Bringing everyone onboard: using virtual reality in the International Criminal Court

Bringing everyone onboard: using virtual reality in the International Criminal Court

This is part of a series that focuses on how our Venturing practice takes a systemic and relational approach to designing funds, managing portfolios, and growing ideas. Across four blogs we'll be showing how that approach has played out in the real world with stories from our work.

For survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to achieve justice through the International Criminal Court (ICC), they often have to come and testify in person. 

For the victims of these crimes, this can be deeply traumatic. 

The Frontier Tech Hub is a UKAid funded programme that tests frontier technologies - like virtual reality (VR) - and their potential to solve big global development challenges. In partnership with Results for Development (R4D) and DT Global, Brink works with civil servants from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to develop and test their tech ideas. 

Could virtual reality make testifying easier? 

For example, could judges at the ICC use virtual reality to truly and deeply step into and understand the victim’s world? 

Could it enable more effective, 3D reconstruction of crime scenes (rather than asking survivors  to share their experiences, over and over again)?

Could communities use virtual reality to access the ICC, making justice on their behalf feel more ‘real’? 

Or could survivors use it to better prepare themselves for giving testimony?

Jaye, an Advisor at FCDO, wanted to explore these questions with us. Our first job was to help Jaye narrow down on one idea to prototype. It’s hard enough for one person to do that; here, we needed a wide group of people to agree to focus on one idea (for now). 

This group included the International Criminal Court. One challenge the system presented us with was that different parts (or ‘organs’) of the Court had discrete, specific roles: for example the Office of the Prosecutor (which investigates and prosecutes crimes), and the Registry (who work with survivors and prepare them for testimony). It is a complex system, with independence of the different organs baked in to ensure the effective and impartial administration of justice.

The group also included a brilliant team of experts who we had brought onto the pilot to research and help evaluate these different propositions. This included Indira Knight, Jo-Anne Bichard, and Melanie Flory (researchers from the Royal College of Art and Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design), and legal expert Erin Farell Rosenberg. 

As with all ideas in the Frontier Tech Hub, a Brink coach supported the team. The coach - Dave, in this case - draws from a wide range of tools based on the situation. 

In this case, we facilitated a consensus-building process to go from multiple ideas to one prototype. Having convened everyone mentioned above in a meeting room in The Hague, we:

  1. Aligned everyone on the objective and a handful of core principles. For example, the principle of keeping the survivor at the centre of our work.
  2. Evaluated each idea against these principles. We used a worksheet and time boxed discussion between participants at this stage in order to ensure this focused on individual reflection time.
  3. Started with agreement not to talk about the least favoured idea, and dropped it from consideration
  4. Established with the group that we were looking for consent (rather than agreement), and asking how we might get there. 
  5. Listened to all views and perspectives, and made sure each person also felt heard.
  6. Proposed to converge on one idea, fielding counter-proposals and establishing the basis for consent for that idea among the group. The key difference here is that someone might not agree with the collective decision being made but they will not “stand in the way” of the overall decision and ultimately, will support it and/or decide to leave the group.
Diagram from Seeds for Change outlining the core aspects of consensus-based decision making

Building consensus took time: but it saved us time in the long run by getting everyone on the same page as we dived into prototyping and testing. It embodied a principle we talk about a lot at Brink: focus on velocity (speed + direction), not just speed. It also gave opportunity for people to state if they may have felt unable to meaningfully contribute to the project without finding out about later on.

We knew that we were building a solution that one day would be led by a team within the ICC, and that would require cross-organ support. By taking the time to build consent at this stage, we were able to keep engaging all parts of the court with a degree of goodwill. 

Ultimately, the group consented to double down on using VR to support survivors in giving testimony, in partnership with the Office of the Prosecutor. The prototype, developed with the VR software company Immersonal, showed the inside of an ICC courtroom to survivors to prepare them for being in the courtroom and giving evidence. It focused on showing them the protective measures that could be made available to them, as our research showed that some of the biggest questions around testimony from actual survivors focused on their anonymity and safety. 

To rapidly test whether the idea was an upgrade over previous methods (which included photos and a script), we then supported the team to design an A/B test and get rapid, reliable insights before investing lots of time and money in the idea.

Discussing the prototype VR solution with ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, Dave, ICC Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Jayo Ho (FCDO)

Later, the team was invited to the UN Headquarters in New York to take part in the annual Assembly of States Parties meeting of the ICC. 

Here, the findings of the project were launched at a side-event and the prototype was showcased to a large number of staff and feedback was gathered. We hope to continue our relationship with the Court to develop this particular tool and explore what it might mean to embed virtual reality into court operations, including helping the ICC to create their own virtual reality experiences.

Hopefully this story has been able to illustrate why our Venturing practice is based around the principles of working with others to understand leverage points and directing funding and energy towards shaping those points. For more examples, take a read of our other stories:

Scaling impact in the real world

Story 1: Directing money to the right lever, to help people access oxygen

Story 2: Building high-trust teams to test edtech during the Covid-19 pandemic

Interested in this topic, want to know more, or have some thoughts? Drop us a line at [email protected] and let's chat!