President’s Corner > Is it Time for a Different Kind of Evaluation?

COLUMN

BY JUDGE BRIAN TOLLEFSON (RET.)

In late February, the WSBA Board of Governors spent nearly two full days meeting with the WSBA’s Executive Leadership Team to work on team building between the two groups. The main objective of this get-together was to build shared expectations around and between the Board of Governors and the Executive Leadership Team and work on a leadership partnership between the two groups. For the most part, it was productive and full of heartfelt conversations. 

One overlooked area during this “retreat” was figuring out a way to measure the efficacy of the WSBA Board of Governors11 The retreat members spent some time focusing on Board officers and maybe one committee. But the concept of an overall measurement for the structure of the Board of Governors, itself, was not discussed. and its different committees, councils, and task forces that are either under the direct supervision of the Board of Governors or are funded in large part by member license fees. I use the word “efficacy” deliberately. Efficacy means: “the power to produce an effect,”22 www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/efficacy. and “the ability of something to produce the results that are wanted.”33 www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/efficacy.

Boards of organizations are beginning to look at and evaluate their own structure and committees.44 Shultz, S. “Conducting a committee assessment – As more work is given to board committees, comprehensive committee assessments are growing in importance.” Directors and Boards (Fourth Quarter, 2005) pp 41-44. The Washington Supreme Court has implied that this should be part of the structure study that I wrote about in the February 2022 issue of Bar News.55 www.wsba.org/about-wsba/who-we-are/board-of-governors/bar-structure-study. About 70 percent of the overall WSBA budget is funded by member license fees. The Board of Governors has as one of its most important responsibilities each year the approval of the WSBA’s annual total budget. To approve a budget implies understanding and studying the budget prior to approval. So it would make sense to see if the disbursements approved by the Board of Governors are evaluated using some neutral performance criteria.

As an aside, some WSBA entities are not subject to the WSBA Board’s control and were created by the Washington Supreme Court. Among those are the Access to Justice Board, the Practice of Law Board, and the Limited License Legal Technician Board. This article is not about those entities, directly. The question is: Could they undergo the same analysis?66 I will not be suggesting in any detail which committees, boards, or councils could stand to be more carefully evaluated. 

Also, some WSBA functions are not subject to any control by the WSBA Board of Governors. These have mainly to do with regulatory functions, such as licensing, discipline, ethics, trust account and MCLE compliance, and bar exam management. While a neutral evaluation of these entities likely would be beneficial, the Supreme Court will have to make that determination.

There is a WSBA webpage that lists most77 At least one group (Task Force Team Administering Xenial Involvement with Court Appointed Boards) is not currently included on this list. of the “committees, boards, and other groups” at the WSBA.88 www.wsba.org/connect-serve/committees-boards-other-groups. The entire WSBA structure is set forth in the illustration below. Not all the different Bar groups are listed; one or two have been added, but most of the organization’s structure is depicted. 

The WSBA mission is “to serve the public and the members of the Bar, to ensure the integrity of the legal profession, and to champion justice.”99 www.wsba.org/about-wsba/who-we-are. The difficulty with this mission statement is its lack of precision. How do you measure whether any WSBA committee, program, or service is fulfilling this mission?

There are many ways to evaluate group performance. There are whole books on evaluation. In fact, whole organizations have as their purpose creating evaluation criteria for different entities to use. One set of influential evaluation standards for measuring the success of a program was established in 1991 by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).1010 Chianca, T. “The OECD/DAC Criteria for International Development Evaluations: An Assessment and Ideas for Improvement,” Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation, Volume 5, Number 9, pp 41-51 (March 2008). These standards were initially reduced to five criteria that have been widely used in the evaluation of development initiatives; they are: efficiency, effectiveness, impact, sustainability, and relevance. Over time, these five criteria became a set of seven criteria: relevance, connectedness, coherence, coverage, efficiency, effectiveness, and impact. These criteria are a comprehensive and complementary set of measures.1111 See: Overseas Development Institute “Evaluating humanitarian action using the OECD-DAC criteria – An ALNAP guide for humanitarian agencies” (London, March 2006).

Using the OECD/DAC criteria as a guidepost, I have created a list of factors that I hope your Board of Governors will consider applying to evaluate the committees, task forces, councils, etc., at the WSBA:

1. Relevance: Is it (i.e., the pertinent committee, council, or task force) doing the right things?

2. Coherence: How well does it fit together with other WSBA committees, task forces, councils, etc. Is there a duplication or overlap of scope?

3. Effectiveness: Does it have clearly defined objectives (e.g., mission and goals), and is it achieving its objectives?

4. Efficiency: How well are its resources being used?

5. Impact: What difference does it make?

6. Sustainability: Will the benefits last?

Where to go from here is primarily up to the Board of Governors. However, since membership funding is such a large and integral part of the WSBA’s budget, perhaps the membership should be consulted as part of the evaluation process, too. 

About the author

Judge Brian Tollefson (Ret.) is a principal at Black Robe Dispute Resolution Services, PLLC. He can be reached at:

NOTES

1. The retreat members spent some time focusing on Board officers and maybe one committee. But the concept of an overall measurement for the structure of the Board of Governors, itself, was not discussed.

2. www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/efficacy.

3. www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/efficacy.

4. Shultz, S. “Conducting a committee assessment – As more work is given to board committees, comprehensive committee assessments are growing in importance.” Directors and Boards (Fourth Quarter, 2005) pp 41-44.

5. www.wsba.org/about-wsba/who-we-are/board-of-governors/bar-structure-study.

6. I will not be suggesting in any detail which committees, boards, or councils could stand to be more carefully evaluated. 

7. At least one group (Task Force Team Administering Xenial Involvement with Court Appointed Boards) is not currently included on this list. 

8. www.wsba.org/connect-serve/committees-boards-other-groups.

9. www.wsba.org/about-wsba/who-we-are.

10. Chianca, T. “The OECD/DAC Criteria for International Development Evaluations: An Assessment and Ideas for Improvement,” Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation, Volume 5, Number 9, pp 41-51 (March 2008).

11. See: Overseas Development Institute “Evaluating humanitarian action using the OECD-DAC criteria – An ALNAP guide for humanitarian agencies” (London, March 2006).

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