“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower”, so said the late Steve Jobs. His words came to mind as I prepared to present to Gideon’s Promise’s Summer Session last month. Gideon’s Promise asserts that a revolution is needed in how the criminal justice system treats indigent defendants. And as befits an organization that sees itself in the vanguard of that revolution, Gideon’s Promise has a radical vision of the impact of its work. For them it is less about increased efficiencies in case management or the effectiveness of sentencing. Rather it is about changing how the criminal justice system and society-at-large regard poor people caught up in the system’s net. To bring this about, Gideon’s Promise provides a community of public defenders who put their clients at the center of their practice. In doing so, they insure their clients’ stories are told and their humanity is revealed to the court. Or in the words of one member of the movement, “we need to think of this person as a human being and not simply a number in an orange jump suit”.
So how to measure a revolution? Over the past 18-months Gideon’s Promise has led an expert collaboration that has included Get the Data and another Atlanta-based organization, Techbridge. Together we have delivered a ground-breaking program of work that has produced innovative measures of both the public defenders’ values and their clients’ experiences of the client-centered approach. In developing those measures, GtD grounded our work on understanding the impacts that Gideon’s Promise strives to achieve and the resources at its disposal. Having articulated this theory of change, we were able to design the appropriate measurement instruments and subject them to cognitive, reliability and validity testing with samples of Gideon-trained public defenders and their clients. The next step was to collaborate with Techbridge to deliver a technological solution that will allow the instruments to be completed on-line and held in a database. This technology will be essential as the measurement work is rolled out across Gideon-affiliated offices. Finally, we designed a “Digital Dashboard” that Techbridge attached to the database and to report data by offices, public defenders and their clients.
“Innovative” is a word that can be overused or cliched, but in this case the program of work undertaken by the collaboration has truly been new and refreshing. Moreover, it provides the means by which Gideon’s Promise can measure its bold and revolutionary vision. The next steps will be to roll-out this program of work and then move to designing measures of the impact on the criminal justice system and ultimately society as a whole.
The revolution is coming, and the revolution will be measured.