Progress Boards, Legislative Mandates and Judicial Branch Responses

Oregon state government spends over 43 billion dollars biennially. What are Oregonians getting for their money? Are they getting the right results? Assuming they are, are they being produced in the most efficient manner possible? In a recent brief, Rita Conrad, Executive Director of the Oregon Progress Board, and Dawn Farr of Oregon’s Legislative Fiscal Office say that Oregon’s performance measure system is getting better at answering these questions. And I think they’re right.

Does your state have a “progress board” or similar state agency pushing performance measurement and results-based management?

Whether the judicial branch leaders and managers regard actions by state progress boards as a threat to independence or, alternatively, as a welcome challenge, state progress boards are a source of valuable information. The take-way message of this post is that court executive and managers should take a serious look at what progress boards and similar agencies have to offer in the way of guidance for court performance measurement efforts.

The Oregon Progress Board

Progress boards exist in Oregon and North Carolina, and in British Columbia and Tasmania. The Oregon Progress Board, an independent state planning and oversight agency, may be the longest-standing and the most influential. Created by the Oregon Legislature in 1989, the Board is responsible for monitoring progress toward the state's 20-year strategic vision, Oregon Shines, based on a state wide system of performance measures. Chaired by the governor, the 12-member Board is made up of citizen leaders and reflects the state's social, ethnic and political diversity.

Legislative Mandate

Oregon law requires the Progress Board – in consultation with the Legislative Fiscal Office, the Office of the Secretary State, and the Department of Administrative Services -- to develop guidelines for performance measurement by state agencies. In turn, agencies are required to use performance measures to drive achievement of their missions, goals, objectives and any applicable benchmarks. (Not far below the surface of any discussion of legislative mandates is the issue of whether courts subject to the requirements of executive and legislative “agencies”? See Independence, Accountability and Performance Measurement, Made2Measure, September 29, 2006.)

Source of Good Information

The Oregon Progress Board has produced a vast amount of information that should be instructive for any court systems or individual courts considering performance measurement initiatives. It’s most visible work is the Oregon Benchmarks, a set of 90 high level, societal indicators organized into seven categories: economy, education, civic engagement, social support, public safety, community development and environment. The benchmarks define Oregon’s strategic goals as measurable outcomes, with specific targets for improvement. Oregon state agencies are required to link their key performance measures (KPMs) to them. All Oregon agencies have identified KPMs aligned with the agency’s strategic plan and, where pertinent, with one or more Oregon Benchmarks.

Oregon’s benchmarks and KPMs have attracted much attention outside Oregon. Every state and more than a dozen foreign countries have requested benchmark reports and several states have adapted the benchmarks for their own uses.

Driving the Bus

Faced with a choice of getting on or getting hit by the performance measurement “bus,” the Oregon courts decided to step on the bus, but not as passive spectators. Instead, they jumped into the diver’s seat. The Oregon Judicial Department’s (OJD), and its state-wide Performance Measurement Advisory Committee (PMAC), developed 10 “legislatively adopted” budget 2005-07 performance measures: (1) access to justice measured in terms of certified interpreters; (2) collection of monetary penalties; (3) data timeliness and accuracy; (4) workforce representativeness; (5) workforce training: (6) timely case processing; (7) percent of circuit courts with permanency action plans: (8) drug court recidivism; (9) juror satisfaction; and (10) capacity for serving litigants not represented by lawyers.

Although a number of these measures can be faulted (e.g., a focus on inputs and outputs instead of outcomes), they are successful because they have ensured that the courts remain in the driver’s seat as they improve and enhance the measures. As one astute OJD observer quipped, “I’d rather have our measures in their [the Legislature’s] hands, than forced to have their measures in ours.”

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