JUDICIARY-ACADEMIC PARTNERSHIPS: Resources for Evaluation

Article excerpt

Calls for evaluation have proliferated as citizens, government, and funding agencies seek increased accountability.' The need for fiscal responsibility in a climate of competition for resources is joined by a desire to learn whether existing programs are working as intended,2 The recent push for evidence-based practice emphasizes the need ?? evaluate whether what we believe is working does in fact work for the people that we serve in particular contexts.3

While there are many good reasons for public agencies to evaluate, there are barriers to doing so. In this article, we draw on examples from our own partnership to evaluate the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City's Model Court initiatives. From this example, we derive general guidelines to design and implement modest but meaningful evaluation projects through partnerships between the judiciary and local university and nonprofit organizations.

Advantages to evaluation

Innovative court programs have been implemented across the country, including problem solving courts, community courts, and other model court practices,4 Many of these efforts are funded with federal and slate grants. Outside stakeholders, such as funders or monitoring agencies, want to know that frequently scarce resources are well allocated and may require evaluations as a prerequisite to continued funding. Accountability is also desirable because courts often work with vulnerable populations. Evaluation and transparency may improve public confidence in the courts and makes sense in a democracy where the public has the right to know how government resources are used.5

Courts can use evaluations to advocate for continued or expanded resources in budget discussions and grant requests. Public dissemination of evaluation findings can help courts around the country learn about and assess which programs might work for them, and what circumstances or populations should be considered in choosing practices. The growing emphasis for court performance measurement systems since the 1980s resulted in the creation of resources such as the National Trial Court Performance Standards6 and the National Center for State Court's High Performance Court Framework.7

Despite the importance of evaluation, courts may not have the time or expertise to conduct evaluations, and are often working with scarce resources. Even courts i«ith staff that have research training might not view evaluation as a high priority relative to other pressing needs.8 Many do not have funding to hire outside evaluators. Partnering with outside researchers for shared goals is one way to garner important research resources, including knowledge, skills, and a fresh perspective on how things might be done differently.9 Outside researchers also provide greater credibility to funders, policymakers, and the public than in-house researchers, who may have vested interests in their own programming. Judiciary-academic partnership are also beneficial to researchers, who may welcome access to court personnel,10 court records, and court-served populations.

Collaboration has been defined as "a mutually beneficial and welldefined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals."" Well-defined relationships and clear expectations of what each party can contribute set the stage for success by generating a greater understanding about how parties can work together to achieve common goals. Common goals and shared priorities that are established early ensure that all stakeholders have a full understanding of what the evaluation is designed to accomplish and work toward that end.

Below we provide an example of our own judiciary-academic collaboration. Following the example, we derive general guidelines from our experiences and from the literature that may be useful to courts seeking to leverage existing resources by partnering with academic or nonprofit research institutions. …