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Ask the analysts: what’s it like to work with criminal justice system data in 2023?

Insights Perspective


 

Violette Gadenne, Research Lead | Patrick Olajide, Analyst


Wednesday 5 July 2023



At Crest, we know first hand just how important analysts are, having worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of them over the years. We also know that working with data about the criminal justice system (CJS) can be as rewarding as it is challenging. So, with the generous support of the Hadley Trust, we set up and developed the Crime and Justice Analyst Network (CAJAN), a community for analysts to develop best practice, share lessons learned and build connections with other analysts from across the CJS. With the network approaching its second year, we decided to do a ‘temperature check’ of CJS analysts to see how our growing community could continue to best serve their needs.


So, what’s it like to be an analyst working in the CJS?


In April 2023, we launched a survey targeted at analysts in the CJS, including members of CAJAN. From the 50 responses we received a number of interesting themes emerged, though the insights shouldn’t be seen as representative of the thousands of analysts working across the CJS.


We asked participants to tell us what motivated them to become analysts. As it turns out, it wasn’t just out of a love of data and evidence. They also wanted to make a difference - with over half saying they were motivated by a desire for new challenges and/or the potential for impact.


They told us they liked building the evidence base behind ‘what works’ to reduce crime, communicating the evidence to help inform decision-making and finding evidence-based solutions to issues. Analysts can clearly see the value in ‘crunching numbers’ to make an impact on CJS performance as a whole:


“Using my skills to help safeguard victims and detain offenders”

“Making complex information easy to use for others”

“Getting to the root of what data is [sic] telling you and turning this into positive service change”

But it was clear they also face significant barriers to meeting their objective to make a difference:

  • Data: When you want to make a difference through the good use of data, it’s only natural that data-related issues are frustrating. Here, the quality of the data collected, the accessibility of data and having the right skills and tools to analyse data repeatedly came up.

  • Collaboration: More surprising, analysts said their work was not always taken seriously by colleagues and not taken into account in decision-making; some people misunderstood their role as analysts. This raises the question: could the role of analysts be better explained, so there can be more productive collaboration in the CJS?

  • Workload and pressures: Analysts said they faced growing workloads and time-pressures, combined with extra responsibilities and reduced capacity in their teams. They were also frustrated about opportunities for career development and progression.


Most of the analysts we surveyed said they were only “somewhat satisfied” with their role. That’s an important finding because staff satisfaction levels are linked to retention and performance. With a workforce of analysts highly motivated to make a positive impact, it seems like the criminal justice system might be missing a trick by not empowering them to do so.


What do analysts think are the key issues facing the CJS?


We saw a connection between analysts’ day to day frustrations and what they saw as the key challenges facing the CJS. Issues with data, collaboration, workload and time pressures came up again. Analysts linked these to funding cuts, staffing problems and high levels of turnover as well as changing patterns of crime and developments in policy and legislation.


What we found interesting is how many analysts also referred to some of the wider problems facing the CJS, such as the backlog of cases in the courts, falling levels of public trust in the system and overall performance. These issues have been in the headlines so that may have influenced their responses.


But it’s not all doom and gloom. Most analysts in our sample saw opportunities for the CJS to address the challenges and improve performance by:

  • Harnessing the power of new technologies, as a way to increase digital and data capabilities.

  • Better collaboration within and across teams and partners, to improve data sharing and understanding of issues in the CJS.

  • Using data to make a positive impact and improve performance, with a sense that this would ultimately improve public perceptions.

  • A wider focus shift towards innovation, specific types of crime and enhanced community engagement.


Analysts suggested their desire to make a difference by using their specific skills could help address these challenges and opportunities. They saw themselves as the ones to deliver the hard (evidence-based) truths about what works and what doesn’t work - and the ones to come up with solutions. Analysts said they wanted to play a role in helping teams and agencies work better together, manage change and understand the evidence they brought to the table:


“We are a point of consistency in an increasingly short-on-experience police workforce”

“The analyst role can be key to coordinating the local response and developing local data-sharing arrangements.”

“Highlighting poor data quality, working with providers to help improve the quality of data submitted and not sitting behind a desk all day number crunching (actually getting out there and talking to people).”

Analysts see the impact their use of data could have. We see the value too. We want CAJAN to help bring analysts together, develop their skills and share experiences to drive forward change across the criminal justice system.


How well does CAJAN cater to the needs of CJS analysts?


Our network has grown from 45 members in September 2022 to 140+ in June 2023 - and we’re still expanding. From our survey we learned that CAJAN has:


  • Achieved high levels of satisfaction among analysts: The vast majority were satisfied with the sessions they’d attended; most felt the content was relevant and engaging.

  • Delivered on learning and development: Analysts told us that by engaging with CAJAN they’d enhanced their expertise and/or knowledge, particularly on specific areas relevant to the CJS and the use of innovative methods for analysis.

  • Provided good opportunities for networking: Crucially, the network has given analysts access to a new community of people working in similar roles or on relevant topics. Most had met other analysts through the network and said they were now interacting with other analysts more frequently.

  • Benefitted from being analyst-led: Our steering group, formed of CAJAN members who are analysts themselves, has played a key role in promoting CAJAN and driving forward the network’s development as a place where analysts can develop their skills as well as build a community.


From the feedback, it's clear that analysts have found value in joining CAJAN and are enjoying our inclusive, bottom-up approach where they can set the agenda for the network.


What’s next?


When it comes to analysts not engaging with CAJAN, they told us about a lack of awareness about the network and a lack of time to get involved - which links back to the time pressures and increasing workloads they told us they face in their day-to-day roles. We want to try to address these in our second year, so we can better support analysts to drive change. To achieve this we’ve set ourselves three key goals:


1. Continue our focus on learning and development


We want to deliver sessions to build up analysts’ specific skill sets, particularly around improving data quality and accessing and sharing data, to help them maximise the impact of their work.


2. Grow our numbers


Raising awareness about CAJAN is a priority for us. We aim to hit a point of ‘critical mass’ in the next year, where the network is large enough to continue attracting new analysts organically. A bigger group of active members who could share the network’s responsibilities might feel like less of a commitment. We’re also aiming to connect with senior leaders and other networks in the CJS to explore where there might be opportunities to collaborate.


3. Strengthen interactions - within and outside CAJAN


We want to set up an online community to help analysts informally connect and support each other and to act as a repository of all CAJAN resources. We think this will help time-poor analysts to engage with the network as and when they can.


The survey has shown us that analysts want to make an impact and we believe CAJAN is a way to help them do so. But there is still work to do. As we move into our second year, we’re excited to continue supporting analysts as they continue driving the CJS forward.


How can you get involved?



If you want more information about who we are and what we do at CAJAN, visit our social media, project page, or email us at cjanalystnetwork@gmail.com.


Analysts: We’re a friendly and welcoming group, and always keen to grow the network! If you are interested in joining the Crime and Justice Analysts Network, you can sign up here.


CJS leaders/ experts: Your insights, input and expertise are incredibly valuable to us. If you have any thoughts, would like to hear more or are keen to get involved, please do email us at cjanalystnetwork@gmail.com

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