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Identifying the Needs of Public Safety Agencies

Identifying the needs of criminal justice practitioners and agencies plays a critical role in how NIJ sets its agenda.

Key Components of NIJ’s Needs Identification Process

A need is a capability gap. The process that NIJ uses to identify needs has evolved over time as NIJ seeks more effective and efficient ways to accomplish its mission. NIJ’s older model for identifying criminal justice needs focused on closing capability gaps in specific technologies such as surveillance systems, e.g., the need for a technology to provide a noninvasive, assured method to monitor an individual’s substance abuse continuously. NIJ’s current model for identifying the needs of law enforcement, courts, and corrections agencies focuses on closing operational capability gaps. An operational capability gap is where a criminal justice practitioner or agency has an operational requirement that they cannot achieve. Sometimes, a new, improved, or repurposed technology or technology-related knowledge could bridge or help bridge that gap, e.g., the ability to notify individuals in a court building during emergencies.

The core activity of this model is a process to elicit actionable findings. That is, to identify needs related to police, courts, or corrections operations with enough specificity for NIJ to construct projects to address them. See for example, Fostering Innovation in the U.S. Court System: Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for Improving Court Operations and Outcomes.

This process includes activities not only to examine current needs, but also to determine future needs in these sectors. See for example, Visions of Law Enforcement Technology in the Period 2024-2034: Report of the Law Enforcement Future Workshop.

The process also involves topical examinations in more narrowly focused areas. These examinations involve individuals with subject matter expertise in a particular topic area and provide “deeper dives” into needs identified at the sector level. See, for example, Digital Evidence and the U.S. Criminal Justice System: Identifying Technology and Other needs to More Effectively Acquire and Utilize Digital Evidence.


The foundation of NIJ’s process is the practitioner. Practitioners provide unique insights into how technology can address the challenges of crime and justice, insights derived from their intimate grasp of those challenges and developed over years of dealing with them on a daily basis.    

However, participants are not limited to criminal justice practitioners. They include an array of stakeholders involved in relevant communities of practice – law enforcement, courts, or corrections – such as researchers, technologists, advocacy organizations, and manufacturers. To broaden participation in the process, online interactive tools are being developed to allow users to re-prioritize the needs based on their own views of the importance of different goals. See, for example, The Corrections Innovations Needs Tool.

Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative

NIJ’s process is currently carried out through the RAND Corporation’s Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative, which is supported through a cooperative agreement awarded by NIJ. RAND is partnered with the Police Executive Research Forum, RTI International, and the University of Denver in this effort. 

Learn more about how NIJ identifies high-priority criminal justice technology needs.

Date Published: July 30, 2019