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People Power: Enacting Sustainable Data Governance

10.11.19

This spring, I published a blog about the importance of data governance in higher education institutions. In the summer, a second blog covered implementing baseline principles for data governance. With fall upon us, it is time to transition to discussing three critical steps to create a data governance culture. 

1.    Understand the people side of change.

The culture of any organization begins and ends with its people. As you know, people are notoriously finicky when it comes to change (especially change like data governance initiatives that may alter the way we have to understand or interact with institutional data). I recommend that any higher education institution apply a change management methodology (e.g., Prosci®, Lewin’s Change Management Model) in order to gauge the awareness of, the desire for, and the practical realities of this change. If you apply your chosen methodology in an effective and consistent manner, change management will help you increase buy-in and break down resistance. 

2.    Identify and empower the right people for the right roles.

Higher education institutions often focus on data governance processes and technologies. While this is necessary, you can’t overlook the people part of data governance. In fact, you can argue it is the most important part, because without people, there will be no one to follow the processes you create or use the technologies you implement. 

To find the right people, you need to identify and establish three specific roles for your institution: data trustees, data stewards, and data managers. Once you have organized these roles and responsibilities, data governance becomes easier to manage. Some definitions:

Data trustees (the sponsors) – senior leadership (or designees) who oversee data policy, planning, and management. Their responsibilities include: 

  • Promoting data governance 
  • Approving and updating data policies​​
  • Assigning and overseeing data stewards
  • Being responsible for data governance

Data stewards (the owners) – directors, managers, associate deans, or associate vice presidents who manage one or more data types. Their responsibilities include:

  • Applying and overseeing data governance policies in their functional areas
  • Following legal requirements pertaining to data in their functional areas
  • Classifying data and identifying data safeguards
  • Being accountable for data governance

Data managers (the caretakers) – data system managers, senior data analysts, or functional users (registrar, financial aid, human resources, etc.) who perform day-to-day data collection and management operations. Their responsibilities include:

  • Implementing data governance policies in their functional areas
  • Resolving data issues in their functional areas 
  • Provide training and appropriate documentation to data users
  • Being informed and consulted about data governance

3.    Be consistent and hold people accountable.

Ultimately, your data governance team needs accountability in order to thrive. Therefore, it is up to data trustees, data stewards, and data managers to hold regular meetings, take and distribute meeting notes, and identify and follow up on meeting action items. Without this follow through, data governance initiatives will likely stall or stop altogether. 

More information on data governance 

Are you still curious about additional guiding principles of data governance in higher education? Please contact the team
 

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Read this if you are an Institutional Research (IR) Director, a Registrar, or are in the C-Suite.

In my last blog, I defined the what and the why of data governance, and outlined the value of data governance in higher education environments. I also asserted data isn’t the problem―the real culprit is our handling of the data (or rather, our deferral of data responsibility to others).

While I remain convinced that data isn’t the problem, recent experiences in the field have confirmed the fact that data governance is problematic. So much, in fact, that I believe data governance defies a “solid,” point-in-time solution. Discouraged? Don’t be. Just recalibrate your expectations, and pursue an adaptive strategy.

This starts with developing data governance guiding principles, with three initial points to consider: 

  1. Key stakeholders should develop your institution’s guiding principles. The team should include representatives from areas such as the office of the Registrar, Human Resources, Institutional Research, and other significant producers and consumers of institutional data. 
  2. The focus of your guiding principles must be on the strategic outcomes your institution is trying to achieve, and the information needed for data-driven decision-making.
  3. Specific guiding principles will vary from institution to institution; effective data governance requires both structure and flexibility.

Here are some baseline principles your institution may want to adopt and modify to suit your particular needs.

  • Data governance entails iterative processes, attention to measures and metrics, and ongoing effort. The institution’s governance framework should be transparent, practical, and agile. This ensures that governance is seen as beneficial to data management and not an impediment.
  • Governance is an enabler. The institution’s work should help accomplish objectives and solve problems aligned with strategic priorities.
  • Work with the big picture in mind. Start from the vantage point that data is an institutional asset. Without an institutional asset mentality it’s difficult to break down the silos that make data valuable to the organization.
  • The institution should identify data trustees and stewards that will lead the data governance efforts at your institution
    • Data trustees should have responsibility over data, and have the highest level of responsibility for custodianship of data.
    • Data stewards should act on behalf of data trustees, and be accountable for managing and maintaining data.
  • Data quality needs to be baked into the governance process. The institution should build data quality into every step of capture and entry. This will increase user confidence that there is data integrity. The institution should develop working agreements for sharing and accessing data across organizational lines. The institution should strive for processes and documentation that is consistent, manageable, and effective. This helps projects run smoothly, with consistent results every time.
  • The institution should pay attention to building security into the data usage cycle. An institution’s security measures and practices need to be inherent in the day-to-day management of data, and balanced with the working agreements mentioned above. This keeps data secure and protected for the entire organization.
  •  Agreed upon rules and guidelines should be developed to support a data governance structure and decision-making. The institution should define and use pragmatic approaches and practical plans that reward sustainability and collaboration, building a successful roadmap for the future. 

Next Steps

Are you curious about additional guiding principles? Contact me. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for a future blog that digs deeper into the roles of data trustees and stewards.
 

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Governance: It's good for your data

“The world is one big data problem,” says MIT scientist and visionary Andrew McAfee.

That’s a daunting (though hardly surprising) quote for many in data-rich sectors, including higher education. Yet blaming data is like blaming air for a malfunctioning wind turbine. Data is a valuable asset that can make your institution move.

To many of us, however, data remains a four-letter word. The real culprit behind the perceived data problem is our handling and perception of data and the role it can play in our success—that is, the relegating of data to a select, responsible few, who are usually separated into hardened silos. For example, a common assumption in higher education is that the IT team can handle it. Not so. Data needs to be viewed as an institutional asset, consumed by many and used by the institution for the strategic purposes of student success, scholarship, and more.

The first step in addressing your “big” data problem? Data governance.

What is data governance?

There are various definitions, but the one we use with our clients is “the ongoing and evolutionary process driven by leaders to establish principles, policies, business rules, and metrics for data sharing.”

Please note that the phrase “IT” does not appear anywhere in this definition.

Why is data governance necessary? For many reasons, including:

  1. Data governance enables analytics. Without data governance, it’s difficult to gain value from analytics initiatives which will produce inconsistent results. A critical first step in any data analytics initiative is to make sure that definitions are widely accepted and standards have been established. This step allows decision makers to have confidence in the data being analyzed to describe, predict, and improve operations.
     
  2. Data governance strengthens privacy, security, and compliance. Compliance requirements for both public and private institutions constantly evolve. The more data-reliant your world becomes, the more protected your data needs to be. If an organization does not implement security practices as part of its data governance framework, it becomes easier to fall out of compliance. 
     
  3. Data governance supports agility. How many times have reports for basic information (part-time faculty or student FTEs per semester, for example) been requested, reviewed, and returned for further clarification or correction? And that’s just within your department! Now add multiple requests from the perspective of different departments, and you’re surely going through multiple iterations to create that report. That takes time and effort. By strengthening your data governance framework, you can streamline reporting processes by increasing the level of trust you have in the information you are seeking. Understanding the value of data governance is the easy part/ The real trick is implementing a sustainable data governance framework that recognizes that data is an institutional asset and not just a four-letter word.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series: The how of data governance in higher education. In the meantime, reach out to me if you would like to discuss additional data governance benefits for your institution.

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Data is a four-letter word. Governance is not.

As a new year is upon us, many people think about “out with the old and in with the new”. For those of us who think about technology, and in particular, blockchain technology, the new year brings with it the realization that blockchain is here to stay (at least in some form). Therefore, higher education leaders need to familiarize themselves with some of the technology’s possible uses, even if they don’t need to grasp the day-to-day operational requirements. Here’s a high-level perspective of blockchain to help you answer some basic questions.

Are blockchain and bitcoin interchangeable terms?

No they aren’t. Bitcoin is an electronic currency that uses blockchain technology, (first developed circa 2008 to record bitcoin transactions). Since 2008, many companies and organizations utilize blockchain technology for a multitude of purposes.

What is a blockchain?

In its simplest terms, a blockchain is a decentralized, digital list (“chain”) of timestamped records (“blocks”) that are connected, secured by cryptography, and updated by participant consensus.

What is cryptography?

Cryptography refers to converting unencrypted information into encrypted information—and vice versa—to both protect data and authenticate users.

What are the pros of using blockchain?

Because blockchain technology is inherently decentralized, you can reduce the need for “middleman” entities (e.g., financial institutions or student clearinghouses). This, in turn, can lower transactional costs and other expenses, and cybersecurity risks—as hackers often like to target large, info-rich, centralized databases.

Decentralization removes central points of failure. In addition, blockchain transactions are generally more secure than other types of transactions, irreversible, and verifiable by the participants. These transaction qualities help prevent fraud, malware attacks, and other risks and issues prevalent today.

What are the cons of using blockchain technology?

Each blockchain transaction requires signature verification and processing, which can be resource-intensive. Furthermore, blockchain technology currently faces strong opposition from certain financial institutions for a variety of reasons. Finally, although blockchains offer a secure platform, they are not impervious to cyberattacks. Blockchain does not guarantee a hacker-proof environment.

How can blockchain benefit higher education institutions?

Blockchain technology can provide higher education institutions with a more secure way of making and recording financial transactions. You can use blockchains to verify and transfer academic credits and certifications, protect student personal identifiable information (PII) while simultaneously allowing students to access and transport their PII, decentralize academic content, and customize learning experiences. At its core, blockchain provides a fresh alternative to traditional methods of identity verification, an ongoing challenge for higher education administration.

As blockchain becomes less of a buzzword and begins to expand beyond the realm of digital currency, colleges and universities need to consider it for common challenges such as identity management, application processing, and student credentialing. If you’d like to discuss the potential benefits blockchain technology provides, please contact me.

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Higher education and blockchain 101: It's not just for bitcoin anymore

The late science fiction writer (and college professor) Isaac Asimov once said: “I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.” Had Asimov worked in higher ed IT management, he might have added: “but above all else, I fear the lack of computer staff.”

Indeed, it can be a challenge for higher education institutions to recruit and retain IT professionals. Private companies often pay more in a good economy, and in certain areas of the nation, open IT positions at colleges and universities outnumber available, qualified IT workers. According to one study from 2016, almost half of higher education IT workers are at risk of leaving the institutions they serve, largely for better opportunities and more supportive workplaces. Understandably, IT leadership fears an uncertain future of vacant roles—yet there are simple tactics that can help you improve the chances of filling open positions.

Emphasize the whole package

You need to leverage your institution’s strengths when recruiting IT talent. A focus on innovation, project leadership, and responsibility for supporting the mission of the institution are important attributes to promote when recruiting. Your institution should sell quality of life, which can be much more attractive than corporate culture. Many candidates are attracted to the energy and activity of college campuses, in addition to the numerous social and recreational outlets colleges provide.

Benefit packages are another strong asset for recruiting top talent. Schools need to ensure potential candidates know the amount of paid leave, retirement, and educational assistance for employees and employee family members. These added perks will pique the interest of many candidates who might otherwise have only looked at salary during the process.

Use the right job title

Some current school vacancies have very specific job titles, such as “Portal Administrator” or “Learning Multimedia Developer.” However, this specificity can limit visibility on popular job posting sites, reducing the number of qualified applicants. Job titles, such as “Web Developer” and “Java Developer,” can yield better search results. Furthermore, some current vacancies include a number or level after the job title (e.g., “System Administrator 2”), which also limits visibility on these sites. By removing these indicators, you can significantly increase the applicant pool.

Focus on service, not just technology

Each year, institutions deploy an increasing number of Software as a Service (SaaS) and hosted applications. As higher education institutions invest more in these applications, they need fewer personnel for day-to-day technology maintenance support. In turn, this allows IT organizations to focus limited resources on services that identify and analyze technology solutions, provide guidance to optimize technology investments, and manage vendor relationships. IT staff with soft skills will become even more valuable to your institution as they engage in more people- and process-centric efforts.

Fill in the future

It may seem like science fiction, but by revising your recruiting and retention tactics, your higher education institution can improve its chances of filling IT positions in a competitive job market. In a future blog, I’ll provide ideas for cultivating staff from your institution via student workers and upcoming graduates. If you’d like to discuss additional staffing tactics, send me an email.

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No science fiction: Tactics for recruiting and retaining higher education IT positions

We humans have a complex attitude toward change. In one sense, we like finding it. For instance: “Now I can buy something from the vending machine!” In reality, we try to avoid change as much as possible. Why? Because it’s frightening. Consider this quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

The key word in that quote is “sudden.” Because the more we prepare for change, the less painful it becomes. One crucial way to prepare for change is to assess how ready we are for something new.

Which brings us to you. The fact you are reading a blog post with the words “Readiness for Enterprise Systems” in its title suggests that you have considered, or are considering, changing your institution’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or other enterprise software, such as LMS, SIS, CRM, etc. This change is no minor adjustment.

Enterprise systems are complex, impacting institutional activities at many levels, from managing student records, finances, and human resources, to enabling student enrollment and registration. Is your institution prepared for transformation across the organization? To find out, assess your institution’s readiness for change. To help illustrate what an assessment might entail, I’ll outline BerryDunn’s method.

Step #1: Understanding Key Indicators for Readiness
When assisting a client to determine readiness, BerryDunn begins engaging stakeholders from across the institution (e.g., staff, faculty, and students) to understand the current environment. This allows us to address seven key indicators for change readiness:

  1. Stakeholder Buy-In. The key to success in changing an ERP platform is for users to understand the value that the change will bring. “Do stakeholders know how the new system will benefit them? Or, from their perspective, ‘What’s in it for me (aka, WIIFM)?’”
  2. Executive Sponsorship. In order to obtain stakeholder buy-in, leaders have to communicate effectively with various parties about change. They will be required to display strong and consistent leadership when stakeholders are faced with challenges with vendors, timing, scope creep, or other issues. “Are leaders prepared to lead the charge? Are they committed to change?”
     
  3. Vendor Ability. Each institution has specific operational needs and programmatic objectives. ERP vendors will highlight their strengths and may de-emphasize weaknesses that may exist in their products. “Are vendors actually able to meet the institution’s functional needs and align their software with strategic objectives?”
     
  4. Business Process Redesign. As mentioned above, it can be a struggle to align operational needs and programmatic objectives with vendor software. It’s even harder to achieve this while ensuring that, in implementing a new ERP system, an institution won’t lose valuable functionality that had been provided by the previous ERP. “Does the client fully understand the impact of a new ERP system on their processes?”
     
  5. Project Management. Proactive project management is critical when changing an ERP system. Project managers need to engage institutional stakeholders, project sponsors, and vendors to keep them apprised of progress. “Are project managers empowered to maintain strong communication with all stakeholders?”
     
  6. Data Governance. Another key indicator of ERP readiness is how well-defined data management is before implementation. ERP replacement projects are jeopardized when institutions don’t understand their data assets, or don’t know what level of data migration is necessary. “Is the institution prepared for data migration?”
     
  7. Software Change Management. As ERP vendors move their products to the cloud, the software they sell will become less customizable, but more configurable. In other words, customers won’t necessarily be able to modify the base software code, but they will have more options in regards to defined fields, workflow, and user interface. Although this sounds limiting, it is actually an opportunity to streamline operations, add discipline to software update timelines, and require organizations to consider how to best complete their administrative functions. It is critical that an institution adapt its software change management practices to meet this reality. “Do the institution’s software change management practices reflect how software is delivered by vendors today?”

Step #2: Establish Agreed-Upon Metrics
Based on our analysis from Step #1, we then score these indicators of readiness based on a maturity scale from 0 – 5, using the following parameters:

0  Non-existent
1  Aware, but not ready to change
2  Aware and open to change, but lack understanding of path forward
3  Accept that change is needed, but clear action plan is not in place
4  Accept that change is imminent and is being planned for
5  Readiness for change has broad understanding, is accepted, and is being executed 

Step #3: Score the Readiness of Your Organization
When you work with a consulting firm to assess your institution’s readiness for change, you should expect tangible takeaways that will inform stakeholders and provide a baseline metric. For example, we prepare a brief report that outlines a score for each of the seven maturity indicators of ERP readiness and provides supporting information for the basis of each score.

Here is an example of a Software Change Management section from a hypothetical ERP Readiness Report:

READINESS INDICATORS

BASIS FOR SCORE

SCORE (0 – 5)

Software Change Management

The University does have an effective software change management methodology, and a standard process for prioritizing requests to its current ERP system. This model may change significantly if a cloud system is chosen, and will require a new approach to configuration and asset management.

3


Finally, based on the weighted aggregate score of the report, BerryDunn determines the institution’s readiness for change, and provides recommendations on how to remediate low scores, and sustain higher scores.

Now for the good news. By setting a baseline early in your readiness planning, the scoring can be revisited over time to measure progress and provide project leadership with a simple, but effective, approach to tracking change management within the organization.

Next Steps
As you can see, implementing a new ERP doesn’t have to be a monstrous experience. You simply need to determine your ERP readiness, and follow a common-sense plan for change management. If you’d like to talk more about this process, send me an email: dhoule@berrydunn.com. I look forward to learning about the great changes your institution has planned.

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Assessing organizational readiness for enterprise systems

Read this if you are a state Medicaid agency, state managed care office, or managed care organization (MCO).

The November 9, 2020 announcement by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) outlines updates to the 2016 Medicaid & Children's Insurance Program (CHIP) Managed Care Final Rule (Final Rule), which present new challenges to state Medicaid and CHIP managed care programs to interpret the latest CMS guidance that attempts to relieve current administrative burdens and federal regulatory barriers.

Although the latest guidance by CMS attempts to provide potential relief to states to administer their managed care programs, states will need to coordinate with federal and state partners to further understand the latest updates to federal regulations that are presented by the updated Final Rule.

By providing relief for current reporting requirements for program costs, provider rates, network adequacy, and encounter data, this latest change by the administration enables state managed care programs to reassess current operations to update and improve their current service delivery. The updated Final Rule continues CMS’ efforts to transition state managed care and CHIP programs from a fee-for-service delivery system, and to urge state Medicaid and CHIP agencies to continue to implement payment models to improve quality, control costs, and promote innovation.  

Impacts on Medicaid managed care operations 

Changes for states to consider that impact their Medicaid managed care operations based on the latest Final Rule include:

  • Coordination of benefits agreements (COBA): States will have the option to leverage different methodologies for crossover claim distribution to managed care plans, and the updated Final Rule indicates that managed care plans do not have to enter into COBA directly with Medicare.
  • Rate setting and ranges, and development practices: CMS provides the option for states to develop and certify a rate range and has provided clarification and different options for rate setting and development practices.
  • Network adequacy: CMS will allow for states to set quantitative network standards, such as provider to enrollee ratios, to account for increases in telehealth providers and to provide flexibilities in rural areas.
  • Provider directory updates: CMS will allow for less than monthly updates to provider directories due to the increased utilization of digital media by enrollees, emphasizing decreased administrative burden and the costs for state managed care plans. This update also indicates that completion of cultural competency training by providers will no longer be required.
  • Provider termination notices: The latest update increases the length of provider termination notice requirements to 30 calendar days (previously 15 calendar days).
  • Member information requirements: The latest update outlines flexibilities for enrollee materials as it relates to font size and formatting.
  • Quality Rating System (QRS): CMS will be developing a QRS framework in which states must align with, but will be able to develop uniquely tailored approaches for their state.
  • External quality review: States that exempt managed care plans from external quality review activities must post this information on their websites for public access on an annual basis.
  • Grievance and appeal clarifications: The latest update provides clarification that the denial of non-clean claims does not require adverse benefit determination notices and procedures; adjustments and clarification to State Fair Hearing enrollee request timeframes to align with recent Medicaid fee-for-service requirements

CHIP to Medicaid regulatory cross-references

CMS clarifies several CHIP to Medicaid regulatory cross-references. These cross-references include the continuation of benefits during State Fair Hearings, changes to encounter data submission requirements, changes to Medicaid Care Advisory Council (MCAC) requirements, grievance and appeals requirements, and program integrity standards.

Changing demand on managed care programs

The November 9 announcement follows a series of efforts by CMS during the past few years to modify the Final Rule in an attempt to help states meet the changing demands on their managed care programs. For the 2016 Final Rule, CMS formed a working group with the National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) and state Medicaid directors to review current managed care regulations. The recommendations from the group led to public comment in November 2018 with state Medicaid and CHIP agencies, advocacy groups, health care providers and associations, health insurers, managed care plans, health care associations, and the general public. As a result of this public comment effort, the latest Final Rule seeks to streamline current managed care regulations.

The new Final Rule announcement comes after a series of efforts by CMS to offer guidance and make changes to their provider payment models, including its recent September 15 letter to state Medicaid directors that further promotes a strategic shift towards value based payments to transform the alignment of quality and cost of care for Medicaid beneficiaries.

The effective date for the new regulations will be 30 days after publication of the new Final Rule in the Federal Register (target date November 13, 2020), except for additions §§ 438.4(c) and 438.6(d)(6) for Medicaid managed care rating setting periods, which are effective July 1, 2021.

If you would like more information or have questions about interpreting the Final Rule for changes to your managed care program, please contact us.

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The 2020 Final Rule—Understanding new flexibilities to control costs and deliver care

The American Public Health Association annual conference’s thematic focus on preventing violence provided an illustration of the extent of the overwhelming demands on state public health agencies right now. Not only do you need to face the daily challenges of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, you also need to address ongoing, complex issues like violence prevention.

The sheer breadth of sessions available at APHA shows the broad scope of public health’s reach and the need for multi-level, multi-sector interventions, all with a shrinking public health workforce. The conference’s sessions painted clear pictures of the critical public health issues our country currently faces, but did not showcase many solutions, perhaps leaving state health agency leaders wondering how to tackle these taxing demands coming from every direction with no end in sight.

BerryDunn has a suggestion: practice organizational self-care! It might seem antithetical to focus maxed-out resources on strengthening systems and infrastructure right now, but state public health agencies have little choice. You have to be healthy yourself in order to effectively protect the public’s health. Organizational health is driven by high-functioning systems, from disease surveillance and case investigation to performance management, and quality improvement to data-informed decision-making.  

State health agencies can use COVID-19 funding to support organizational self-care, prioritizing three areas: workforce, technology, and processes. Leveraging this funding to build organizational capacity can increase human resources, replace legacy data systems, and purchase equipment and supplies. 

  1. Funding new positions with COVID sources can create upward paths for existing staff as well as expanding the workforce
  2. Assessing the current functioning of public health data systems identifies and clarifies gaps that can be addressed by adopting new technology platforms, which can also be done with COVID funding.
  3. Examining the processes used for major functions like surveillance or case investigation can eliminate unproductive steps and introduce efficiencies. 

So what now? Where to start? BerryDunn brings expertise in process analysis and redesign, an accreditation readiness tool, and an approach to data systems planning and procurement―all of which are paths forward toward organizational self-care. 

  1. Process analysis and redesign can be applied to data systems or other areas of focus to prioritize incremental changes. Conduct process redesign on a broad or narrow scale to improve efficiency and effectiveness of your projects. 

  2. Accreditation readiness provides a lens to examine state health agency operations against best practices to focus development in areas with the most significant gaps. Evaluate gaps in your agency’s readiness for Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) review and track every piece of documentation needed to meet PHAB standards.
  3. Data system planning and procurement assistance incorporates process analysis to assess your current system functioning, define your desired future state, and address the gaps, and then find, source, and implement faster, more effective systems. 

Pursuing any of these three paths allows state health agency leaders to engage in organizational self-care in a realistic, productive manner so that the agency can meet the seemingly unceasing demands for public health action now and into the future.

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Three paths to organizational self-care for state public health agency survival

Read this if you have a responsibility for victim notification.

Is your state complying with state and federal victim notification system statutes? How do you know if you are (or aren’t)? The federal government passed the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act in 1990. This act requires all federal law enforcement officers and employees to make their best efforts to accord victims of crime with the right to be notified of offender status changes (i.e., movement from incarceration to the community). All states have similar statutes; many are more prescriptive and specific to each state.

You may be thinking “we have implemented a victim notification system, we’re all set.” To be sure, it’s best practice to ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my state use multiple victim notification systems, possibly one for the Department of Corrections, and others in use for jails, courts, or by the prosecutor’s office?
  • Do victims understand how to register and use the system(s)?
  • If you have multiple systems in use across your state, do victims know they must register in each (assuming that the offender is nomadic)?
  • Are the systems interfacing with the victim notification system to provide real-time updates regarding offender status changes and movements, or is the data reliant on human entry alone?
  • Is there redundancy in your victim notification approach? Are you relying solely on the victim notification system for statutory compliance, or are there other measures in place?
  • Have you defined the term “victim” in your state? How do you distinguish “known victims” from “interested parties”? Are these two groups treated equally in your victim notification systems and processes?

As we have explored these questions with various corrections clients, we’ve found that states address them in unique ways. In many cases, initial information regarding victims is captured on a pad of paper; in some, that information is never transposed into electronic form. Smaller, rural jails are more inclined to manually reach out to victims in their tight-knit communities, while jails in larger jurisdictions may not have the capacity to do so, and rely much more heavily on automation to comply with victim notification requirements. 

Many states use multiple victim notification systems (jails may use one system, while prisons use another), without integrating them to share data about offender movements and victim registrations. This results in a gap of service to victims likely unaware of the ramifications of having multiple, disparate victim notification systems. Many mature victim notification systems have the ability to interface with systems such as offender management systems (typically managed by the state’s department of corrections), jail management systems (typically managed by each county sheriff’s office), prosecution systems, and others. 

These system integrations are critical to reducing redundancy and increasing the timeliness with which both offender and victim data is entered into the victim notification system and used to trigger the notifications themselves.

So how can you assess your processes? The first step is to determine if your state has a problem with, or compliance gap between current practices and victim notification statutes. Here are some steps you can take to assess your situation:

  1. Review the victim notification statutes in your state
  2. Inventory the victim notification systems in use across your state, including any interfaces that may exist with the systems described earlier
  3. Talk to victim advocates to learn more about how they use the systems to augment their efforts
  4. Connect with representatives within your state department of corrections, sheriff’s offices, prosecutors, courts, probation, and other groups that may be providing some level of victim advocacy and learn more about their concerns

If this is all overwhelming, try and take it one step at a time. You can also engage a professional consulting firm that can help you organize and systematically assess the problem, then collaborate with you to develop a plan to close the gaps. 

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact our Justice & Public Safety team. We're here to help. To learn more about other choices in victim notification procedures and systems, stay tuned for our second article in this series, where we explore options for acquiring and implementing a statewide victim notification system.

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Risky business: Multiple jurisdictional Victim Notification Systems