Q & A: A Compelling Story of Effective Use of Performance Measurement and Management

Q: Adopting government-wide or justice sector-wide performance measurement and management  to make public service or justice service more efficient and effective is politically attractive, even if elected officials are drawn mostly by the symbolic values of the key success factors with which performance measures are aligned (e.g., legitimacy, fairness, and public trust and confidence in institutions).  Successful leaders and managers are drawn to performance measurement because it informs uncertain decisions. Beyond such models as the European Commission’s EU Justice Scoreboard,  the Global Measures for Court Excellence  developed by the International Consortium for Court Excellence as part of its International Framework for Court Excellence, and the National Center for State Courts' CourTools, and their attendant exhortations to adopt performance measurement and management, are there any compelling success stories of effective use?
A: Yes. Almost five years ago, I wrote here about the Montana Supreme Court becoming the first high court to survey members of the state’s appellate bar and trial bench. Not only has the survey been done regularly and continually, we have evidence – a truly compelling success story – that judicial leaders and court managers in Montana actually put the performance information produced to good use.
In 2008, Mike McGrath was elected to an eight-year term as Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court. He took office early in 2009.  McGrath inherited a court-wide performance measurement system from his predecessor, Chief Justice Karla Gray, about which he was a bit skeptical.  However, his attention was drawn to a “consumer satisfaction” measure of how well the users of the Supreme Court thought his court was performing.  The measure is taken by an inexpensive anonymous on-line survey, which is conducted every other year. The survey asks about 1,000 first instance court judges, appellate attorneys, and law school faculty how they think the Montana Supreme Court is performing. Respondents rate the Court’s performance in several core areas, including whether the Court’s decisions are based on facts and applicable law, whether the Court’s published opinions explain deviations from established law and the adoption of new developments in law, and whether the Court treat judges and attorneys with courtesy and respect. The survey also asks about the Court’s timeliness in completing its work. In 2008, among all the items of the survey, this item is where the Court’s performance was the worst. Less than one-third (31.4%) of the survey respondents thought that the Court issued its opinions in a timely manner.
This bothered Chief Justice McGrath, as it would most of us. He decided to do something about it. He mobilized his fellow justices on the Supreme Court and staff of the administrative office of the courts to do some joint work together to improve the timeliness of the Court’s case processing. They started by taking a hard look at type of cases that were coming into the Court and how they were handling the demand. They increased the number of short “memo” opinions they issued; they shortened the standard lengths of written opinions and dissents; they tightened the time limits on receipts of appellate briefs; and they instituted procedures for coming to the aid of justices who were behind in their writing of opinions. Everyone got on board to fix the problem.
In September 2010, less than two years after McGrath took office, the Supreme Court conducted its second survey. The percent of respondents who believed the Court was issuing its opinions in a timely manner had increased from 31.4% to 81.8% - an increase in percentage points of over 50%. Quite amazingly, when the bench and bar survey was again taken last year, this percentage had increased to 94.9%.
Chief Justice McGrath’s dramatic success in the State of Montana demonstrates that what gets measured gets attention, and what gets measured gets done. And it does not necessarily take decades to get dramatic results.

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