Access to justice ODR audit – adding one more dimension

Darin Thompson of the Civil Resolution Tribunal on British Columbia suggests a further category to add to testing conception, implementation and monitoring in an access to justice audit for court-based ODR (see previous post).

I welcome the efforts to get the ball rolling on the creation of a framework for auditing the proposed court modernization program. My initial reaction would be to add a fourth part: continuous improvement.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is a collection of practices or a system designed to address known problems or simply improve on areas that aren’t necessarily broken to begin with.

The concepts behind continuous improvement are relatively simple:

  1. Never assume that whatever you built is 100% right.
  2. Don’t let your initiative reach a static or stagnant state.
  3. Always look for potential improvements you can make based on user data, staff input and other sources of evidence.
  4. Act on the evidence to implement changes and improvements.
  5. Collect evidence to measure the impact of your improvement activities.
  6. Start back at #1.

Impacts for Implementation and Beyond

Continuous improvement impacts the both the project and ongoing operations.

During a project’s design and implementation phases, it influences the team’s decision making and encourages action while staving off ‘analysis paralysis’ that leads to unnecessarily delay and costs.

During the operations phase, continuous improvement capitalizes on insights derived from monitoring and creates actionable improvements and upgrades. Frontline staff should be empowered and encouraged to bring forward changes and improvements. They are the business experts best equipped to spot problems and potential solutions. And they’ll be motivated to resolve problems so they don’t have to struggle with them over and over.

In addition, continuous improvement can promote a focus on users by letting them tell you what you need to change. It naturally promotes a service orientation and shows users that you’re listening to them.

Lastly, continuous improvement entrenches evidence-based decision making. Evidence in the form of analytics, business intelligence and user feedback should all combine to feed and inform the continuous improvement process. The age of anecdotes won’t stand a chance against it.

Justice Getting Better and Better

What’s the best part about continuous improvement? The more a continuous improvement service gets used, the better it becomes.

Healthy justice systems don’t owe all their successes to tradition and immutability. Nor should they be excused from the pursuit of ongoing improvement.

Continuous Improvement as a Marker of Success

As an auditor or evaluator, I would expect to see this approach figure into the early, conceptual stages of any justice project, not to mention large and ambitious ones.

Initiatives like the Online Courts represent an excellent opportunity to make positive change in the justice system. Practices like continuous improvement serve to make positive change a permanent, and ongoing part of that system.

Unfortunately, I don’t have sufficient familiarity with England and Wales’ court digitization program to make specific recommendations for continuous improvement in terms of targets or evidence. For the purposes of this post, I’m more concerned with introducing the notion of continuous improvement and adding it into the mix of considerations.

Initiatives like British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) continue to benefit from the continuous improvement practices in the very early stages of the project. The CRT’s users have continued to enjoy these benefits too, of course.

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