Banishing backlogs and budget cuts with “Foresight”
Backlogs. Budget cuts. Legislative pressure to perform. The world of forensic science is fraught with challenges that extend beyond mere science. Increasingly, forensic labs are being asked to do more with less, a frustrating situation for professionals tasked with providing sensitive data that relies on quality testing. How can forensic professionals harness the performance data they need to both improve their own work and communicate their needs to a larger audience? Enter Foresight.
In 2003, the Quadrupol1 study examined the practices of four European forensic labs in order to uncover inefficiencies and develop best practices. Building on that work, in 2006 West Virginia University began the Foresight project: a multi-year evaluation of budgetary and performance data from 15 forensic labs. Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the intense study required participating labs to provide extensive data on every budget item associated with their lab plus share all casework. The goal was to evaluate a forensic lab much like we would any other economically driven business, but with one important difference. As public service entities, forensic labs are motivated by different incentives than a traditional market-based business. These labs were chasing performance, not profit, and being asked to do more and more work with far fewer resources. The question became one of economics and efficiency: How could the labs maximize output while minimizing staffing needs, test duplication, and other cost centers?
Today, with 64 ISO 17025:2005 and/or ASCLD/Lab Certified labs participating, the Foresight project can provide fairly specific answers to that question. These laboratories represent a broad spectrum that includes national, statewide, regional, and metropolitan jurisdictions; single laboratory and multi-facility systems; public and private labs; and participation from five continents. Based on caseload and financial information, the project offers insight into how many personnel are required for a “right-sized” organization. Study participants have used the Foresight performance tools to power through their backlogs in record time, and some have leveraged the data collected to fend-off budget cuts and even increase funding. Participants have also learned best practices from other participants, who were ‘best in class.’ Knowledge, in this case, truly is power: Power to serve more with less and power to communicate this enhanced performance to those responsible for approving ongoing, much needed resources.