Q & A: How Many Measures Should Be Used?

Q: How many performance measures should my court be considering? My colleagues have reviewed the ten performance measures of the CourTools developed by the National Center for State Courts, as well as other measures – like treatment court recidivism -- that courts are considering. They all seem compelling but we are concerned that the whole enterprise will just be too much for us. What advice do you have?

A: It is better to do more with less than less with more. First and foremost, how many performance measures your court should develop depends on what matters to you, what you consider important – the court’s key success factors. If these include, for example, access and fairness, citizen satisfaction, expedition and timeliness, community welfare, and employee engagement, you’re likely to need more measures than if you’re only interested in efficient case processing.

Second, there’s no sense in developing measures that will not be used. Generally speaking, it is much better to do more with fewer measures than to do too little with more.

If your court is unlikely to muster the political will and maintain the capacity to fully monitor, analyze and manage ten performance measures on a regular and continuous basis, developing ten performance measures is wasteful effort. You’re much better off with just five, four, three or even just two measures that you can fully exploit.

For example, court user/citizen satisfaction and case backlog – just two measures – can pack a mighty wallop of understanding and insight into your court’s performance that can be translated into effective strategies for improvement. As John M. Greacen noted in an article reprinted in Future Trends in State Courts - 2007, the state of New Jersey has done quite well with a sustained focus on just one measure, backlog. “The focus on backlog,” he writes, “has proved to be wise and effective – in its ability to motivate the courts to improve on that measure, in its positive impact on other performance measures, and in its simplicity and clarity of message to the media and the rest of state government.”

The takeaway message is that of Ockham's razor, the principle attributed to the 14th century English logician William of Ockham. The principle, also known as the “law of parsimony,” is often paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best."

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