Court leaders are increasingly responsible for court performance and accountability.   They make use of performance measures to manage the court, make decisions, and demonstrate operational accountability.  I believe in the use of court performance data and think it is critical for a leader to be fully conversant on the use of statistics.  This article recaps why leaders should embrace the use of performance measures, reviews some concerns, and offers advice on how to get started.  

In our lives we use metrics. Let me give some examples.  We use diagnostic tests to determine our health (blood pressure and blood tests). We have gauges in our vehicles to inform us about vehicle operation (fuel levels and speed).  And, we rely upon financial investment reports to demonstrate results (gains and losses).

Shouldn’t court leaders welcome the use of performance reports?  Leaders who are serious about using metrics ask questions such as:  What is the current level of performance? What are our results and outcomes?  How do they compare to last year (or last reporting period)?

When court leaders utilize performance measures, they are exhibiting leadership roles, for example, as diagnostician and strategist, as urged in the NACM CORE® on Leadership.[1] Court leaders should be conversant and comfortable in the use of performance metrics.  Here are two supporting examples of resources to study surrounding the use performance measures.  The National Association for Court Management (NACM) has asserted in its NACM CORE® that a key proficiency is “accountability and court performance,” and the knowledge, skills, and abilities are reviewed.[2]  The National Center for State Courts has published what is known as the courTools court performance measures which can be used very effectively in courts.[3] 

As a proponent of using court metrics to measure and manage, and as a veteran of experiencing how it can make a huge difference, I offer the following sources as a reminder about the importance and benefit of using analytics to manage courts – a true leadership role.

To start, here’s a summary of reasons for using performance measurement and management.[4]

  • What Gets Measured Gets Attention and Is Understood. Measurement focuses attention, interest, and recognition of goals and outcomes. Performance measures demystify the work of courts and demonstrate results of programs and services.
  • What Gets Counted Counts and Prepares Us for Future Operations. Measurement results in attention directed to strategies and objectives and informs of trends, implications for resources, activities, and results.
  • To Manage You Need to Measure. Court leaders utilize data to manage, make program decisions and formulate practices to achieve goals.
  • Performance Measurement is Leadership and Strategy. The use of data supports leadership strategy and organizational change. The simple act of having and using data changes our attention to work.

Leaders should ask questions such as those noted below, and find ways to use data to answer the questions and assess performance.[5]

  • What is our purpose – our mission and vision? How is our work fulfilling our mission? How are we doing in achieving that purpose? Did we make progress in our operation today? What do we do well, and where do we need to improve? What changes have we made in the last reporting period and what are the impacts of those changes? What do our users, customers, collaborators, or stakeholders have to say about how we are performing?
  • Where do we need to revamp, refresh, or reengineer our operations? What prevents us from making the changes necessary? Where are there barriers to improvement?  How can we sustain changes and enhancements that make our court perform at optimal levels?
  • How can we continually assess ourselves? What performance data do we need? What else should we be asking about our operation?
  • What is the message we need to give and story to tell about the work that our court performs?

What about the risks of using data?  There are some but they are manageable.  Some court leaders have concerns about whether or not appropriate – and accurate – data can be obtained. There may also be considerations regarding variations in data sets that may be published by the different justice system participants (for example, differences between the data obtained for the court and that of another government agency, public lawyer, or law enforcement).  Some have worries that the data will be used against the court.  Some wonder about where to begin the use of data. And some are simply not comfortable using statistics.  These are valid sensitivities. They should not hold us back.

Leaders realize a variety of benefits by embracing performance measures, and they include:[6]

  • Recording performance and identifying inefficiencies leading to system improvements.
  • Possessing objective support and documentation for policy decisions.
  • Demonstrating transparency and accountability for operations.
  • Promoting operational efficacy and positioning the court to attract funding.
  • Gaining credibility from managing with metrics.
  • Understanding the work of courts through process familiarity that results from the study of data.
  • Utilizing analytic information and functioning as an “internal consultant” to investigate, assess, evaluate, and identify ways to improve processes.
  • Using data and metrics to communicate key messages about the court.

Based upon direct experience, the following are suggested as words of advice.[7]

  • Start somewhere, determine the key performance metrics for your court, and consider where you have sources and methods to obtain data.
  • Be proactive and ahead of the curve in the use of data to avoid having it imposed upon you/your court.
  • Be willing to start small, use non-technology methods to gain data (for example, manual tallies and sampling), and be willing to tweak and adjust by reviewing and testing data reports for understandability and meaning.
  • Find ways to tell the court’s story and inform others about the work of the court.
  • Implement avenues to make use of the data though multiple channels (for example at bench and management meetings, publication of documents, and dissemination of briefing materials).

Court leaders can be proficient and comfortable using measures, can leverage the use data for all facets of the operation, and position the court with what I call a “statistical presence.”  Data allows the leader to have a type of playbook on the performance of the court and to be informed about efficiency, effectiveness, procedural satisfaction, and productivity.[8]

[1] NACM CORE® Competency on Leadership, available at

[2] NACM CORE® Competency on Accountability and Court Performance available at

[3] See the National Center for State Courts court performance measures at

[4] This list is adapted from Ingo Keilitz,”Top 10 Reasons for Performance Management,”

[5] This list is adapted from Janet G. Cornell, “12 Smart  Questions Every Court Leader Needs to Ask,” The Court Manager, National Association for Court Management, Vol. 30, No. 2, Summer 2015.

[6] Katy Welter and Benjamin Israel, Policy Brief: Use of Data in Criminal Court Performance Measurement. Chicago, IL: Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, 2012, , Janet G. Cornell, “The Court Leader as “Internal Consultant,”  Trends, National Center for State Courts, March 2016, available at , and  Janet G. Cornell, “Evidence Based Management for Tomorrow’s Successful Court Leader,” Trends, National Center for State Courts, May 2014, available at

[7] See also Janet G. Cornell, “Court Performance Measures – What you Count, Counts,“ The Court Manager, National Association for Court Management, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2014.

[8] These performance measurement concepts are derived from the High Performance Court Framework, available at

9 thoughts on “Leadership and Accountability

  1. Great post/article, Janet. It is striking how much of this overlaps with individual employee performance appraisal/measurement. When it comes to performance measurement, you are the “macro” person, I’m the “micro” person! Might be interesting to explore the intersection, and how the two levels (organizational/team vs. individual) are similar and not. Oh, well, when we have time…



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