Counting What Counts

Infinitely more important than answers are the questions, the choice of them, the inner form of them. Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)

The historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler was talking about larger societal issues, but his observation rings true for court performance measurement. It is not the measure itself that is important but rather the questions it compels us to confront.
  • How are we doing?
  • Where are we now (performance level, baseline)? What is the current performance level compared to established upper and lower “controls” (e.g., performance targets, objectives, benchmarks and tolerance levels)?
  • How are we doing over time (trends)? Is our performance better, worse or flat? How much variability is there?
  • Why is this happening (analysis and problem diagnosis)? What happened to make performance decline, improve or stay the same. What are some credible explanations?
  • What are we doing to improve/maintain (planning)?
  • What actions and strategies should we start, continue or stop as a result of the measure (strategy)? What should be done to improve poor performance, reverse a declining trend, or recognize good performance?
  • What performance targets and goals should we set for future performance (goals)?

The willingness and capacity to address these questions – on a continuous and regular basis – to learn, and to act accordingly are the hallmarks of a high-performing court.

At best, people commit to the purpose of a performance measure, not to the metric. Checking the levels of cholesterol in our blood is a good example. The cholesterol metrics – very low-density lipoproteins (VLDV), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), hi-density lipoproteins (HDL) and triglycerides -- are things that you would not care about in and of themselves. You care about them because they force you to consider questions about how you are doing, what you should be doing to prevent heart attacks and stroke, and how to live a long and healthy life.

The take-away message is that we measure what matters to us, we count what counts.

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