Jennifer Raso's Analysis of How Software and Human Decision Makers Interact Wins National Award

Exceptional research in technology and administrative law is honoured

Staff Writer - 28 May 2019

Jennifer Raso's paper about how software regulates the front-line decision makers who use it, and how these workers respond, has been named the best article published by The Canadian Journal of Law & Society in 2017.

Raso is an expert in technology and administrative law, and a newly appointed assistant professor at the Faculty of Law. Her paper focuses on caseworker decision making in the Ontario Works program (a provincial welfare program), and how those decisions are shaped by the everyday technologies that caseworkers use.

"I developed the idea to write this article from my qualitative research into how caseworkers use discretion in Ontario Works," says Raso. "It quickly became clear that a newly adopted software system was making it very difficult for caseworkers to make discretionary decisions in favour of their clients."

Raso's research explores discretion, data-driven technologies and administrative law, focusing on lastresort benefits programs. Her research uncovered that "most disturbingly, SAMS (the new software system) seemed to transform caseworkers' roles from (that of) skilful interpreters who worked with laws to individuals who had to 'manipulate the system' to reach a desired result," says Raso.

This was so the caseworkers could produce decisions that "more closely match their interpretation of clients' needs and welfare laws."

"With new technologies increasingly being designed to generate legal decisions for administrators, it is more crucial than ever for legal scholars, lawyers and law students to interrogate the processes used to reach such decisions and the substantive 'just-ness' of their results," she says.

Her groundbreaking work was recognized by the University of Cambridge Public Law Conference, where it was awarded the Richard Hart Prize for outstanding early career scholarship.

"As a new faculty member, I look forward to exploring cutting-edge public law issues with students and contributing to the faculty's growing scholarly community," she says.

The awarded article is titled "Displacement as Regulation: New Regulatory Technologies and Front-Line Decision-Making in Ontario Works," and was published by Cambridge University Press in July 2017. The Canadian Law and Society Association names a best article annually for English articles, and biennially for French articles.