Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos


In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.

Tell Us About It, Episode 1: Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center

A convo with Emily Tofte Nesteval and Kazi HoustonNov 01Time: 24:03

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On this episode of Tell Us About It, we’re joined by Emily Tofte Nesteval and Kazi Houston of the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center. They share their experience incorporating research and data gathering into their planning and operations, through a partnership with Dr. Anne DePrince.

Emily Tofte Nesteval has over 15 years of experience in the anti-violence field and has served for more than 5 years as the Executive Director of RMVLC.

Kazi Houston is currently the Legal Director for RMVLC. She previously worked as a private practice civil attorney and the Client Services Manager at Project Safeguard.



Susan Howley [00:00:04] Welcome to another episode of Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos, a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of Tell Us About It, we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for crime victim services. I’m Susan Howley and today I’d like to welcome our guests from the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center. Emily and Kazi, can you share your full name and your position at the Center?

Kazi Houston [00:00:38] My name is Kazi Houston. I’m the legal director at the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center.

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:00:43] And this is Emily Tofte Nesteval. I’m the Executive Director here at the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center.

Susan Howley [00:00:49] Well welcome to both of you. Emily, can you tell us about the mission of the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center? What is it that you will provide victims in the community?

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:00:59] Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center is a nonprofit law firm providing services to crime victims and we provide a mix of legal services and legal advocacy through our legal advocates on the team. We primarily started out as an organization focused on upholding and enforcing victim rights in cases throughout Colorado and through our most recent project – the wraparound Legal Services Grant – have created the Legal Information Network of Colorado (LINC). So we are now providing some excellent services to crime victims related to their wraparound legal needs.

Susan Howley [00:01:36] Great. Now Kazi, I understand that in the application process for your OVC funding for the wraparound services, you were required to have a research partner as part of your initial plan. Can you tell us about that partner and the role of research in those early stages?

Kazi Houston [00:01:54] I can. So one of the most interesting and helpful things about the wraparound victim Legal Assistance Network grants that OVC funded around the country was that it did require each site to have a local research partner so that we could design a project that was specifically responsive to the legal needs of crime victims in our own communities. So each of the 10 wraparound projects around the country had different research and different needs assessment that they conducted from the beginning that came up with a better look at the gaps that needed to be addressed. And then out of that, each of the projects found their own unique way, based on the research, to create a project to address those gaps in service needs. Our local research partner is the University of Denver and a research team led by Dr. Anne DePrince at the University of Denver with Traumatic Stress Studies Group. And we were fortunate to not only be able to work with them at the initial phases of our program doing a needs assessment and program development, but also on an ongoing basis so that we could ensure that everything we were doing circled back and met with the core values and information learned and the needs assessment and also providing ongoing research to help guide us as we move forward.

Susan Howley [00:03:04] Well it’s so interesting to hear that you had a needs assessment and a planning phase because I think a lot of people would start off a project like yours assuming that they knew what they wanted to do, so why have a needs assessment. Did you learn anything as part of that needs assessment that came as a surprise or that really helped you re-envision what you were planning to do?

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:03:26] So in the early stages of this program, as part of the demonstration project we were required to have a researcher and we probably, like many nonprofits and folks embarking on these endeavors, we thought we already knew the answers going in and we were really kind of thinking about, let’s check a box. We’ll do the research, we’ll hear what people have to say, but we kind of already know what is needed as practitioners in the field. And when we actually heard what was needed, you know our assumption going into it was this is a legal services grant, we’re going to ask people what their legal needs are and everyone’s going to say they need attorneys, which is part of what our needs assessment said. But it certainly wasn’t the primary focus of what survivors and victims and service providers were saying. Their primary need was access to accurate legal information. So where can they go look up terms and tools and things that might be legal issues related to what they’re experiencing before they know whether or not they actually need an attorney, which did surprise us and took the project in a very different direction than what we thought. And I will even say we have full time staff on this project, so while the needs assessment was being conducted, our full time staff member was already starting to build tools and resources and networks with other attorneys so that when we got what we assumed would be the answer about we need more attorneys, we have some stuff teed up and ready to go in terms of implementation. And when the results came back, there was a big pause and we all sat down and looked at what was actually being said and said we are not listening to the voices in our community if we just keep plowing forward on the plan as we had originally intended it. We need to we did this needs assessment for a reason, we need to actually use it and value the information that was given to us. So as Kazi said earlier, that became the primary focus of what our group based every single decision about how we built this program and our services.

Susan Howley [00:05:31] So after you got the results of this needs assessment and they were different than what you had anticipated, did you have any trouble getting the team to buy into this kind of re-envisioning of where you were going to take the project?

Kazi Houston [00:05:49] I think we have incredible steering committee that has helped guide the LINC program from the very beginning, that has had up to 10 different member organizations over the years. And they worked very hard to actually look at the research and Anne DePrince, our local researcher, did a great job I think explaining the value of that and sharing some of the stories of the people that they have talked to through the needs assessment to really just make sure that everyone understood: okay, we thought we needed more lawyers but this is what people are actually asking for. Now let’s come up with a way to solve that. And so that steering committee worked very hard together as a team and very collaboratively to actually come up with a model that became the LINC program, which is the wraparound project in Denver.

Susan Howley [00:06:35] That’s great. So then after this planning phase when your program really started operating, did you have any kind of an ongoing role for research?

Kazi Houston [00:06:43] Absolutely. We have ongoing research that service providers and victims and survivors do on what barriers they are experiencing over time that mirrors a lot of the initial needs assessment research to see if any of those things identified several years ago are still the same, if anything has changed, things like that. We also just have some ongoing evaluation just in terms of program evaluation satisfaction, is our program model working, is it helpful, things like that. But overwhelmingly, the most useful thing has been seeing how those barriers have changed over time and how they’re impacted by just different things going on in the world and ensuring that we are continuing to be responsive to the gaps in service and the needs that people are experiencing.

Susan Howley [00:07:27] So how is it that you’re regularly measuring those barriers?

Kazi Houston [00:07:31] So once a month we have what Anne DePrince and her team refers to as “data bonanza week.” It’s the third week of every month where we ask everyone affiliated with the LINC program to ask service providers to fill out surveys that document these are the barriers and rating on a Lancet scale, these are the barriers that people are experiencing and how significant are they or not significant at that point in time. And then also to give those same surveys to as many victims and survivors as possible just to try and get a read on what are the trends, what are things people are experiencing, is there something that was a bigger barrier six months ago that’s less of a barrier now, what that might be and why, and things like that. So that monthly data, then the research team pulls together and presents at our steering committee meetings so that we can both see some of the trends, also see you there might not be trends, and then, if there is something that we feel like we need to address, we can talk about it in that space.

Susan Howley [00:08:28] Oh that’s great. So you have all this research input every month rather than having to wait a year or something to see how things have changed.

Kazi Houston [00:08:39] Absolutely. And I think the other part of that is that we frequently just look back to the original Needs Assessment research as we’re planning and expanding things to make sure that everything we’re doing is consistent with what the original vision of the project is. Because two or three years down the line, it can be easy to kind of evolve and morph into something different than what was originally designed and the research creates that touchstone for us to always go back and say, are we actually meeting these goals, are we addressing what we talked about from the beginning.

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:09:06] And in addition to looking at not only what’s happening on a month-to-month basis in conjunction with what happened in the original needs assessment, but the month-to-month information is helpful but also having Dr. Anne DePrince to redirect us when maybe we’re getting really focused on one thing that might not be demonstrated over time. So she helps guide us in thinking about how we can see these trends maybe that are changing from month to month, but then how do we see that bigger picture and zoom out a little bit, not only in terms of we’re asking the same questions about barriers month-to-month and those might vary or, as Kazi said, be different based on what’s happening nationally on a different scale, what’s being talked about in the media et cetera. But then also, how do we know whether or not this is an issue over time that maybe we need to be more responsive to.

Susan Howley [00:09:57] How does having this research input help you as you manage and adjust your program?

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:10:02] In many ways it helps us manage and adjust. With the information that we get on a monthly basis from Dr. Anne DePrince, we’re able to see what are the current trends and are we seeing that reflected in the services that we’re providing and are there additional gaps in the services that survivors and victims are looking for resources and do we need to address them. And I think that also having Dr. Anne DePrince at the table, she is able to redirect us and guide us when we might be getting distracted with whatever the thing is popping up this month, but then helping us see the bigger picture of what is the data showing us over time, how does this relate back to our needs assessment and keeps us focused on that. As service providers and people who are interfacing with crime victims on a day-to-day basis, sometimes it can be hard to pull out of that. What we see right now is the crisis that crime victims are facing and so to have that more objective view and lens and help us do some smarter thinking and planning, we’ve really been able to create some programming that can ebb and flow with the needs of survivors and crime victims as they come and seek resources, help, and support.

Susan Howley [00:11:20] Can either of you give us an illustration of where that type of pressure has come up but you’ve had the research basis to turn back to as your anchor?

Kazi Houston [00:11:30] I can think of a couple of ways. One example where the ongoing research led us in a different direction with some of our programming in addressing needs and then also a time where the research told us to just keep doing what we were doing and not make changes. So I can talk about both of those. The first was that through our monthly barriers assessment, we saw a pretty dramatic increase in people’s concerns about deportation and fear of reporting crimes and participating in the legal system because they were concerned that they or someone they loved would be deported if they interacted with the legal system. So seeing that need, we just knew we needed to do a better job as a community to reach out to other organizations, making sure that we were getting cross-training for all of our staff and service providers on how to address immigration issues and questions and do safety planning and things like that. But also make sure that other people in the community who were working with communities most at risk of deportation and immigration concerns knew that we were there as a resource and so that we could just improve the collaboration, look to the experts who are working on those issues, and address it by improving our collaboration and then also just doing some system advocacy around safety planning for people going to court, things like that. So that was one way the research really helped ground what we are we’re feeling anecdotally was going on but actually showed us that when people are completing surveys on a monthly basis, it was a dramatic increase in concern that we could identify. The other example I have is that a part of our model for the LINC program, we have a robust website with a lot of legal information on it and an issue spotting tool. Then we also have a help line where people can call and ask questions and get basic legal information. In the third part of our model is a network of navigators who are service providers, generally non-attorneys, in the Denver area who are working with victims of crime. We just want to get a better idea of how to identify legal issues and how to address them. Part of our navigator program involves two full days of training and orientation that look at just overview of the legal system, unauthorized practice of law, what is the civil and criminal system, the Victim Rights Act, kind of key legal issues. And after we did our first training like that, we were very eager as a group to go in and say, okay, what worked, what didn’t work, what can we change next time. And Anne and her team definitely said, we did this pre- post-test, what you did worked great, don’t change anything. They were very strong to say, you might be tempted to go in and take a few random comments you heard from people, but we have objective data that what we did and how we presented information increase people’s knowledge and so please just don’t tamper with anything because this is working. So that was another really great time where it was helpful to have a research team to say, you don’t have to fix everything. Nothing’s broken. Just keep it up.

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:14:16] And on the programmatic side, I think where the research has been incredibly beneficial is that we have had different leaders in this project who have been employees under the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center over a duration of time, including Executive Director transitions but also Program Manager transitions. And I think that what we see quite frequently in any kind of victim services or programs that we’re doing is new people will come in with fresh and new ideas and want to revamp or have a different understanding of how we got to where we are and are very eager to implement some new, interesting idea. And the research with this project really has helped us stay the course and weather those transitions in a way that also helped us stay on track and true to listening and learning from that original needs assessment and not just diverting based on the new great idea, based on the new person who came in. And gave us some historical footing that we just don’t always have the privilege of having in the nonprofit world or in the victim services world. So I do feel like that has also been unique and special about this project.

Susan Howley [00:15:27] That sounds great. Emily, has there been any impact that you can see on the sustainability of this project, looking to the future, from having this kind of research?

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:15:38] Absolutely. So the stakeholders around the table are all trying to come up with new and innovative ways to address the gaps in legal services for crime victims across the state of Colorado. And we really have been able to be a voice, to bring our needs assessment to that table saying, these are all great ideas and yet we can’t lose sight of what crime victims have said their actual needs are. And we can’t just skip all the steps to get to what we’re trying to implement and these things are also important. So that going back to our needs assessment saying, the number one need is access to reliable and accurate legal information, so how do we make sure that we’re closing that gap so that we have a better idea of what the other issues then stem from and how that changes over time. And so there’s been – our funders have listened closely to that and have been really invested in trying to take the things that we have learned and developed under this demonstration project and now, our demonstration project has been very focused on the Denver metro area, and now we’re looking at ways that we can expand that statewide through Colorado and grapple with some of the complex issues around what does it means to do similar programming to this, listening to our needs assessment, but then also do this in a rural area or using technology to maybe address some of the needs, et cetera. So that’s also, we’re able to take this and let it live on into the future, which is going to be and has been invaluable.

Susan Howley [00:17:10] That’s amazing. It sounds like you all have a fantastic relationship with your research partner if you are able to keep going back to the needs assessment and you get this fresh information every month. What is it that makes that relationship work so well?

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:17:27] I think a big part of it is Dr.Anne DePrince herself. That she is a researcher that is very approachable and for someone – I’m a trained victim advocate and a nonprofit manager and research is not my background. And she makes the research usable and provides coaching in a way that really helps it make sense from the practitioner level and then also giving us tools that we can use in the future as well. And I think that her dedication to the field, to enhancing the work that we’re able to do by using research and being smarter about what we’re trying to do, has been one of the great value points. I also think that having her fully integrated into this project from the very beginning has been quite amazing as well. That we can always go back and say, what was it about this and can you help us rethink about this and brainstorming some of those things and really making the research less of just numbers on a page – it’s more than a bunch of Excel spreadsheets and graphs, but really turning that into something that is tangible and usable that we can create really good programming with.

Kazi Houston [00:18:47] I think the other thing I would add about that is that the research model that Anne and her team are using is participatory research based. So she sits on our steering committee, she or one of her PhD students comes to every steering committee meeting. They’ve been involved in everything – when we were working on content for our website, they were helping just gather information from experts around the table to make sure that we had the best information and actually helping with some of those day-to-day things and are very responsive to just, hey can you come to this meeting and bring a stack of surveys or can you help us reach out to these other groups. And rather than just this separate research arm that no one really interacts with, everyone at the table knows Anne. I think it’s also helpful that she is part of this community. She lives in Denver, she’s very active in other victim-related research projects around Denver, and I think it has a different feel with someone who is actually part of the community that you’re trying to do the work to improve and is doing the work on many different levels. So I think all of those things have also added to just the strength of the relationship we’ve had with both Dr. dePrince and her team.

Susan Howley [00:19:56] It sounds like every community needs a Dr. DePrince. Looking toward the future, you already touched on this when you said that you were bringing this kind of research to the other legal providers and other stakeholders in the victim legal assistance world. What do you see as the future for integrating this kind of research in victim legal services moving forward?

Kazi Houston [00:20:26] I think having more information about what actually victims and survivors are saying their needs are is essential and this kind of research ensures that the experience that we had of making some assumptions and then knowing they weren’t always right is invaluable. Like Emily was talking about guiding that statewide conversation about legal needs, being able to actually incorporate the voice of victims and survivors and capturing that data in a really legitimate and strong way versus just the anecdotal experience that so many service providers have gives us something to tether to as we move forward to help guide other programs. It gives us really strong justification for what our project model is and why we think it works and makes sense, even though it might be different than a traditional legal services model. And will just continue to guide us and allow us to be a credible and forward-thinking organization based on research versus just kind of a whim that someone had to come up with a model. So I think that will continue to be helpful as we look forward.

Susan Howley [00:21:31] Emily, anything to add?

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:21:33] I think Kazi summed it up. I also think that not only will we be able to stay on the forefront of doing really innovative legal services for crime victims and proactively making sure that we’re closing gaps in legal services but it also makes it much easier to talk to our funders whether that’s a foundation or a state funder or a local funder or private donors. Having this data to say that these are real things and there’s real voices behind what we’re doing and here’s how we know it’s going to work. Because we are hearing directly from those who we’re trying to serve about what the needs are has really helped funders see that while, like Kazi said, we might not be doing very traditional legal services all the time, there are traditional legal services and there are some other things surrounding it. But it helps people see that the need and the value of this because it’s so well laid-out in the research and data behind it.

Susan Howley [00:22:36] Emily and Kazi, thank you so much for such a great conversation. This has really been interesting.

Emily Tofte Nesteval [00:22:45] Thank you so much.

Kazi Houston [00:22:46] You’re welcome. Thank you.

Susan Howley [00:22:48] To learn more about the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, you can visit their website at To access the Legal Information Network of Colorado, you can visit