Managers of scientific laboratories see themselves as scientists first and managers second; consequently, they tend to devalue the managerial aspects of their jobs. Forensic laboratory managers are no different but the stakes may be much higher given the importance of quality science to the criminal justice system. The need for training and support in forensic laboratory management has been recognized for many years but little has been done to transition the tools of business to the forensic laboratory environment.
A study in Europe, called Quadrupol, did an in-depth analysis of 4 forensic laboratories in the European Union. At the 2006 International Forensic Business and Economics Colloquium, it was decided that a similar study would benefit United States forensic laboratories. FORESIGHT is a business-guided self-evaluation of forensic science laboratories across North America. The participating laboratories represent local, regional, state, and federal agencies. Faculty from the WVU College of Business and Economics are providing assistance and guidance. The process involves standardizing definitions for functional areas of the laboratory and metrics to evaluate work processes, linking financial information to work tasks and functions. Laboratory managers can then assess resource allocations, efficiencies, and value of services—the mission is to measure, preserve what works, and change what does not. While the Census of Public Crime Laboratories and the International Association for Identification Forensic Service Providers Survey approach the forensic industry broadly, FORESIGHT will show processes, strategies, resources, and allocations at a highly detailed level. A project of this magnitude for forensic laboratories has not been carried out anywhere. The laboratories involved operate at the local, state, and national level.
Participation in FORESIGHT is voluntary but requires an interested laboratory submit a completed Laboratory Reporting and Analysis Tool (LabRAT). The LabRAT is a spreadsheet that collects and calculates business measures about caseloads, staffing, budgets, and other important factors. While the LabRAT alone is a useful tool for a laboratory manager, submitting a completed LabRAT form allows WVU to generate a benchmarking report [link to example report page] for the laboratory. This analysis will compare the participant to others with laboratories in the top 25 percentile as leaders. A FORESIGHT Executive Summary for 2008 is now available.
One of the key concepts that makes FORESIGHT work is a consistent set of terms by which laboratories can communicate what their activities are. Many laboratories may have a definition for “turn-around-time,” for example, but unless each laboratory uses the same definition, then communication becomes impossible because everyone is talking about something different. This glossary of terms will help guide FORESIGHT participants to entering the correct data for benchmarking comparisons.