Visioning and Strategic Planning

Curriculum Guidelines Summary

What Court Leaders Need to Know and Be Able to Do

Court leaders can enhance the courts’ capacity to define and deliver desirable court futures, even in the face of profound challenges.  There are five Visioning and Strategic Planning Guidelines:

Court Purposes, Environment, and Processes

While Purposes and Responsibilities of Courts are relevant to every court and court system, they do not automatically translate into action for any specific court or court system.  When Visioning and Strategic Planning are employed, court leaders initiate a translation process during which they and their many court and justice system partners look back to enduring court purposes to articulate a shared preferred future for their jurisdiction.  To do so, court leaders need a firm grasp of the court purposes and responsibilities as well as the structure, organization, environment, judicial processes, and performance of their court.  Understanding of any particular court and court system is strengthened by knowledge of other courts and judicial processes.  From this base, a distinct, preferred, and challenging future can be discerned.  Absent this base, the future may merely be a glance out the rear view mirror.  The aim is a big but realistic and relevant future picture of the courts purpose and how it can work with others to deliver on the American promise of equal justice under law.  Whether writ large or small, plans must take into account the court’s purposes and responsibilities and it’s current jurisdiction, structure, and performance including case processing; and the types and numbers of cases being processed.


Visioning and Strategic Planning is a discipline that draws upon well-tested principles, methods, tools, and techniques.  In the past decade, these fundamentals have been applied to courts in more than 30 states.  Court leaders need not start from scratch regarding the application of future thinking tools and techniques including trends; scenarios; environmental trends, stakeholders’ needs and expectations, and the courts strengths and weaknesses; or projections and forecasts.  To oversee the use of varied and powerful tools, court leaders must have a basis for the evaluation, selection, and use of the right processes and techniques.  Staff and consultants are very useful in this process but need oversight and direction from the time the process is organized, including appointment of the steering committee, recruitment and orientation of staff and other participants,  to  conclusion of the process. Leadership of visioning and strategic planning is critical.  Leaders must understand the fundamentals.  They must move the participants past a sense that things need to be improved and visioning and strategic planning may be helpful.  The end result is a shared, clear, powerful preferred vision, strategic direction, and, very importantly, improved court performance.

Organizational Foundations

Absent a strong organizational foundation, efforts to build a long-term strategic direction will move in fits and starts or even stall.  A critical assessment of the existing capacity is critical prior to making the significant investments of leadership’s time, political capital, and staff and other resources.  Is a court executive leadership team in place and able to lead the court and the justice system?  Does the court need to build internal understanding of and competency in strategic planning?  Is the required time and commitment understood by all the critical parties?  An inclusive and collaborative visioning and planning process is not possible absent a foundation that can support understanding and commitment about what the court, their justice partners, and the community wish to achieve, how they will do it, and when.

Change and Alignment

Visioning and Strategic Planning assume change and better alignment of court personnel and other resources and its many workflows.  Adequate organizational foundations are critical to starting the process.  Change and alignment is what happens after the visioning and strategic planning process is completed.  If the vision and plan are as comprehensive as they need to be to improve the court, their implementation necessarily means change and organizational realignment.  Everything that needs to be done cannot be done all at once.  Based on understanding of the change process, implementation must be sequenced so that the court and it’s leadership team, judges, staff, and their justice partners move in a common direction toward shared commitments.  The project must evolve from reliance on temporary task forces into a new court structure.  Court leaders must understand the change process, clearly communicate expectations, monitor progress, and reward those who do what is needed for the preferred future to be realized.

Strategic Thinking

Visioning and Strategic Planning require strategic as opposed to operational thinking.  When beginning, the court leadership team must be able to distinguish between problems and issues that are routine from those that affect the courts capacity to deliver over time.  This means seeing the implications of seemingly unrelated events and time-bound crises to what the court and the justice system could be at their best.  Leaders who can think and act strategically understand the importance of listening to and empowering others in the planning and change process.  Partnerships both inside and outside the court are very important.  They know the importance of staying the course in the face of inevitable but unknown challenges.  Strategic thinking enables leaders to anticipate, promote, and sustain change.

Click on each of the five Curriculum Guidelines to see the associated Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:

Visioning and Strategic Planning MSWord version for printing.

(A password window will appear. Click Cancel).

Visioning and Strategic Planning Adobe Acrobat 5.0 version for printing.


 The above files are Adobe Acrobat pdf files, and require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to download, view, and print. You can download the free reader here.