Visioning and Strategic Planning

What This Core Competency Is and Why It Is Important

Effective court leaders take time to vision the future because visioning impacts the bottom line.  Visioning and strategic planning help courts and court leaders avoid isolation, create and maintain momentum for change, and improve day-to-day court management. 

The urgent often drives out the important in all organizations, courts included.  Visioning and strategic planning counteract natural tendencies toward inertia -- activity rather than accomplishment -- by focusing courts on: their enduring purposes and responsibilities, preferred futures built around these commitments, and strategic direction and realistic action steps.  

These proven management and leadership tools help presiding judges and their court managers focus themselves and others on the court’s primary purpose -- or mission -- as well as establish both long-term goals and shorter term improvement priorities.  Strategic planning, which usually includes a visioning component, is an ongoing, systematic process used in organizations of all types to critically and creatively: (1) assess where it is now, (2) define where it wants to be in the future, and (3) develop comprehensive strategies to move the organization in a desired direction.

While complementary, strategic planning and visioning differ.  Visioning is a creative, collaborative process that asks court leaders and their justice partners to articulate a preferred future: what the court will look like and be doing when performing at its very best.  A vision statement, which is the outcome of a visioning process, describes that future.  Research suggests that vision statements are most effective when they “tell a story” of a new reality--a lucid and detailed preferred future.  Effective vision statements elevate and compel action because they are both bold and inspirational and believable and achievable.

Strategic planning includes other vital elements specifically: defining a court’s mission –or purpose --and fundamental values; environmental scanning or trends analysis; a SWOT (i.e., strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis; identifying strategic issues or key performance areas; long-range goals (i.e., end targets); objectives (i.e., means to achieve the goals); and short-term priority projects. 

Implementation consistent with the strategic plan and monitoring and evaluating progress and outcomes round out the essential elements of long-range strategic planning.  These steps help ensure that visioning and strategic planning are more than a cerebral exercise.  Implementation and monitoring progress and evaluating results are all critical.  They ensure that the projects and activities that flow from visioning and strategic planning produce the desired outcomes.

Courts that have completed either internal or community-based visioning and strategic planning processes report improvements in the following areas:  (1) case management practices; (2) access to the courts and justice; (3) use of technology to enhance services and access; (4) community outreach and education; (5) cultural diversity and providing culturally responsive court services; (6) court governance and structure; and (7) the internal work environment so as to attract, retain, and motivate a skilled workforce. 

Court leaders invest time in visioning and strategic planning processes and their follow up because:

  1. Strategic planning supports local trial court autonomy by placing the onus for change and the responsibility for creating it squarely on the trial court’s judges and staff.

  2. The processes help build consensus within the court and between the court and its justice partners and community leaders about what the court will become, and when and how it will do it.

  3. A strategic plan develops priorities and goals that are clear and accepted throughout the court and justice system.

  4. A vision of the future, the long-range strategic plan, and its implementation help ensure continuity when the leadership of the court changes.

  5. Strategic planning is an acceptable change and alignment mechanism modeled by courts across the nation.

  6. Strategic planning supports a positive response to public demand for increased court accountability.

In sum, visioning and strategic planning can help court leaders shape their courts and organizational environments by:

  • Challenging court and justice system practitioners to think beyond day-to-day problems and crises
  • Fostering, developing, and sustaining internal and external cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships;
  • Allocating and using limited resources strategically;
  • Improving day-to-day court management practices;
  • Enhancing court-community communications and increasing public understanding of and satisfaction with the courts and the justice system; and
  • Creating futures driven by the judiciary’s deepest commitments: equal justice under law; independence and impartiality; equal protection and due process; access to justice; expedition and timeliness; accountability; and public trust and confidence.


View the Summary of Visioning and Strategic Planning Curriculum Guidelines or 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.