Spotlight  |  Victims

InfoNet: Putting data to work

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InfoNet is a unique data collection system that has given Illinois the ability to maximize and enhance victim services for nearly 20 years.

Designed by the Authority in 1996 in collaboration with Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) and the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV), InfoNet gives the coalitions, grant program administrators, and service providers access to a wealth of information that can be used to improve victim services across the state.

The web-based system allows users to collect demographic information, report on services provided to victims of domestic and sexual violence, and produce standardized program and funding reports. InfoNet also helps facilitate continuous strategic planning at state and local levels that supports effective resource allocation and improves services. Last year, the Authority provided InfoNet service to 67 domestic violence programs, 34 sexual assault centers, and eight child advocacy centers across Illinois.

“InfoNet is the Authority at its very best,” said John Maki, Authority Executive Director. “It exemplifies how data collection can inform policy and improve public safety outcomes.”

State & local InfoNet data uses

  • Strategic planning.
  • Identifying service gaps geographically and within sub-populations.
  • Monitoring trends in clients served and services provided.
  • Targeting limited resources more effectively and efficiently.
  • Evaluating policies and practices.
  • Improving service strategies.
  • Assessing impact of efforts.
  • Learning more about the extent and nature of domestic and sexual violence within geographical service areas and subpopulations.
  • Lobbying for improved responses to victims from other system components, such as law enforcement, prosecution, social services, schools, and health care providers.

Development

Victim data collection in Illinois has come a long way from old reporting methods of counting files and tally marks.

With an increase in grant resources becoming available for victim services in the mid-90s, the Authority sought to identify emerging trends, service gaps, and populations in need.

Anecdotal information was collected from experts across all regions of the state on specific victims program and service needs and staff set out to pair that information with meaningful statistics. When the scarcity of data became apparent, the Authority partnered with the coalitions to create a system that would improve victim service data collection.

An Access database was first developed, shared with providers, and collected individually. Three years later, the Authority Board and the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime, the federal agency that disburses Victims of Crime Act funding to the states, awarded a grant to the Authority to develop and implement a web-based, statewide data collection system for victim service providers.

The relationship between the coalitions and the Authority in system development helped engage direct service providers, said Vickie Smith, director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“The information collected gives the providers ability to analyze what they are doing,” Smith said. “Are they using the best resources? What trends are they seeing? What do their clients need? How is staff time being managed? All of those things help not-for-profits operate efficiently and effectively, and that’s how we built the system.”

Illinois was the first state in the country to build and maintain its own web-based data collection and reporting system for victim services providers and it remains one of only two states with such a system (joined by Washington). InfoNet exemplifies the Authority’s mission to bring together key leaders within the justice system and the public to identify critical criminal justice issues in Illinois and propose and evaluate policies, programs, and legislation that address those issues.

Partnership

Strong, longstanding partnerships between public, private, state and local entities have been key to the system’s success. The InfoNet partnership has grown to include the Illinois Department of Human Services and Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois. InfoNet is operated and managed by the Authority and system use and requirements are collaboratively governed by the partners. Organizations across Illinois have worked together to avoid data duplication and redundancy in analysis and planning efforts. Collaboratively, they develop system data standards and share information to identify the most effective service strategies across communities and populations.

The Authority uses InfoNet data to monitor grantee performance and manage funding priorities. Local service providers use the data to support program planning and to effectively manage limited resources.

“Through years of communication and cooperation, we have come to know about each other’s challenges and solve problems together,” ICASA Assistant Director Carol Corgan said of the partnership. “Victims have benefited from the resulting improvements in system-side changes that help us minimize trauma and pursue justice.”

Victim impact

Using unique identifiers to protect victims’ identities, service providers enter the types of victimization or presenting issues, the severity of abuse, and victim interactions with court and health care systems. Basic demographics, gender identity and sexual orientation, employment, education level, and special needs of the victim also are entered. Offender information, including involvement with the criminal justice system, is added to a client’s record, creating a history of services and events.

Users say that more victims are receiving services tailored to their unique needs due to data-informed service planning. The coalitions say the data allows them to identify training needed by service providers to address victim population trends.

Jurisdictional arrest and conviction data may offer a limited picture of victimization and system response with instances of unreported crime and victims’ decisions not to pursue a court case. The U.S. Center for Disease Control in 2010 estimated that about 3 million Illinois residents were victims of intimate partner violence in and more than 2.5 million were victims of sexual violence during their lifetimes.

“If you haven’t been a victim yourself, the likelihood that someone you know has been victimized is high,” said Authority InfoNet Manager Jennifer Hiselman. “Illinois citizens can take comfort in knowing that not only does InfoNet help improve services and communicate the availability of services that they or their loved ones may need, but it also helps funding agencies more efficiently and effectively allocate public resources devoted to these efforts.”

Justice system impact

ICADV and ICASA have used InfoNet to successfully lobby for policies that improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic and sexual violence. While service providers may spend hours with law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges detailing victims’ needs and systemic issues, InfoNet offers more leverage in influencing policy change with data to back up their testimony.

InfoNet data also provides an indicator of the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in Illinois. While police reporting, arrests and convictions for domestic or sexual crimes to police may rise or fall statistically, the criminal justice community can get a clearer picture of the actual prevalence of these crimes in the numbers of victims who have received services to address them. In representing victims who may never come to the attention of police, these numbers offer another vantage point.

The system is becoming even more useful as federal grant program administrators, including the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime, make data collection a requirement for funding.

“My colleagues around the country have had significant anxiety because they don’t collect data,” Smith said. “We’re not in that position. And I believe because we do have good, reliable information we’ve been able to sustain less dramatic cuts than other sectors that rely on government funding.”

As program administrator for the Victims of Crime and the Violence Against Women acts, the Authority relies on the InfoNet to support data-driven decision-making and target grant funding to effective programs. The system has been adapted over the years with input from providers to collect what should be counted and make the data meaningful. The Authority will soon partner with a vendor for a system update that will improve performance while allowing upgrades to the system as new and changing needs arise. The Authority also is exploring broadening InfoNet’s user base to give system access to law enforcement- and prosecution-based victim service providers.


Cristin Evans

Cristin Evans first joined the Authority as a technical editor in 1998. As the agency’s public information officer, Cristin coordinates communication between the Authority and criminal justice practitioners, policymakers, and members of the public. Prior to joining the Authority, Cristin was a journalist with the Downers Grove Reporter and the Daily Herald. She is a member of the Riverside School District 96 Wellness Committee and Riverside Junior Women’s Charity. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago.