Outsourcing Court Performance Measurement

Founded by former executives of McKinsey & Co. and IBM, Evalueserve is a company based in New Delhi, India, that provides business intelligence to companies around the world. It is just one of a growing number of suppliers of outsourced services. Plummeting telecommunications costs have spawned “remote services” whereby providers in such far flung places as India work for customers in the U.S.

Outsourcing -- a popular buzzword for what used to be called “contracting out” -- can be defined simply as the delegation of certain operations or functions from an internal to an external entity that specializes in that operation or function. For courts, outsourcing such functions as fine and fee collections may be a business decision to provide better service at lower costs.

In a previous posting, I recommended that the central function of court research divisions should be the design, building and maintenance of court performance measurement systems (CPMSs). I suggested then that courts replace research departments with performance measurement divisions, departments or units. But I’m now having second thoughts about the wisdom of creating a comprehensive internal capacity to do performance measurement. Can CPMSs be outsourced?

As more and more courts develop technology-based CPMSs, it is inevitable that the benefits of outsourcing will come into sharper focus. At a general level, it is not hard to imagine an entity external to a court crunching performance numbers for the court, analyzing trends, making the performance information available to court users by automated performance data display systems, and even putting together PowerPoint presentations for court executives.

Performance measurement has yet to mature into a key court function. The building of CPMSs is still a work in progress. As things proceed, court leaders and executives should keep an eye on outsourcing CPMSs. There are four interrelated issues that need to be resolved before viable models for outsourced court performance measurement emerge – the scope of outsourcing performance measurement, the outsourcing entity, whether more than one court is involved, and the level of control retained by the court.

What Is the Scope of the Outsourcing Service? Do courts outsource all aspects of a CPMS – planning and initiating, design and development, testing and demonstration, implementation and maintenance – or just one or two? Today, for example, courts and state court administrative offices are engaging consultants to assist them in the design and development of CPMSs. They are employing software companies to build and maintain performance data display systems.

To Whom to Outsource? Is the outsourcing entity a private contractor, a state court administrative office (AOC) or consortium of courts, a court organization like the National Center for State Courts, a county or city executive agency, or some combination?

Single or Multiple Court Participation? Does the outsourcing entity provide performance measurement services for more than one court? As more and more courts collect organizational performance data and build CPMSs, court executives increasingly will ask – and will be asked by their stakeholders -- how their courts are doing compared to other courts, how they “stack up” against other courts. Comparisons made in internal performance measurement are restricted to within the court. “Comparative performance measurement,” on the other hand, focuses more broadly on a court’s performance in relation to other courts. By comparing a court’s performance with that of other courts, court managers can determine how much improvement realistically can be made and what strategy or practices may hold particular promise. Comparative performance information is likely to become a major part of performance measurement. Comparative performance measurement involves:

(1) obtaining performance measurements from comparable courts;
(2) comparing their court with other comparable courts on one or more performance measures;
(3) identifying differences in performances;
(4) determining the possible reasons for those differences;
(5) learning from the differences about how performance can be improved; and, finally
(6) applying this learning to improved policies, strategy and practices

What Is the Level of Control Maintained by the Court? Does the court retain total control over all aspects of the design of the CPMS, measure and data definition, performance information access and dissemination, or does the court only produces the performance data?

A possible outsourcing model is one whereby a state administrative office of the courts (AOC), perhaps working a private application service provider (ASP), is the web host for all general jurisdiction courts that provide raw performance measurement data to the AOC. All participating courts are able to access and to navigate through all of their own performance data via the Web and, with restrictions deemed appropriate by the AOC and the courts, to compare their performance against that of the other participating courts.

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