The Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority of Saskatchewan (FCAA) recently launched a new legal guided pathway and online dispute resolution platform to resolve consumer disputes. I had the privilege of working with the FCAA Consumer Protection Division team to develop the legal guided pathway portion of the project called Consumer Rights. This includes twelve dispute areas ranging from auctions to vehicle dealers.
The goal of the Consumer Rights pathway is to help consumers and businesses resolve issues in a fast, efficient and fair manner. It is an interactive pathway that takes the user through a series of questions and answers that provide plain-language information about the user’s rights and responsibilities, applicable legislation and self-help tools to assist in resolving the consumer dispute. For consumers, the Consumer Rights pathway includes communication templates, links and references that may help the consumer to resolve their issues on their own. For businesses, information is provided to assist in better understanding their obligations to consumers.
If a consumer completes the Consumer Rights pathway and believes they have a valid dispute but are unable to resolve the dispute with the tools provided, they are invited to file a dispute through the online Resolve My Consumer Dispute service. This process enables consumers and businesses to negotiate directly with one another by making proposals to resolve the dispute, upload documentation, and accept or continue to negotiate a remedy for the dispute. If a resolution cannot be reached, either party can request a Facilitator to provide assistance. In some cases, an independent, third-party mediator may be assigned to provide further assistance.
As lead knowledge engineer on the project, I collaborated with several subject matter experts from the FCAA to determine the needs of consumers when experiencing a consumer dispute, the required information and self-help tools to assist in the resolution of the dispute and the logical flow for the delivery of the information. This was one of my first forays into content creation/legal guided pathway development and I have a few lessons learned for others jumping into this arena:
Learn from the Best…
Reach out to those who have done similar work to inquire about their processes and lessons learned. We were fortunate to have the assistance of Darin Thompson throughout the planning of the project and he provided invaluable training on the knowledge engineering process. His mentorship was the keystone of the project’s success.
…But Don’t Be Afraid to Modify Your Process
While I was provided top-tier training in knowledge engineering, the process needed to be modified to suit this project’s needs. I kept the fundamentals but adapted the process in the face of changing resources and compressed timelines. The modified process worked best for this project and each project must find its own path – pun intended.
Listen – And Keep Listening
The legal guided pathway portion of the project was initially envisioned as a means to provide information to help users determine if there was a valid dispute. Throughout the knowledge engineering sessions with the FCAA subject matter experts, I heard how the FCAA team would often provide information to consumers about their dispute and initially encourage them to try to resolve the issue with the business before submitting a formal complaint. Often consumers were able to use the provided information to resolve the issue with the business without further involvement of the FCAA. I saw this as an opportunity for the legal guided pathway to become the first step to resolving a dispute rather than just triaging disputes. As a result, many dispute pathways end with the recommendation that consumers first attempt to resolve with the business before filing a dispute with the FCAA. Self-help tools in the form of template communications are provided to facilitate the conversation with the business and empower the consumer.
It Can’t Be Everything to Everyone
Understand that the pathway will not meet all user needs. It is a success if 80% of issues are covered and staff can focus on providing assistance on the more obscure or complex issues. It is easy to get lost in the weeds in the knowledge engineering sessions and focus on the issues that only arise a handful of times a year. Including every issue will not only bog down the development process but will create a somewhat chaotic pathway for users. Through the knowledge engineering process, we determined the most common consumer issues for each dispute area and only those issues were included. Users are invited to contact the FCAA for more obscure issues.
Please feel free to reach out if you are developing a similar project.