The Real Start-Up Costs of Performance Measurement

Performance measurement does not cause inefficiencies and poor practices. It just highlights them for improvement. The cost of fixing them should not be counted against the start-up costs of performance measurement and management.

This point often gets lost as courts and court systems embark on initiatives to build performance measurement and management systems. If nothing else, this point needs to be reinforced to blunt a favorite argument against performance measurement initiatives – it all takes too much time, effort and money (see Eight Reasons Not to Measure Court Performance, Made2Measure, April 5, 2006).

Some things just need to be fixed anyway.

For example, as courts consider the required elements of measures like case clearance rate, on-time case processing, and age of pending caseload, they need to define, in no uncertain terms, such things as: (1) what to count and what not to count; (2) how to classify what they count; (3) when to start and stop the clock; (4) when a case is opened and closed; (5) when a case is considered active and inactive; and, (6) what might be an appropriate time reference point for assessing timely performance. Inevitably, they will encounter inefficiencies and poor practices: poor classification of cases, lack of uniformity in case filing, automated case processing systems with inadequate data “reporting” functionality, and a host of other problems that existed and persisted long before any performance measurement initiatives were launched.

To be sure, all this takes time, effort and resources. But these costs should not be counted against performance measurement per se. As Judge Katherine R. “Kitty” Curtis, chair of Montana’s District Court Performance Measurement Advisory Committee (DCPMAC), noted in a meeting of DCPMA in Helena earlier this month, the task of defining the data elements of case processing measures is “both intellectually challenging and tedious.” At the same time, she recognizes that this task needs to be done eventually to ensure uniform case filing throughout the state, whether or not a performance measurement and management system is built.

No doubt, costs specific to performance measurement should be weighed against benefits. But some things uncovered while taking the steps for performance measurement just need to be done regardless of planned efforts for monitoring, analyzing and managing performance. The costs of doing these things should not be used as the reason why court should not measure its performance.

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