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 4: Synthesizing Evidence to Improve Victim Response

A convo with Jennifer Yahner and Marina DuaneDec 21Time: 20:15

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Jennifer Yahner and Marina Duane of the Urban Institute join us on this episode of Tell Us About It to share the goal and processes behind the research syntheses being developed by the Center for Victim Research. They discuss efforts to incorporate both research and practice-based evidence in the syntheses, including working with expert researchers and practitioners.

Jennifer Yahner is a principal research associate in the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and associate director of CVR. She has experience researching issues relating to vulnerable populations, focusing on victims of elder abuse, intimate partner violence, teen dating violence, and human trafficking. She is also a certified long-term care ombudsman for older adults in California and a member of the advisory board for the State Victim Assistance Academies Resource Center.

Marina Duane is a research associate in the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and a member of the CVR team overseeing the research syntheses and providing technical assistance upon request. Her work at Urban includes researching multidisciplinary justice policies as well as victimization, reentry, and the intersection of criminal justice and human services delivery.

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Susan Howley: Welcome to 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 victim services. I’m Susan Howley, and on today’s episode we’re talking with two of the brilliant minds behind the CVR research syntheses to learn more about their process and goals. Welcome, and please tell our listeners your name and your role in the CVR.

Jennifer Yahner: Thank you so much, Susan. My name is Jennifer Yahner, I’m the Associate Director for the Center for Victim Research and I am a Principal Researcher at the Urban Institute.

Marina Duane: And I’m Marina Duane. I’m a Research Associate at the Urban Institute. I lead a number of task on Center for Victim Research, one of them being technical assistance where I work with providers to help them with research, and another task is helping with research syntheses that we are here to talk about today.

Susan Howley: Jennifer, Marina, thank you so much for joining us. So the CVR staff at Urban are working hard on a number of research syntheses on victimization topics. Jennifer, what is your overarching goal for these?

Jennifer Yahner: Well, we really see these research syntheses as a way of helping people who are working in the victim services field to reach a common understanding of what we know, from both the practice side of things and also from the research side, and what we know about the extent of victimization experiences, some of the risks and the protective factors against experiencing different victimization types, and what we know seems to be working to help victims. So this is really a way of synthesizing the knowledge that we’ve gained from service provision and from studies of that service provision. And so we knew from our previous work on the Bridging the Gap project that there really was no central location where all of this research knowledge was gathered for all the different victim services types. Some of CVR’s partners, like the National Children’s Advocacy Center, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, they’ve been doing a lot of good synthesizing of knowledge on child abuse, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence, but we’re trying to sort of fill those gaps for other victimization types. And so we’ve focused our syntheses, at least in the beginning, on topics that there’s been less attention paid to, such as fraud and identity theft, co-victims of homicide, elder abuse, and we’re also looking at mass violence and terrorism events and the response to them.

Susan Howley: Marina, Jennifer described a model that integrates knowledge from both research and experiential evidence or practice evidence, as well as contextual evidence. What led you all to use that approach trying to look at these different forms of evidence and including context?

Marina Duane: That’s right Susan. We decided to go with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s model because it really expands our typical understanding of what evidence is. If you think about it, most people, when they hear “evidence,” they think about research articles – something very structured, following the rigorous analysis – but what the CDC model prompts us to do is to expand our understanding of evidence and think, like you said Susan, of experiential evidence and contextual evidence. And what they mean by that is really, practitioners’ experiences matter, the community and the context in which these programs exist also matter, and all of that really needs to be captured in. But for someone like me, a researcher, it actually can be quite difficult to figure out a way to systematically collect that information. We still decided that this very much aligns with the mission for Center for Victim Research, where we are trying to bridge the gap between research and practice, and so we decided that although it might take us more time, we really need to focus on practice evidence, and so we reviewed a lot of sources that we identify as practice.

Susan Howley: Jennifer, anything to add?

Jennifer Yahner: The way that we went about identifying what practice evidence to include was to start with who the major players were in each type of victimization experience, as well as obviously looking at what information OVC was linking to on its website, the National Center for Victims of Crime, and then for specific topics what national organizations were already synthesizing a lot of good practice work on their websites. And then really we went through each of those organizational websites and tried to identify the key practice materials that were being disseminated and used by service providers. And then we reviewed those materials to try and synthesize the knowledge that each was conveying.

Marina Duane: And they interesting aspect of that actually Jennifer, is that we’ve applied a similar rigorous approach, that we typically apply for research sources, to this practice evidence. Meaning that we look at each source and we ask a similar set of questions on what are the weaknesses, what are the strengths, what are the participants’ experiences like. And so that really gives us this rich contextual information on what types of programs exist in the field, what’s happening in the field, how practitioners and people with lived experience go through these programs.

Jennifer Yahner: We defined a set of criteria for the practice evidence that really helped us look at pieces systematically and try and understand if they were representative of a consensus of information from different service providers in the field or -.

Marina Duane: Somebody who has lived experience. We’ve noted that down. Also, things that take place in a community setting or correctional setting, so we looked at the setting where the program is. So there were a certain number of criteria that we wanted to make sure we follow and then track and reflect as a result in our report.

Jennifer Yahner: That’s right. We would look at each practice piece and try and understand where the information came from. So what was the source of the information that they were conveying and was it reflective of multiple diverse opinions from different practitioners or different individuals with lived victimization experiences?

Susan Howley: So how is that similar to the process you used when you were evaluating research?

Jennifer Yahner: Well when we’re looking at research pieces, we’re similarly trying to assess whether information was gathered systematically and whether it is reflective of the population about which they’re trying to make conclusions.

Marina Duane: Another similar way where we are applying the method that is similar to research is that we document our methodology. We document what we reviewed, how we went through it, what kind of questions we ask. That’s not something that is typically done with quote unquote practice evidence.

Jennifer Yahner: That’s right.

Susan Howley: So when you’re going through all of this review, how many folks are on the team for each of these research syntheses? Is it just one or two people, which makes it somewhat easy to remember what you looked at, or are you involving other folks?

Jennifer Yahner: Well for each topic, we’ve got two people: one person leading the research side of things as a lead author and then one person leading the search for practice evidence and we’ll be summarizing that as another lead author. But each team of two is assisted by as many as six other researchers that are a part of CVR. And so it’s really been a collaborative experience, and it was necessary for it as well because there’s a lot of good information out there in the field. So we have a lot of team members working to sift through and identify what’s out there. We meet weekly to discuss what everybody on the team has found.

Marina Duane: Yeah let me add to that, maybe an example could help. I recently led a team with my colleague on looking at those who lost a loved one to a homicide. This is a topic that is quite under-researched and also not that many wraparound services exist. So the challenge with that effort was that we needed to really go out and look for information, especially on the practice side, because in research we had a set number of articles. So what happened there, kind of like Jennifer describes, is my colleague led the research side of it and I led the practice, which meant that I was the person who always looked through organizations, did quality assurance, spot checking how are we looking at the sources and making sure that there is consistency. And then I had help from other researchers who coded the information, meaning they asked a set number of questions about each source and then they answered that. Then, once we are done coding, we start writing and that’s when the process goes back to those two lead the researchers, one who is responsible for practice and the other one who is responsible for research, where we create an outline, then the outline gets reviewed by the experts and then we produce different types of products to disseminate this to a wide audience.

Susan Howley: Great. So I can see where you have all these different people assisting in this process and you have such a wide variety of types of resources. I can see why it was so important for you all to take the time to really develop these criteria and this systematic approach. Now Marina, you just mentioned outside experts. How do you use outside experts in this process?

Marina Duane: Well actually, we use outside experts in different ways. First of all, it’s important to mention that to be aligned with our mission, we have experts who represent the practice and also experts who represent research. Both of those experts review our outline. This is a first step for us to make sure that everything we’ve gone through, we didn’t miss anything glaring, that we cover the breadth of the topic, we identified the right issues with the topic. Then, after that review, we incorporate the feedback and we create different products. At the stage of shorter products and longer products, we make sure to engage the experts again, so that they see the whole result of what we’ve developed and again provide useful feedback.

Jennifer Yahner: That’s right. Because we want to make sure that these syntheses are really representative of the good knowledge in the field, we emphasized from our point of view this systematic process for identifying pieces to include and a system for evaluating what information each one gave to us. But we also recognize that there are experts who’ve been working substantively in homicide co-victimization, even starting as a co-victim themselves and spent 30-40 years in the field. And so we wanted to make sure that all of the information we were systematically synthesizing was reflective of their state of knowledge as well. So I say that we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything and also that we didn’t misinterpret anything from what we were systematically synthesizing.

Susan Howley: That’s a really thoughtful process. Have you encountered any challenges as you’ve tried to put this together? I mean, this doesn’t sound like the way people normally go about this process, so I’m just wondering, what kind of challenges came up?

Marina Duane: I can probably list a few. So because I oversee the practice evidence, one of the challenges is that national organizations or local organizations that produce content on their websites, their goal and the purpose for disseminating that information is not necessarily to inform us how they went about collecting that information or who was involved in creating that content. So one of the challenges for us is to understand what are the implicit and explicit statements that the national organizations make or practice organizations make, and then collect what is important, and then analyze it and identify challenges and strengths of those documents. So that’s one of the challenges. And then another one, for practice organizations, is that they don’t necessarily record everything in a consistent way. Maybe last year, they had a good program that was well-funded and they produced a report, next year the program is in operation but it’s not reflected on the website. So we just really had to go and live on those websites for a long time to gather as much as we can and then see some information that becomes a trend across different sources.

Susan Howley: Jennifer, did you encounter any challenges with the research evidence or applying the contextual piece?

Jennifer Yahner: I think on the research side of things, there’s obviously a lot of emphasis in the field on the rigor of the research design for different studies, with randomized scientific experiment being considered the gold standard for good reason. We recognize that there’s a lot of challenges when it comes to trying to implement those rigorous standards and in trying to determine what victims needs are and what types of services are most effective in serving crime victims of different types. There have been large studies out there, there have been a few randomized experiments, but there’s also been a lot of good quantitative and qualitative work that has assessed the large scale surveys assessing the prevalence of victimization experiences. Also statewide surveys analyzing the needs of underserved populations. And so we wanted to make sure that we considered all different types of research evidence, as well as the qualitative studies that give that rich, detailed context to victims’ actual experiences. I think that the system that we developed for assessing and pulling out useful information from research studies of all different types has really been helpful.

Susan Howley: That sounds great. So you’ve already conducted or you’re wrapping up one synthesis and that was on co-victims of homicide. What types of reactions have you had so far?

Marina Duane: We’ve had really great feedback so far. Although it’s at an early stage on when we releasing our products, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with people’s reaction in the field. So first, as we talked about expert reviews, we received really good feedback on our outline showing the depth and the context, which was very much appreciated. Actually, both by practitioners and researchers. And then also we already had our first webinar – which is available on our website, – and lots of people attended, over 200 people attended. A lot of people engaged with us at the end. We received comments, questions. We are already in touch with people through email about potential really specialized sub-topics on the issue. So this gives us reassurance that the approach might have been challenging or labor intensive, but in the end it’s rewarding and it’s something that resonates with people in the field.

Jennifer Yahner: And it’s really helping our team develop our own specialized expertise in different areas that ultimately we hope will help strengthen the Center for Victim Research and our ability to provide technical assistance to service providers with different needs.

Susan Howley: So I like to close with this type of question with all of our guests: looking down the road 5-0 years, where do you see either this type of work going or the kind of impact that this kind of work could have?

Jennifer Yahner: Hopefully, 10 years down the line we’ve synthesized where the field is on a number of different victimization topics and we become the resource that new service providers can turn to when they’re trying to learn about what risk factors and what needs are the victims that I’m seeing experiencing and then what type of services are helpful to helping victims recover from their experiences and become empowered moving forward. Ultimately, building these syntheses is about strengthening the evidence base for victim services and helping us identify where there are gaps in knowledge that need to be filled. So what policy changes need to happen, what additional research studies do we need to do, and where does the service provision field need to expand in terms of serving victims of different needs from different areas.

Marina Duane: I think to add to that, my hope for the future is that more organizations like us, with the method that we’ve created, maybe model this approach. I understand that it can be resource-intensive and time-consuming, but in the end, we know that some studies that use a traditional approach do not always resonate with the field or with practitioners. So we think that looking at practice evidence, combing through national organizations, local service providers, is something that other organizations consider and work with people in the field to incorporate into their research approach and just call it research period.

Jennifer Yahner: As an example, we think about things like cognitive behavioral therapy and the value that that has for victims and just the importance of delivering services that are trauma-informed and both of those examples are things that we didn’t know 40 or 50 years ago. And part of the process of identifying what works and what’s helpful to victims comes about through these syntheses. Service providers are noticing certain things that they’re doing with victims individually that they’re finding helpful. Researchers bring in that larger picture perspective by studying those practices that service providers are engaging in. And then people like the Center for Victim Research come to the table and try and synthesize all of that knowledge that is coming from both the practice side and research side to try and help move the field forward in terms of recognizing what we know and what we still need to learn.

Susan Howley: Wow. This has been so informative and so exciting just to think about finally a new way of really thinking about what is the evidence and how do we build the base. Thank you both, Jennifer and Marina, for being with us today.

Jennifer Yahner: Thank you, Susan, so much.

Marina Duane: Thank you, it’s great to be here.