Overwhelming Evidence

By Gould, Jon B.; Hartley, Roger et al. | Judicature, September/October 2011 | Go to article overview

Overwhelming Evidence


Gould, Jon B., Hartley, Roger, Raftery, William, Merola, Linda, Oleson, James C., Judicature


In her 2005 presidential address to the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Denise Rousseau decried "a research-practice gap" in American business, criticizing "managers, including those with MBAs, [who] continue to rely largely on personal experience, to the exclusion of more systematic knowledge."2 Instead, she extolled the virtues of "evidence-based management," a management approach that moves "professional decisions away from personal preference and unsystematic experience toward those based on the best available scientific evidence."3 Evidence-based management (EBM) has been applied with success in settings like medicine, health care, education, policing, and corrections.

However, to date, the judiciary has been slow to embrace EBM.4 The use of data in court management has been advocated by scholars in the past.3 Hays called for "management by objectives" in courts but noted that decentralization in court organizations necessitated that trial courts have the flexibility to use centrally produced standards in ways that fit local needs. Whether by omission or conscious choice, hesitance is a mistake, as EBM offers many advantages to the courts. The practices can improve court management by providing appropriate data for setting policy goals and for measuring progress toward goals over time. When management is well planned, evidence can justify changes in management decisions after goals are not achieved. Finally, evidence of progress toward goals can be used to demonstrate efficient use of funds and justify budget requests. EBM, then, is not just managerial decisions that rely on data. Rather, EBM is based on an organization's mission, helping to create goals that are testable by the analysis of data, and that can later be assessed for consistency with the organization's mission.6 EBM techniques can improve court operations and the legitimacy of courts.

In this article, we describe EBM, outline its advantages, explain how and where it has been adopted by the courts, and note how the court community can respond to its challenges, We draw from both academic and applied sources to show how EBM permits researchers and practitioners to work together tò advance best practices in judicial management.

What Is Evidence-Based Management?

Evidence-based management is often associated with Stanford professors Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton, whose book and article in the Harvard Business Revieio drew considerable attention to the subject.7 Although Pfeffer and Sutton have received extensive recognition and credit for EBM, the concept actually traces its start to the medical community more than 15 years ago. Originally called "evidence-based medicine," the approach was billed as a "new form of medical practice diat seeks to overcome the narrow perspectives of most doctors, who are limited by their own experience, and that of a few colleagues with whom they exchange views."0

Young describes EBM as "thé application of tested, measurable guidelines to execute plans key to achieving program management goals. It reduces variations in execution, instead standardizing the practices (as documented by evidence) and, when transformed into guidelines, in turn improves the quality of program management effort."9 Thus, EBM is more than just using data to justify a management decision, it is about using data to set management practices, track performance, and improve those practices when data suggest that goals are not being achieved.

EBM is contrasted with anecdotal or "seat of the pants" management styles, in which managers follow "what everyone else does, what you have always done, or what you thought was true."1" Although unfortunate, it is understandable that managers would be more comfortable relying on their own experience than empirically validated evidence for policy or personnel decisions. Pfeffer and Sutton argue that "information acquired firsthand often feels richer and closer to real knowledge than do words and data in ajournai article"" It also can be difficult for those without training in empirical research to determine which evidence is applicable and properly assessed. …

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