Implementation: Lesson of the History of E-Filing

Previous posts (Implementing Performance Measurement, November 12, 2005; and Implementation: How It Looks When You Get There, December 13, 2005), explored what it takes to implement a court performance measurement system (CPMS). It was pointed out that is one thing to build a CPMS and quite another to get it to be used effectively. Even a well-conceived, well-designed CPMS will not necessarily get used unless it is woven into the very fabric of a court’s management practices and processes. “If you build it, they will come” works in the movies (e.g., in the 1989 film Field of Dreams) but not for court performance measurement

The history of electronic filing – a system that uses digital documents instead of paper filings – is instructive. Implementation may be inevitable, but moving from roll-out to full use of the system takes time and effort. The ABA Journal reports that the move to digital filing systems in the State courts is often very slow and confusing. Even though the system might be up and running, there is no guarantee that it will be used. For example, DuPage in suburban Chicago County launched its e-filing system in October 2004, but nothing much happened. “It was like we opened a business and then sat there twiddling our thumbs waiting for somebody to walk in the door,” said Bob Keltner, a supervisor in the court clerk’s office and the man responsible for DuPage’s e-filing system.

True, e-filing systems are not the same as CPMSs, but the issues in moving from roll-out to effective implementation, from innovation to use, are similar. Courts first need to figure out precisely how they want the CPMS to work and how it should be integrated with court operations and management processes. But even when courts figure out how they want the system to work, the potential users cannot be forced to adopt a system they neither understand nor have any interest in using.

As indicated in the earlier posts, performance measurement can fundamentally change the way a court does business, but it will not happen by simply rolling out the CPMS. If a court’s leadership and management are to become truly performance-based, performance measurement has to become hard-wired into the very DNA of the court’s organizational culture and operating environment. Much of this implementation is not rocket science, but like implementing e-filing, it comes at a price of time and effort.

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