Using Evidence-based Practices Helps Make Better Decisions, Save Money

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evidence-based practice: Magnifying glass and documents with analytics data lying on table


Many people assume that implementing evidence-based practices requires buying a costly treatment program. Though that’s one option, there are lots of ways a community can do this.

An evidence-based program and practice (EBPP) is any process, decision or treatment based on research findings. The process we have developed in Colorado relies on aggregated data and systematic analysis to better understand the target populations’ needs and what works in intervening, treating or improving their specific problems or issues.

evidence-based practice: Meg Williams (headshot), manages Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance at Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, smiling woman with short brown hair, long earrings, pink top

Meg Williams

Using the Colorado EBPP could benefit a community and agency by supporting them in using their data to inform practice. Data provides objective information about the needs, processes, demographics and outcomes of the population. Reviewing and understanding the needs of youth and families through the data eliminates guessing.

While anecdotal information serves a purpose, relying on data allows for improved analysis into the size, scope and depth of the problem, with the data guiding the program choices and agencies tailoring programs to individual communities and specific needs. Rather than the state mandating a specific program, data-driven decision-making allows for each community and agency to address the needs and resources specific to their populations.

Circular process

evidence-based practice: Ailala Kay (headshot), director of learning and development at OMNI Institute, smiling blonde woman in purple top

Ailala Kay

The first step is to identify data sources, then to determine what information may be most useful in implementing services or changing processes. By reviewing outcome data, a group can assess the effectiveness of existing programs, treatments and practices and determine whether change is warranted. With an understanding of the needs, the stakeholders link these data to existing evidence-based interventions that target the needs identified through a process of data interpretation.

For the EBPP process, one does not have to make major changes or implement costly treatments. Using data to inform policies and practices increases the confidence that the solution clients receive targets their specific needs and has been demonstrated to improve this same problem in similar clients.

For more information on Evidence-Based Practices, go to JJIE Resource Hub | Evidence-Based Practices

Using data to inform and select an evidence-based program for the juvenile justice population goes beyond just looking at data and making a decision. It is a circular process by which the data informs program selections, and then the program selections are continually evaluated by reviewing the data. The hope is that this process will help guide groups in making decisions about their community, based on research and evidence-supported best practices.

Better coordination

Here’s how it played out in Colorado: The state Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Council, which serves as the state advisory group, and the Division of Criminal Justice’s Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance focus on the needs of communities and local agencies related to addressing juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. One Council priority was wanting to see an uptick in systems’ coordination through institutionalized, data-driven and cross-disciplinary processes across the state. This better ensures that all systems involved in an issue are looking at the same holistic data, ultimately identifying a common purpose/solution.

Key to this is the ability of systems’ professionals to understand and therefore use data more effectively, from problem identification through evaluation of efforts undertaken to address the problem. To that end, the Council created an Evidence-based Programs and Practices (EBPP) Committee whose goal was to develop a statewide system that supports well-implemented EBPP matched to need at the state and local/community level focused on at-risk and system-involved youth.

The committee has been working with the OMNI Institute to develop an EBPP process that supports local communities to conduct a multidisciplinary and collaborative planning process that begins with data collection and ends with selection of an EBPP that will address their defined need (supported by data). The process was developed and piloted with local Colorado communities to support them in developing their own comprehensive communitywide data EBPP plan.

The pilot results showed communities developed increased capacity to identify their local issues through data, scan the resources already in place so as not to duplicate services and prioritize the issues and the target populations for services to ensure maximum positive community change and impact from the funding.

Meg Williams manages the Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance at the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. She has 30 -plus years’ experience in working on adult and juvenile justice issues and serves as the designated juvenile justice specialist for the state of Colorado.

Ailala Kay is a director of learning and development at OMNI Institute, a nonprofit social science agency that supports nonprofits, foundations and government agencies . Ailala oversees the evidence-based programs and practices projects on behalf of the Colorado Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention EBPP committee and has 20-plus years’ experience working with coalitions, organizations, nonprofit and state agencies in capacity building.

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