Using Performance-Based Innovation to Create the Courts Americans Want

May 28, 2013

In a recent article by Judge Kevin Burke, a member of the IAALS Board of Advisors, and Babak Armajani, they discuss several key areas in which courts are failing to meet the needs of the public, and a few states that are taking steps in the right direction. According to the authors, excellence in our courts is achieved through creating conditions of innovation, in which “desired outcomes are clearly specified, performance is measured regularly, . . . and a strong organizational culture encourages learning and experimentation.” Instead, most courts are not defined by their outcomes, performance is measured by adherence to procedure, and the culture is focused on assigning credit or blame.

Unsurprisingly, these characteristics have had a negative impact on those who use our courts, and the judicial system is faced with mounting public dissatisfaction and perceptions that courts are unwelcoming, unfair, and intimidating. As important as courts are to our nation, this lack of support and popularity should provide reason enough to make changes and maintain a well-functioning judicial system.

Some states are already taking action to improve their courts in ways to better serve their citizens. “Arizona, Colorado, Maryland and Nebraska are among states giving a lot of attention to how to create stronger court organizations and, more important, conditions that foster change and innovation.” Many courts are measuring the speed or timeliness of their decisions and working to increase efficiency. Courts are also focusing on the “customer” experience and surveying litigants about whether they felt heard or understood the reasoning and terms of a ruling. In states where these types of measurements are taking place, positive and dramatic changes can begin to take hold in the culture and operations of our courts.