LSC has posted the comments they have received on the Draft Strategic Plan.
Overall, the tone is positive. Here to me are the highlights, focusing perhaps more on areas of disagreement, rather than the many repeated statements of support for the process and concepts at the most general level.
- SCALAID’s Comment, while generally supportive of outcome metrics, expresses caution about efficiency metrics, worrying about the need to capture broader impacts beyond the individual case. Certainly fair comment, and appropriate in a general expression of support for metrics.
- NLADAs Comments are more cautions. While supportive of best practices, they oppose the development of an outcome measurement system. They, and others, draw attention to the absence of reference in the plan to the prior Performance Criteria.
- Some field programs, such as Midwest Project Directors, oppose even consideration of a national system of performance metrics. That group goes so far as to oppose any system of monetary rewards and penalties.
- In contrast, the Coalition of Connecticut Programs supports the plan, suggesting only that performance metrics take into account particular factors and circumstances. Alan Ells, former project director, also supports those aspects of the plan. South Central Michigan thinks they should be developed in partnership with the field.
- A number of programs urge that the goal of increasing funding should be a more major focus of the Plan (e.g. Legal Aid of Cincinnati). (Since LSC always does this, I saw no need to be explicit, but others obviously disagree.)
- Wayne Moore offers a number of very specific and detailed ways in which tracking of statistics could improve overall effectiveness and impact.
- Jim Greiner and Becky Sandefur (American Bar Foundation) submit powerful comments on the value of research, as planned in the Plan.
- OIG makes a number of planning and management suggestions, including the appointment of a Chief Information Officer.
- Gerry Singsen submits a thoughtful Comment on the overall climate, risks of over-centralization, and the need to focus on system change.
- Linda Rexler, of the Michigan State Bar Foundation, worries that the Plan is too ambitious.
- Legal Services of New York City filed generally supportive comments.
- My own comments, here, focus on a number of what seem to me the most innovative aspects of the plan, and a number of streamlining suggestions, such as the adoption of a timeline, and the use of the regranting process.
What to make of this?
As a general matter, there is broad support for the Plan, with the main focus of worry, as usual, being the outcome measures.
This is not new issue, but, as time goes by, the arguments against such measures become weaker and weaker, and the possible benefits become stronger. Government and other funders simply expect such measures, and their absence is already weakening the access to justice movement, on the Hill and beyond. As research becomes more and more sophisticated, the possible use of such numbers to make significant improvements is harder and harder to ignore. This debate on this has become totally predictable, and the objections can be overcome — as recognized by those whose only concern was that the measures not be too rigid. It is particularly significant that SCLAID takes a generally positive tone.
I think LSC can treat this as a broad endorsement of the Plan.
As I am sure they have always intended, they should make sure that the detail of the outcome measures retains the crucial benefits of general applicability and comparabilty, while having the flexibility that can take circumstances into account. The numbers are the beginning of the debate about effectiveness and efficiency, not the end, but they must be there to have a real debate. We are way beyond the time when we should be debating whether to have numbers.
Go to it.