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Volume IV, Number 3 & 4, 1998
Issue Topic: Learning Organizations
Beyond Basic Training
Robert Kirchner, Senior Advisor for Evaluation at the US Department of Justice, writes about how the Department of Justice has worked to strengthen evaluation capacity at the state and local levels.
In response to Attorney General Janet Renos call to find out what works and spread the word, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), a component of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), US Department of Justice, is implementing a comprehensive, multitiered program evaluation strategy. This strategy is designed to disseminate findings of locally produced evaluations of BJA-funded projects; stimulate program evaluations at the state and local levels through evaluation capacity building, grant programs, and technical assistance; strengthen BJAs partnership with state Administrative Agencies (SAAs), practitioners, and researchers; and build a cooperative framework for interagency coordination.
The Initiative has six components:
Effective Programs Initiative: Under this initiative, begun in FY 1997, BJA publishes a series highlighting innovative programs which have undergone intensive evaluation at the state and/or local levels. It publishes these results in an Effective Programs Monograph series. The first of these, on improving the nations criminal justice system, was published in December 1997. The second in the series will focus on creating a new criminal justice system for the 21st century.
Tools for the Criminal Justice Community: Launched in August 1998, this initiative provides an Electronic Roadmap for Evaluation, an automated version of a comprehensive evaluation handbook (Assessment and Evaluation Handbook Series) for planners, researchers and evaluators, and local practitioners. The Evaluation Technical Assistance website, which is part of BJAs homepage (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/evaluation), provides extensive new evaluation resources and materials, and is the first of its kind developed by a public agency for general use.
Enhancing State and Local Assessment and Evaluation Capabilities: Through a federal, state, and local partnership, assessment and evaluation have been increasingly institutionalized. There has been an increase in the professional staff assigned exclusively to evaluation duties (34 states now have such staff), yearly funds allocated to evaluation have increased over time, and the number of states funding external, independent evaluation grows each year.
The State Evaluation Development (SED) Program: Through this Program, BJA provides technical assistance to jurisdictions needing direct help with capacity building. Evaluation technical assistance and training for state and local practitioners, usually focused on specific program areas, is delivered in regional workshops, single-state settings, and multi-state workshops. Through the establishment of a state-to-state exchange program, BJA has supported evaluation capacity building initiatives by enabling experts from one jurisdiction to visit and provide technical assistance to another jurisdiction or by sending practitioners to other offices to learn its practices. SED also produced a series of nine publications, Innovative State and Local Programs, focusing on state and local strategies to improve the ability to obtain, publish, and disseminate documentation of promising practices. The publications were the result of nine working meetings that led to the documentation of 191 programs. Notably, those participating in the process have applied and institutionalized what they have learned in their own jurisdictions. As a separate activity to capture high quality programmatic information on strategy implementation across programs within specific program areas, BJA, in conjunction with state planners and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), has produced a series, Highlighted State and Local Programs. Almost 550 programs in three major program areas have been documented, and the reports are available on BJAs website.
The Byrne Evaluation Partnership Program: To increase the quality and use of evaluations conducted by state and local agencies, BJA created the evaluation partnership program as part of its Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Enforcement Assistance Program. The evaluation partnership program seeks to enhance collaborative evaluation among SAAs and creates a mechanism for enhancing the design, implementation, measurement, evaluation, and dissemination of information in high-priority program areas. Under this program, SAAs have principal responsibility for evaluation in coordination with funded program managers and evaluators at universities or other research organizations. SAAs apply to the program either individually or as co-applicants with other state and local agencies involved in planning, coordinating, administering, and/or evaluating criminal justice programs funded under the Byrne Formula Grant Program.
Annual Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Conference: BJA and NIJ, along with other OJP offices, sponsors an annual conference on research and evaluation in the criminal justice area. Through plenary sessions, panels and training workshops, criminal justice evaluators, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers come together to share experiences and knowledge.
Robert A. Kirchner
Senior Advisor for Evaluation
Bureau of Justice Assistance
U.S. Department of Justice