Organization, Funding, and Staffing
The Vermont Center for Justice Research (VCJR) was initially established as an agency within Vermont state government in 1987. However, in 1991 the State of Vermont decided to contract with the Norwich Studies and Analysis Institute, a private non-profit research organization affiliated with Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, to provide SAC services to the state's criminal justice community. Funded by a modest contract from the state and staffed by faculty from the Justice Studies and Sociology Department at Norwich University, the VCJR began its history as an independent agency of Vermont state government, staffed completely with part-time employees, and funded exclusively by grants and contracts. Using this part-time model, the VCJR has been able to recruit highly experienced staff with specific skill sets that match the requirements of a particular research project. This strategy has allowed the VCJR maximum flexibility in the choice of projects for their research agenda, accessibility to highly trained staff, and the ability to hold down costs for clients.
A Business Model Approach to Research
As an organization which relies exclusively on research contracts and grants for revenue, the VCJR had to develop a business model approach to research if it was going to remain viable. Blending a business model with the VCJR's status as a state agency and a non-profit has enabled the VCJR to offer a variety of research services to the Vermont criminal justice community in a cost-effective manner. The business model emphasizes a focus on cost centers, effective contract bidding and management, operational efficiency, and innovative research methodologies to establish a steady income stream to support the staff and mission of the VCJR. As part of the business model the VCJR developed a set of values to guide the management of the organization which include:
- Quality analysis, reporting, and graphics
- Timely completion of projects
- Cost effective proposals
- Client service
- Commitment to improving criminal justice services in Vermont
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Developing personal relationships with clients
Not unlike other business enterprises, the VCJR has developed a research product development model which is based on identifying the research needs of clients and developing template methodologies which can be recycled for future projects. For example, anticipating the increased interest in evidence-based programming in Vermont, the VCJR developed a number of template methodologies for conducting outcome, process, and cost-benefit program evaluations. The cost of these evaluations is kept low because the template methodologies, including the SPSS syntax, can be applied to future evaluations, thus negating the costs associated with developing new evaluation designs and programming.
The VCJR's state agency status supports the organization's mission to provide quality technical assistance and a commitment to providing objective policy-related research to advance innovative and cost-efficient improvements in the Vermont criminal justice system. The VCJR's non-profit status reinforces the staff's goal to conduct research using efficient and cost-conscious methodologies.
Just like any business the VCJR needs to promote its services and products. The VCJR relies heavily on its website (www.vcjr.org) and Facebook page to publicize its activities to the public and potential clients. The VCJR blog is also used to announce the publication of new reports and the award of new contracts and grants. A new feature on the website is entitled the Crime Byte. The VCJR presents small statistical factoids about Vermont crime issues through the Crime Byte. The VCJR makes a special effort to present the Crime Byte in an informative and interesting way using an interactive graphical application. (Who knows, maybe a Crime Byte will go viral someday!) Google Analytics is used to track website sessions. Currently the majority of traffic goes to the VCJR's report pages. The Director also appears regularly on the local network television station to discuss crime issues and VCJR research projects in a segment called, Crime By the Numbers. Several of these segments appear on the VCJR Blog.
As part of the VCJR's commitment to cost efficiency, the organization operates as a virtual office. Staff work from home or their university offices. Weekly conference calls are utilized to facilitate communication between staff and foster a sense of connection to the organization. In-person monthly staff meetings are held in conference rooms provided by Norwich University. The VCJR uses secure cloud technology to share files and conduct collaborative work. Rather than bringing clients to our office, the VCJR brings the office to our clients by using high performance laptops. The VCJR staff have SPSS and sample data files loaded on the laptops which are used to demonstrate the VCJR's research and analysis expertise for clients. The VCJR regularly uses Go To Meeting web seminar software for collaborative work, training, and staff meetings.
Research Innovation: Data Integration
The VCJR staff have developed a number of strategies to link administrative records between agencies. The VCJR developed programming to match court, Department of Corrections, law enforcement, criminal history records, and Department of Motor Vehicle records. These integrated data sets are used to conduct system-wide research, cost benefit analysis, and complex sentencing studies. Perhaps one of the most significant innovations involved writing programming to convert criminal history records, which are exported in XML format from the criminal history repository, into a file format which can be imported directly into SPSS for analysis.
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