Change Seeker: Making Institutions Work for People

E-Newsletter for analyzing institutional responses to violence against women

Issue 1

This is the inaugural issue of Change Seeker: Making Institutions Work for People, a bi-annual e-newsletter that features foundations of Institutional Analysis, recent projects, new tools, answers to TA questions, upcoming training events, and interesting applications of Institutional Analysis. We hope this newsletter inspires and supports you to succeed in your system reform efforts! Send feedback to:


Institutional Analysis: Methods of Constructive Engagement for Institutional Reform
Community Spotlight: Kansas City, Missouri
New Tools
A Guide to Assessing Child Protection Response to Cases Involving Domestic Violence
New material added to Logistics Guide for Institutional Analysis Coordinators
Concrete outcomes of Safety & Accountability Audits
Improved Domestic Violence Best Practice Assessment Guide
Dear Praxis: Elected Official on Audit Team?
Distinctive Applications
Race disparity in Michigan’s Child Welfare System
Understanding the needs of victims of sexual assault in the Deaf Community
An action tool to build safer neighborhoods, schools, etc.

Institutional Analysis: Methods of Constructive Engagement for Institutional ReformTTA newsletter Summer 2016 reform

Praxis guides communities in the use of Institutional Analysis (IA) methods to engage in system reform on behalf of survivors of violence against women. By focusing on how workers are organized to act on cases, IA uncovers how complex institutions and systems either meet the needs of or produce negative outcomes in the lives of real, everyday people. Teams of advocates, community members, and agency representatives talk with survivors about their experiences with a system, talk with and observe people at work, map out the steps involved in processing cases, and review policies, forms, and case records. The process produces a road map for institutional changes that will enhance safety and well-being for survivors and accountability of offenders.

Many IA tools have been developed to support communities to do this on their own (see also our interactive map that highlights a sampling of communities that have used Institutional Analysis):

Praxis Safety and Accountability Audit

Analysis focused on criminal & civil legal system’s response to violence against women.


Practice Assessment

Analysis focused on checklists of best practices and approaches for a particular point of intervention.

Tools include:

Blueprint for Safety

Comprehensive assessment of the criminal legal system’s response to domestic violence that results in the adaptation, implementation, and ongoing monitoring of model policies.

Developed and piloted in St. Paul, MN

OVW-funded Demonstration Sites

  • Duluth, MN
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Shelby County, TN

Recently OVW-funded Blueprint communities: 

  • Richmond, KY
  • Marquette County, MI
  • Midland County, MI

Some additional communities adapting the Blueprint:

  • Blue Earth County, MN
  • Winona, MN
  • Rice County, MN
  • Northwest Hennepin County, MN
  • Marin County, CA
Distinctive Applications

Analysis in settings such as foster care and human service organizations.

Examples include: 

*Communities refer to the process in ways that best fit their project; common names have included: Safety and Accountability Audit, Safety Audit, Community Safety Audit Community Assessment, and Community Safety Assessment.

Spotlight: Kansas City, Missouri’s Community Safety Assessment

After attending the Praxis Community Assessment Institute in 2010, Rose Brooks Domestic Violence Center enlisted the support of key leaders to conduct a community assessment, including the mayor, police chief, and county prosecutor. After securing funding from the Office on Violence Against Women, Improving Criminal Justice Responses Grant Program, Rose Brooks hired staff, stakeholders signed a memorandum of understanding, and team members were selected. In 2013, the Kansas City, Missouri Community Safety Assessment began. IATA Kansas CityUnionStation

Over the next two years, team members explored how Kansas City’s criminal justice system accounts for victim safety and offender accountability in the investigation of criminal domestic violence cases. The team collected data, through focus groups, interviews, observations, and text analysis, from these agencies:

  • Kansas City Missouri Police Department
  • Jackson County Circuit Court
  • Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Missouri Division of Probation and Parole
  • Kansas City Municipal Court – Probation Division
  • Kansas City Municipal Prosecutor’s Office
  • Legal Aid of Western Missouri
  • Resource Development Institute 
  • Synergy Services
  • Rose Brooks Center

Immediate successes were achieved during the process:

…we accomplished an incredible amount by having the right people around the table while discussing systemic concerns. When issues arose that were urgent, or so simple to correct that waiting for a report to come out didn’t make sense, Assessment Team members addressed them immediately.

The multi-agency effort resulted in a road map for improving the Kansas City investigation of domestic violence cases. Annie Struby, Community Safety Assessment Coordinator from Rose Brooks Center, reported that process formalized the methods and structure for coordinating their inter-agency responses to domestic violence crimes and demonstrated the need to establish a specialized domestic violence response team to be housed within the Kansas City Police Department. The Kansas City team still meets regularly, agencies are actively implementing recommendations from the assessment, and they are about to embark on a new project to examine the charging and bond process.

Read the Kansas City Domestic Violence Community Safety Assessment Report

New Tools!

We’ve been busy developing new tools and resources to support your institutional reform efforts:

Supporting the Safety of Battered Mothers and Their Children Together: A Guide to Assessing Child Protection Practice in Domestic Violence-Related Cases

Praxis International, in partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and The Center for the Study of Social Policy, created a new practice assessment guide for TTA newsletter Summer 2016cps assessment guideadvocates, child protection workers and other stakeholders to collaboratively assess their child protective service response to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child abuse. Find out more about how the guide can help your community explore and answer important questions about your response to battering:

  • Do we know when battering is a factor in child maltreatment cases and the impact on the child and mother?
  • What do we know about her strategies to protect her children? Does our intervention enhance or diminish her capacity to protect her children?
  • Does our intervention increase or decrease risk of harm from the batterer?
  • Is there more we can do to stop the batterer?
  • Does our intervention contribute to harmful, disparate outcomes for specific groups of people?
  • Does our intervention respect and support the culture of children and their mothers, yet still hold the batterer accountable?

New material has been added to our online Logistics Guide for IA project coordinators:

Three ways to clarify your inquiry

Imagine your community has learned from community-based advocates and survivors that probation response to cases involving sexual assault has been failing to hold offender’s accountable. You decide to conduct a Safety and Accountability Audit to find out ways to reform the way the work of probation officers is structured in order to improve accountability. In this Audit, you would necessarily have an open-ended discussion with a probation officer about the work she does to process sexual assault cases. The ground you cover could be vast, from how little funding her division gets for drug monitoring and victim outreach, to the limitations of the databases available to her when writing pre-sentence investigations, to the difficulty she has getting regular progress reports from all the different sex offender programs.

These threads will be compelling. But your project could become vast in scope and quickly outgrow your budget and time frame, if you follow every interesting trail. Here’s how to keep your Audit project focused: 3 ways to Refine the Inquiry: Your Audit Scope, Focus, and Question

What’s a site book and why do we need it? 

Your team members should do a little homework before starting interviews and observations to familiarize themselves with the context of the case processing steps they will examine. Perhaps more importantly, doing a little background reading will help team members make the most of the short time they have with the practitioners who have agreed to take time out of their busy schedules to answer questions or be observed.  Read more about what a site book should contain and how to use it: Audit Team Site Books: Purpose and Contents

Concrete Changes from Safety & Accountability Audits Conducted Across the U.S.

One of the benefits of using Institutional Analysis and related tools is that you end up with a road map for changing system responses to enhance victim safety and offender accountability. But what happens after the project is completed? A road map is only good if someone follows it! This year we surveyed communities that used the process to examine their response to violence against women, conducted follow-up interviews and reviewed their final reports to gather information about the impact the process had in their communities. We gathered information from 28 projects and found that recommendations do not just sit on a shelf. Read about the concrete changes Safety & Accountability Audits and Practice Assessment have had in these communities.

Updated Domestic Violence Best Practice Assessment Guides

We’ve spruced up our Domestic Violence Best Practice Assessment Guides – Take a look!

Dear Praxis: Elected Official on Audit Team?

We provide individual consultation to you as you prepare for, plan, and conduct your community assessment. Email to learn more.

TTA newsletter Summer 2016dear praxisDear Praxis,

I have a question to run by you. We are charging ahead in our assessment, and it has been suggested that a certain elected official take a place as a team member. The person really understands domestic violence, worked with domestic violence victims prior to being elected, and currently teaches a family violence class.

I would like to have the official on the team if appropriate, but I’m wondering what your thoughts are. We are looking at initial prosecution stages and court appearances; this official has been involved in these processes. I can see that this person’s presence on the team might stifle some of the conversation. However, there would also be some advantages to having this person on the team – we need buy-in from judges and this official might be able to help with that.

I wondered if you’ve dealt with this in other communities and what you thought. Thanks in advance!

Audit Coordinator.

Praxis Response

Dear Audit Coordinator,

My short answer is that most of the time, adding a team member with a high-visibility position like a judge or sheriff does stifle open conversation, even if that person is well-liked. Later, you hear things like, “Well, I didn’t want to say that in front of the sheriff,” or “The judge explained they have to do things that way in court, so there was no need for me to say anything.” If you have the option, we would recommend considering some sort of partial involvement in the project rather than engaging this type of community leader directly on your team. For example, considering inviting their involvement as:

  • An advisor – someone who is not part of collecting data or participating in team meetings, but as someone with whom you discuss broad themes that arise. The official may help point your team in the direction of additional information, or he or she may give your efforts an historical systemic perspective, or the official may wish to review your final report.
  • As a team member or participant in team meetings on aspects of your assessment that are not related to the official’s work. For example, if a team were focusing on victim services, or on 911, a judge would not be as influential a power in a discussion as he or she would be if you were focusing on court matters.
  • As an interview and observation subject. In a court-focused assessment the team got input from judges by interviewing all judges, and doing “sit-alongs” with judges; that is, they didn’t sit in the back of the courtroom to observe judges – they sat behind the bench with the judge during court to have the same experience he or she was having. Judges were then invited to review and provide input into drafts of the final report before it was completed.

If you feel strongly that you’ve got a great elected official, and a great situation into which to invite him or her as a full-on team member, my second suggestion is that you explore whether their involvement will stifle team members. If you know it will stifle even one team member, don’t do it. If you don’t know if it will stifle anyone, ask them first. If you ask them and they don’t think they will feel stifled, ask the elected official for his or her opinion on this, as well. Here are some additional things to keep in mind: 

  • The potential for anyone perceiving the involvement of this official as showing bias, as appearing anti-defense bar, etc.
  • The importance of using a strong, but respectful, stay-on-top-of-it facilitation style instead of passively letting discussion get overtaken by one person, however well-intentioned. The rest of the group will very quickly fall silent to someone they perceive as being more powerful, more of an authority, or more of an expert than they are.
  • If you choose to involve an elected official, consider ahead of time the potential for becoming sensitive or defensive about particular kinds of cases. Much like any criminal justice leader’s reaction to a newspaper’s discussion of “what went wrong” when a homicide occurs, these leaders may be sensitive to cases that some may feel were treated leniently, were not handled expeditiously, etc. It would be good to talk to the official about the potential for this sort of dynamic ahead of time and about the importance of team members speaking freely.
  • Be vigilant in the details of your process to maintain an even playing field for all team members. Try to meet somewhere less formal. Using a judge as an example, talk to the judge ahead of time about “taking off the judge hat” during team meetings so that it’s clear everyone feels equally comfortable in speaking – whether it’s the judge insisting on first names for the purpose of this meeting, or some other social mechanism.


Praxis Institutional Analysis Team

Distinctive Applications

  • Understanding the Needs of the Victims of Sexual Assault in the Deaf Community: This study examines the perceptions of Deaf and hearing service providers who assist Deaf individuals with the aftermath of sexual victimization and who individuals in the Deaf community tell about their experiences of sexual assault, including identifying service gaps for the Deaf community and what law enforcement can do to be a more effective resource.

[September 2016]