Principles of Effective Court Performance Measurement and Management

The benefits of an effective court performance measurement and management system are the same as those of strategic planning – accountability, consensus building, focus, coordination, control, learning, communication, hope and inspiration. To identify the right performance measures, a court must address the same fundamental questions about guiding ideals, values, mission, goals and broad strategies as it must address in strategic planning.

We count what counts and measure what matters. And what we measure determines what will be considered relevant.

Measurement uses numbers but it is ultimately not about numbers. It is about perception, understanding and insight.[1] It is not the measure itself that is important but rather the questions it compels us to confront.

  • How are we doing?
  • How is the court performing?
  • 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. In addition to these principles, effective court performance measurement systems are designed in accordance the following criteria of effective court performance measures:

  1. Outcome Focus. Effective performance measures emphasize the condition or status of the recipients of services or the participants in court programs (outcomes) over that of internal aspects of processes, programs and activities (inputs and outputs) -- that is, they indicate results rather than resources and level of effort.
  2. A Vital Few instead of a Trivial Many. It is better to have a critical few core measures instead of a trivial many. An aggregation, a combination, an index, or a conjunction of a number of measures, variables or aspects of performance may be identified with associated subordinate measures to keep the number of core measures low. Each core measure may sit at the top of a “hierarchy” of related subordinate measures and indicators.
  3. Actionable. Effective performance measures drive success. They are focused, unambiguous and actionable. They serve both as incentives and practical tools for improvement. The key to collecting data for court performance measurement is identifying those performance measures that will actually help to achieve the desired results (i.e., measures that are drivers of success). At best, the act of measurement itself triggers a change.
  4. A Balanced Scorecard. Effective performance measures together constitute a balanced perspective or “balanced scorecard” of performance. They reinforce each other and do not undermine each other.
  5. Practical and Feasible. Effective performance measures are ones that can be taken without extraordinary efforts by the appellate court, ideally as part of everyday management and operations.
  6. Standardization and Consistency Across Entire Court System. Effective performance measures are based on standard definitions, rules and calculations. They are consistent from the top to the bottom and across the court system.
  7. Symbolic. Effective performance measures are easy to understand and explain to others.

[1] Dean R. Spitzer (2007). Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success (New York: American Management Asssociation).

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