions to these problems to move towards better justice outcomes.

Innovation requires understanding. Throughout the discussion, the need to keep in mind the beneficiaries’ needs and the change sought was seen as a fundamental aspect of developing new methods and approaches to meeting justice needs. Innovation should start with a solid grasp of the question at hand – moving towards a solution with the end in mind.


  • Create agreements: Many of the disputes identified by respondents centered around unclear, invalid or entirely absent agreements between parties. Focusing on creating simple, accessible and legitimate systems that facilitate the creation and protection of agreements can alleviate many latent societal concerns, and prevent disputes from escalating.
  • Focus on needs: Identifying justice needs and using those as a starting point for intervention design will help to focus objectives, create better impact, and ensure buy-in from beneficiaries.

Transitional Justice

The session on Transitional Justice investigated challenges that legacies of massive human rights violations create for sustainable peace and development, and proposed innovative responses that enhance the underlying conditions of SDG 16: effective rule of law, access to justice, inclusive institutions, equality, and the prevention of violence.

The discussion highlighted one of the fundamental challenges in transitional justice, namely the concept of justice itself. If the objective of transitional justice is to create a “just” society, there should be clarity on what that means in practice. Clearly defined indicators of success, demarcations of priorities and specific goals can assuage concerns that TJ funding is directed into undefined or overly-ambitious, and ultimately unsuccessful, efforts.

It follows that project priorities should reflect the day-to-day realities of their intended beneficiaries. Transitional justice efforts have emphasized individual criminal prosecution, despite victims dealing with practical issues stemming from a lack of housing, theft of property, or disputes over land ownership. While criminal prosecution is crucial for a culture of impunity, dealing with civil disputes is equally crucial to ensuring that victims’ grievances are not magnified and conflicts not reignited. Transitional justice efforts must strike a delicate balance between traditional priorities and addressing socio-economic questions.


  • Framing: TJ needs support from government, civil society, the public and the international community to be effective. The motivations underlying and approaches to TJ should be framed in such a way that they resonate with the concerns and interests of each of these stakeholders.
  • Parallel efforts: Development and TJ initiatives can operate in the same space, and offer opportunities for cooperation. However, care must be taken to differentiate funding streams and priorities to prevent escalation of tensions: In Indonesia in 2004, houses destroyed by the tsunami were rebuilt under disaster aid efforts, while homes destroyed in conflict violence were not, resulting in further grievances between communities.

Justice for Women

IDLO and UN Women guided the discussion on the Justice for Women agenda. The session targeted one of the fundamental issues in pursuing equal access to justice: the clear gap in just outcomes experienced by women and men.

Advocating for justice for women requires first a solid evidence base of facts, figures and numbers to make the case why achieving equal access to justice for men and women is vital for strong, inclusive and stable societies. In pursuing addressing the justice gap for women and girls, efforts must be made to determine what women and girls really want and need while seeking justice. While discriminatory laws often challenge progress towards equality, sometimes justice needs can be met at a more practical level. For example, providing alternative – safe – modes of transport, so that women can commute to work, enhancing income independence and altering perceptions towards women as providers.

One pressing concern from the discussion: the involvement of men. Addressing this gap cannot and should not be solely the responsibility of women. Men should not only support efforts, but be actively involved in the design and implementation of initiatives to reduce the gender-justice gap – hearing first-hand the concerns of women and shifting attitudes to collaboration.


  • Innovate, but don’t give up on the “oldfashioned” approach: New technologies offer anonymized spaces to collect evidence, share experiences and lessons, build partnerships, raise awareness of rights, etc. However, traditional methods like public interest litigation still offer avenues for progress.
  • Keep advocating: Ensuring that justice for women stays of the agenda, and increasingly becomes a key tenet of access to justice efforts, both at the international level and in local communities.

Justice as Prevention

Justice can increase public trust and government legitimacy, tackle structural exclusion, reduce risk and prevent abuse – but how do we harness justice interventions as a tool for conflict prevention? This session delved into the current thinking on justice as a platform for prevention in the context of Agenda 2030.

The prevention agenda is multi-layered and complex, ranging from the prevention of civil disputes, to domestic and societal violence against marginalized groups, and from the prevention of criminal violence (gangs, urban violence, and organized crime) to the prevention of mass atrocities and torture. Consequently, related justice issues are diverse in scale and nature.

Despite the seemingly obvious need to prevent conflict, justice interventions remain focused primarily on post-conflict restoration of justice, rather than pre-emptive and preventative measures. Many actors that have a role to play are resistant to change: governments are unwilling to reform institutions to meet societal justice needs, reducing public trust and spurring grievances; international actors are inflexible and unable to adapt and respond to shifting realities on the ground, preventing resolution of lingering tensions.


  • Conduct Political Economy Analyses: Analysis is crucial in order to understand the context, evaluate repercussions and outcomes, prevent exacerbation of tensions, and weigh intervention options. Improving the ability of justice actors to work in local political contexts can only help to shift from reactionary justice interventions to preventative ones.
  • Focus on outcomes: Truly looking at societal justice needs will highlight previously unheard concerns, such as land disputes, natural resource management, political exclusion and civil strife, directing efforts and funding to those areas where drivers of conflict are coming to the surface.

Your input?

The Big Think on Justice is part of an ongoing process that the Secretariat of the Platform has initiated to collect your input and insights on justice. We’d like to hear from you what you think are the greatest obstacles in attaining justice across societies, where and how to invest in justice initiatives, and how we can encourage innovation to bridge the justice gap. If you’d like to contribute your thoughts, please fill in the Think Justice survey, which the Pathfinders team will use to contribute to setting the agenda at the February Justice Task Force meeting in The Hague.


You can see all the photos from The Big Think here.