Institutions such as the UK Ministry of Justice or the French Ministère de la Justice have the social responsibility to inform citizens about the sys¬tem of norms, regulations, established practices and services, so as to help foster prosocial behaviour, ensure safety and order, and shape responsible citizenship (Engberg, Luttermann 2014). The other way round, lay citizens have the social responsibility to behave responsibly. And are therefore responsible for being informed of regulations, services and pro¬cedures, and for abiding by the regulations and practices set by governing bodies. In the age of digital communication, the “voice of the law” may take the form of subdirectories maintained at the Governmentʼs platform (http://www.gov.uk) or at the Ministry of Justiceʼs institutional website (http://www.justice.gouv.fr). Their primary goal is to assist citizens with “making sense of justice”, the law and one’s rights (http://open.justice.gov.uk/). That is, they are seats for asymmetric mediation of knowledge (Section 1) in the legal field, intended to deliver good value both to lay end-users and to the institution: when citizens receive quick and easy help and support with the knowledge and documentation that they need to behave prosocially and responsibly, the principal organization behind the website gains in credibility (Nielsen 1995; NN/G). With Marková, Linell, Gillespie (2008), this can be seen as context-dependent trust, which reinforces the citizens’ taken-for-granted trust in the institution (Section 2). With research on web usability (Nielsen 1995; NN/G), we understand effective webpage layout (web user interfaces) in mature information formats (Farrell 2014) as powerful means for knowledge construction and representation, as well as for engagement and interaction with end users. As hypermodal texts (Lemke 2003:301), websites conflate multimodality and hypertextuality. This means that integrating selected notions from multimodal analysis (Martinec, Salway 2005; Bateman 2014) and research on web design and web user interfaces (NN/G), can help address issues of knowledge representation, construction and communication in asymmetric interactions between website and end-user. In this context, we explore the visual representation of mediated knowledge – both informative and interactional concerns – in the Your rights and the law page maintained by the UK Ministry of Justice (http://www.gov.uk/browse/justice/rights), selected articles in subdirectories, and, importantly, their parent directory at http://www.gov.uk (Section 4.1). They will be compared and contrasted with the Droits & Démarches pages of the French Ministère de la Justice (http://www.vos-droits.justice.gouv.fr), the webpages of the French Government and of the French Ministry of Justice (Section 4.2). As a complementary step, we will take a different route and briefly turn to features of interdiscursive and interlocutive dialogism in the written text, stripped of the relevant layout (Section 4.3). Tough the analysis is strictly qualitative, it will still make it possible to compare and contrast diverse dynamics of knowledge representation, construction and communication across webpages that mediate institutional knowledge in situated contexts. As will be seen, we will characterize institutional websites as social transmitters of the ‘voice of the law’. In practice, if these hypermodal visual (re)presentations of mediated legal knowledge are indeed usable services, then they deliver good value to the end-user and to the institution: serving as early response systems to urgent problems of specific citizens would generate context-dependent reflective trust in the institution. To probe this assumption, we carried out a descriptive investigation into the Gov.uk platform down to the Your rights and the law pages. As a way of comparison, we also turned to the homepage of the French Government, the homepage of the Ministry of Justice and its Droits & démarches subdirectories. The data shows that whereas the UK website comes closer to realizing a mature information format, webpage layout and user interface, the French pages fail to achieve usability on different counts, including content design and organization, webpage layout and user interface. Considering that most often citizens have questions about their rights and responsibilities, the services offered by the Ministry of Justice, or both, it is clear that the French Ministry is not listening to the citizens when presenting promotional content about ministers, history of the organization, projects and events, latest publications and initiatives, etc. When utility content is presented and communicated, the main issue is not with interlocutive dialogism through the written text, nor with intratextual reformulation by itself. Rather, there is a problem of web usability. That is, content is not always easy to access in the absence of clear signposting and landmarks. Additionally, the scenarios and mental maps evoked might be incomplete or loosely structured due to non-mature sitemaps and loosely structured mental networks (e.g. in Violence conjugales vs Domestic abuse) as well as casual knowledge fixing and hyperlinking (e.g. Famille). Citizen’s orientation towards trust in the institution would perhaps benefit more from early and easy access to responses to (basic) questions of their concern. The question now is, where to we go from here? At this stage of research we put the main focus on exploring the relation between progressive representation and communication of content and (re-)construction of mediated legal knowledge. Of course, it would be good practice to bring together the efforts of webpage and content designers and the different expertise of analysts of government services and legal professionals for informed decisions on content selection and recontextualization. Semanticists and computational linguistics would help to build adequate mental networks and select the content needed to evoke prototypical scenarios with the appropriate de¬gree of specificity/generality; applied linguistics might give advice on features of the written text; linguists and communication experts would contribute their view on multimodality, interaction, text and image. For the time being, however, we suggest that further investigation into the issue be carried out to identify user needs (e.g. based on user testing, feed-back from users, and analytic data about user queries). More specifically, running several tests on realistic tasks and with small groups (Norman Nielsen Group) would allow to effectively locate usability problems while also serving as a reliable measure for both usability and trust generation.
The voice of the law on Gov.uk and Justice.gouv.fr: Good value to citizens and institutions? / Cacchiani, Silvia. - STAMPA. - (2018), pp. 117-148.
|Data di pubblicazione:||2018|
|Titolo:||The voice of the law on Gov.uk and Justice.gouv.fr: Good value to citizens and institutions?|
|Titolo del libro:||Popularization and Knowledge Mediation in the Law. Popularisierung und Wissensvermittlung im Recht|
|A cura di:||Engberg, Jan; Luttermann, Karin; Cacchiani, Silvia; Preite, Chiara|
|Citazione:||The voice of the law on Gov.uk and Justice.gouv.fr: Good value to citizens and institutions? / Cacchiani, Silvia. - STAMPA. - (2018), pp. 117-148.|
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