What are communities of practice?

Organizations create communities of practice (CoPs) groups to bring together experienced practitioners to gain and share knowledge or perfect processes (“establish best practices”) in a particular subject or practice area.

Over time, CoPs may also evolve based on participants’ common interest in a particular topic. Either way, members learn from each other through the process of sharing information and experiences within the “community” or group. CoPs also offer members the opportunity to build increased capacity and develop professionally.

When and why is the Trial Court developing CoPs?

Last June, the Trial Court established five communities of practice for the Clerks of Court, Clerk Magistrates, Registers, and Land Court Recorder. Each CoP selected a specific area of focus, with a goal to establish best practices in each area.

In December, the clerks met and worked in small, randomly-assigned groups to discuss and recommend three additional areas of focus that they determined would be appropriate topics for the next round of CoPs, slated for the next Clerks Conference in June. The three CoPs reported out to the Clerks on their progress in developing best practice standards for certain aspects of Clerk Office functioning. An example of their work is highlighted below. 

“Shared knowledge learned through the CoP process should lead to more consistent, high-quality practice and procedures,” says Court Administrator Harry Spence. “Communities of practice will also provide guidance and training materials for Clerks' Office employees, improve the timeliness and consistency of how we respond to the public, reduce redundancy and ‘reinvention of the wheel,’ and spark new ideas for improved customer-constituent service.”

Topics included real-time docketing, scanning and quality control and press in the courtroom. 

Download the Trial Court Communities of Practice Update, December 2015 Agenda pdf format of Communities of Practice - Agenda for 12/15/15

Focus on innovation: Bristol County Probate and Family Court

“At the moment, Probate and Family Court registries do more than any other court department as far of docketing and scanning of records is concerned, so this was a particularly popular topic for the Registers of Probate,” says Gina DeRossi, Register of the Bristol County Probate & Family Court. Register DeRossi lead the CoP on “Real-Time Docketing and Scanning and Quality Control.” She predicts that creating a digitized system for court documents will increase transparency and transform the way the courts do business. 

Bristol County Probate and Family Court First Justice Katherine Field volunteered her courtroom and support staff to collaborate on the pilot. The courtroom also received a desktop scanner to facilitate the pilot.  A Registry staff member assigned to the courtroom by Register DeRossi began entering and scanning all case-related documents into MassCourts during the court session so that all work related to these hearings were being put on the digital record in real time. Register DeRossi estimates that this pilot courtroom now dockets and scans more than 90 percent of the paperwork within minutes of a hearing taking place. 

“The concept behind docketing and scanning in real time is to make a digital record as quickly as possible,” says Register DeRossi, explaining how before the pilot, work was often docketed and/or scanned in MassCourts days and potentially weeks after hearing. The pilot improves on that practice by getting every piece of paper related to a case docketed and scanned and available online as quickly as possible. The best practice is intended to improve case-flow management and ensure the docket is created timely and is accurate and accessible.

Small pilot, big impact. Since scanning and digitizing documents touches so many parts of the court system, the success of this small pilot could be considered an indicator of how quickly the court system can change and adapt to new technology. The CoP allows for local flexibility, offering various scanning and storing options based on a court’s available equipment, staffing, and facilities. The pilot will also help the group isolate and fix issues, enabling the best scanning technology for the Court’s needs to be adopted across the system.

Next steps…

In-courtroom scanning. Starting this month, the Bristol Register will have a dedicated person in the courtroom responsible for scanning and entering records in real-time. The courtroom will be equipped with a desktop scanner and unit linked to MassCourts. When done daily, the process will enable a record to go from a hearing to the record and back up to the stacks and filed immediately.

Once in place, the online system should dramatically decrease the volume of paper, and result in fewer requests by phone to clerks’ offices. It should also increase public access to records, and facilitate use of the new attorney online portal.

Data collection. Over the next month, the team in Bristol will collect data. By March, the goal is to introduce in-court docketing and scanning to another courtroom session in Bristol, and gradually expand after that to include as many locations as possible.