Picking up from Part I of our component model conversation with Kevin Bowling, current Chair of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Global Advisory Committee, we’re talking through the court’s biggest challenge post-pandemic: an urgent need for trusted court technology, and scarce funding.
Join us as we journey with Kevin through the court manager’s gold-mine resource, – the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, or IJIS, – how the component model fits into your goals and your budget, and other creative workarounds for funding.
Resources from the podcast are included below:
- IJIS (Integrated Justice Information Systems) Institute – The IJIS Institute is a nonprofit alliance working to promote and enable technology in the public sector and expand the use of information to maximize safety, efficiency, and productivity. The IJISCourts Advisory Committee developed a Provider Directory that includes vendors for the court components – https://icacprovdir.ijis.org
- CA Court Stack – a practical application of the court component model
- Ultimately, we need to leverage our resources (including technology) to improve access to justice and provide a better customer service experience. https://courts.michigan.gov/News-Events/press_releases/Documents/Justice%20for%20All%20Media%20Release%20FINAL-3.pdf
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|Brad Smith:||With this second installment, we take a little bit deeper dive into the Court Component Model, practical ways it’s being applied, funding options and more. So, let’s go ahead and resume our conversation with Kevin Bowling.
You were mentioning earlier the IJIS Institute, which maybe a lot of people don’t know in the court world. I have found having, where we’re both on the court’s advisory committee there, it being a fantastic substitute for WinFax, the old fax system where that group got together over the years to combine the efforts between public sector as well as private sector, but I think that they’ve made tremendous strides. If you could just touch on that as well. I know you’ve served on so many committees that your ability to describe that is like, “Yeah. They do stuff.”
|Kevin Bowling:||Yeah. Well, I think it is important, Brad, and in relation to the Court Component Model, there’s a critical piece that I’d like to share with your listeners as well, but the IJIS Institute, and that’s another acronym that stands for Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute. So, as I mentioned earlier, they’re an alliance of vendors that cover the court world and law enforcement and corrections. They’re really supportive of public sector use of technology to make information sharing possible, to make sure that information is handled in a safe and efficient way. They’ve been a great partner through all of the work the Joint Technology Committee has done on the Court Component Model. It’s their members that are out, dealing with clients every day, that have given us a lot of suggestions about what are the most critical components, how do we prioritize these items as we work on different standards, or even letting us know where standards may have been developed in other arenas that could be applied here. They’ve been very helpful in that sense.
One of the great ideas from a court manager’s standpoint that came out of our partnership with IJIS is that as we developed the Court Component Model and began drilling down and developing all of these different components and guidance that goes along with them, IJIS, at the same time, stood up a provider directory that’s available for any court manager online. This provider directory will, component by component, give you a running list of different vendors that are IJIS members who are working in that space. So, in the past, as a court manager, if I’m working on a new technology project and I’m not that familiar with it, I’m scouring all kinds of resources, trying to figure out who do I even send an RFP to. IJIS has done a lot of that work for us now. So, we can go into this provider directory for the Court Component Model, and component by component, I can click on a simple button, and it will pull up a variety of national and regional and local vendors that are working in this space across the country and give me some information about them.
So, from that standpoint, it’s an incredible resource. I’m just very thankful that certainly, Image Soft has supported this effort and has been involved in it and that there had been other IJIS members who provide technology services to courts and other parts of the public sector who are willing to engage in these efforts and share their information because it makes it, in the long run, better for courts and better for users so that we can easily access this information and make good decisions about the technology we use.
|Brad:||No, certainly. I think the other thing that’s been great about that is, one, just a great idea. Two, I think even now, the National Center for State Courts has decided that that directory is something that they make available on their website as well because it’s just that concentrated effort of technology in simple and straightforward. I attended the IJIS Institute’s symposium earlier this year, that’s where we haven’t got shut down, but one of the things that was brought up, and I was like, “Oh, this is incredibly interesting,” is that Court Stack project. I was hoping you might be able to just touch on that just a little bit because it’s kind of a unique project and something I really wasn’t aware of as of February, but then again, I don’t fly out to California all the time.|
|Kevin:||Yeah. Usually, that’s a place that we all like to go and visit, but with the pandemic statistics, the way they’re going right now, I’m not sure we’ll be traveling there anytime soon.|
|Kevin:||The California Court Stack is really a great example of court professionals and technologists coming together and in a collaborative way, analyzing their local needs and doing something about it and actually working on solutions. From my viewpoint, the CIOs from the different court in California that are involved with the Court Stack project, along with some of the other local subject matter experts and court administrators that have been involved, have really shown how practical the Court Component Model can be in application.
What they’ve done is taken a lot of the components that we identified through the Court Component Model process as we develop this idea and they customized it for California. They’ve actually built it out to the point now where I believe within the next week or two, they’re going to be getting ready to launch a system for a number of California counties that basically have leveraged this Component Model concept. It is going to make it easy for their courts to be able to have multiple functionalities, multiple components that’ll be part of their system. We’ll also allow them to much more easily exchange data, exchange information among the courts so that they can stay in tune with each other and know what’s happening.
So, it’s one of those things where I believe they’re probably going to be doing some public press releases coming up soon, maybe even standing up their own website for any court managers that want to go in and look at the experience that they’ve had there, but they had a very collaborative group from several counties that have been working together a lot over the last two years. They’ve just made great progress, and it shows us what’s possible when people are willing to come together, that they’ve got some common goals in mind, and they want to really leverage available technology to make the court system run better.
|Brad:||Right. I absolutely love this. I mean, we certainly threw our hat in the ring to be involved in that project. One thing, and I’m sure you’re fully aware of as the pandemic has hit and here, we’re dealing, it’s now that people have a sense of urgency and certainly, as opposed to a want for technology, the absolute need for technology is funding. As much as I love the government market, funding is always an obstacle. It’s something … It’s like almost … I think some states is bienniums. You have to think way ahead. I’m just wondering your thoughts on when you’re looking at technology and funding and grants, how do we get to the point where we can tap into that while certainly not bankrupting each state?|
|Kevin:||Yeah, it’s a tough question. I think you correctly point out, Brad, that it’s going to get tougher post pandemic simply because there have been a lot of unexpected, unforeseen public costs associated with the pandemic that is going to deplete some of our general fund budgets, which is where we usually go. That’s our first stop in most public sector projects where we try, as court managers, to plan ahead. As you say, we try to schedule out capital projects or other regular general fund projects that we may be working on, including certainly the technology issues that come into play. We just have to make sure that we are thinking ahead when we can and trying to access whatever general fund dollars that we can.
Now, having said that, I also know that budgets are so tight in a lot of areas. It’s very hard even to just get a new screen or a new keyboard or a laptop for somebody that needs it sometimes. For larger technology projects, it can be even more difficult. In Michigan, as an example, our courts, most of them are funded locally, so we have to work with local municipalities or county boards of commissioners to try to get our funding. In Unified States, often, the Supreme Court or the State Court Administrative Office is lobbying the state legislature for funding for courts. Those are all tight budgets and are going to get tighter over the next year. So, we might find ourselves looking for grants, whether that be through the Department of Justice or the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
I know in our small jurisdiction and just as one example, we had great success with a couple of technology projects that we worked on in the realm of child support collections. The reason we ended up working on some technology projects there as opposed to with other case types is that we’re hopeful, and it turned out to be true, that we are able to attach some federal funding to help pay for those technology innovations. In our case, it was an ODR platform that we were able to design and implement and be able to capture Title IV-D child support funds to help pay for that technology because it directly impacted our ability to handle child support cases in our jurisdiction.
So, in each of our situations, what we have to do is sort of drill down and look at the case types or areas that we might need the most help in. If we don’t have the funding for a court wide project, maybe we do sort of a smaller project for proof of concept, if you will, to show that something is going to work, and it’s going to be efficient and perhaps going to save money in the long run, but we have to at least figure out a creative way to get out of the starting blocks. Sometimes, that may be looking at leveraging other sources of funding that may be available to the courts.
Right now, there may be some COVID monies available in different states as part of the response and recovery to the pandemic where we have to collect more information for the state or federal government, and maybe because of these new requirements, we could also latch onto some funding to help pay for enhanced technology. So, it’s a matter of being creative, keeping your eyes open on sites like grants.gov where there are different solicitations that are coming out all the time or through the Bureau of Justice Assistance website where they’re often looking for different types of pilot projects in different jurisdictions to test things out. So, there are a lot of examples out there. It’s just a matter of digging for that information and trying to leverage it as best we can.
|Brad:||Right. I think one of the most creative states I’ve worked with over the years is Louisiana because obviously, with the gas prices being what they are and they’re typically a depressed economy when it comes to trying to create some opportunities for new technology, they’re decentralized, so that in itself creates an interesting dilemma, but they’ve really done well with VOCA grants, Victim of Crimes Act. Certainly, that has kicked up quite a bit since people have been quarantined and have more in-home experiences as you can imagine, but they really do as good a job as I’ve seen. It’s just a matter of just tapping into it and making those sites available and certainly doing a little research. Certainly, that’s what we’re all about, is assisting as much as we can and then allowing them because those steps are not simple, as you know.|
|Kevin:||Yes. An unfortunate thing about a lot of the federal grants opportunities, it seems like once the information comes out and you learn about it, there is precious little time to turn around an application and submit it.|
|Kevin:||From that standpoint, it’s that much more incumbent on court administrators like me to see about establishing some sort of infrastructure within our courts, where we have the capacity to respond to grant opportunities when they arise. Now, that may mean having some staff that are assigned the duty of watching for grant opportunities or having somebody be able to quickly put together a program or a budget. Maybe it’s creating some templates ahead of time or things that we want to do and being able to plug in as quickly as possible, but of course, anyone out there that has dealt with state or federal or foundation grants also understands clearly that you have to have a certain level of horsepower after you get a grant to comply with its requirements. You still have to do program reports and fiscal reports and be able to show that you have used the funds as they are intended to be used.
In that regard, it does take a little extra work. Often, you just have to do sort of a quick cost benefit analysis to figure out if searching for those funds are actually going to be worth it. Are you going to get that payback that you want? The return on investment. That’s important to show to your state or local funding unit that makes it worthwhile.
|Brad:||Well, that and also just the other thing that even when we found local jurisdictions that have done the grant information but their biggest problem is ongoing budgeting.|
|Kevin:||Absolutely. It’s that sustainability conundrum that we all have to deal with. So, once we get a project up and running, we’re able to show that it is workable, we have to figure out its value proposition and determine if some sustainable general fund dollars or other sourced dollars are going to be available to keep it running in the future.|
|Brad:||Thank you, Kevin, for being our guest today. It’s been a wonderful discussion, and we appreciate all the work and contributions advancing court technology standards. For our listeners, we appreciate you for downloading this podcast. Be sure to review the podcast notes for the resource materials that Kevin provided for the Court Component Model. If you’d like to learn more about ImageSoft, please visit imagesoftinc.com. This concludes this podcast. Thank you, and have a great day.|