Word Choice

Disclaimer: As I work for the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, this posting does not reflect the opinions of that office or the Washington State judiciary. I speak here for myself and to review my own performance at a high level. Nothing here implies or otherwise suggests the support of my employer or of the Washington State judicial branch.

Back in January, I put together a list of three words for 2013 that would serve to guide me throughout the year. I confess, though I haven’t actually formally looked back at these words since, they have still been in the back of my mind throughout my work. Those three words: reinvent, listen, and unreserved.

In late March, I formally took over as the applications lead for two systems maintained by my agency: the Juvenile and Corrections System (JCS), responsible for maintaining data about juvenile detention and juvenile court interactions statewide; and the Adult Static Risk Assessment tool (ASRA), responsible for predicting the likelihood that offenders would reoffend based on past criminal history. Until that point, I was supported by a senior specialist who owned those applications for a number of years up until his retirement.

Part of my drive at the agency since being hired almost two years ago has been to begin steering both applications in a new direction and to rejuvenate both applications to better serve their users. This is particularly challenging in a court system where the courts are independent entities from one another, as one must balance the needs of the state as a whole against those of any one stakeholder. JCS adds to this complexity, as it serves several key needs.

Reinvention here refers less to tearing everything down and starting from scratch and more to increasing relevance and usability. We have begun to do this; however, the entire agency was sidelined by a major data breach, which re-focused our efforts onto internal security. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have been successful in pushing the need to modernize and make more relevant the applications that I am responsible for.

In listening, I am not sure that I will ever quite succeed. Being hearing impaired brings its own set of challenges above and beyond those with so-called “normal” hearing (whatever that means!). I could spend entire blog posts discussing how “normal” hearing is actually quite subjective (and would probably be attacked by hordes of audiologists disagreeing with me from a clinical perspective). In choosing this word, I wanted to practice listening to users and major stakeholders; this has also been a large component of my reinvention focus. Since I started, I have made it a routine practice to attend as many of the training classes that are related to my applications as I can. The rationale is twofold: first, it increases my visibility to the people that I serve, and second, it serves as a valuable step back, allowing me to look at my work from a different angle.

In each training, I make a point of standing up, introducing myself, and stressing that the application cannot evolve without the input of the people in the room. I cannot do my job and be successful without knowing what my users need and want. What I see as a problem may be working perfectly from a process perspective, or my great idea may simply serve to slow others down when implemented. The lifeblood of both applications is how involved the users are in determining their direction. For JCS in particular, I have been very successful in doing so; these training introductions and subsequent discussions have led directly to requests from the same users for system improvements and enhancements.

Being unreserved is requisite in our court environment: all of the court levels must be represented to the best of our ability. This is a large part of why I selected this particular word to represent my work in the first place: the juvenile “courts”, although we call them “courts”, are, in fact, departments of the Superior court within each county. As such, they are lumped together under the Superior courts for administrative purposes. Their needs should be represented just as well as – if not better than – the Superior courts themselves, as they serve such an important part of the state’s population.

Another portion of my work at the agency involves work with our web team to maintain several web sites under the courts.wa.gov umbrella. I serve as a high-level advisor, working on things like search engine functionality, security troubleshooting, and strategic planning. Here, too, I have tried to push this idea of being unreserved: asking questions, making suggestions for improvement, trying to provide a fresh perspective on questions.

These three words, I think, have been accurate reflections of my work over the last year. I will repeat the exercise for 2014, though I expect that at least one of the words – listening – will likely remain.