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Human Factors in Forensic Sciences Expert Working Group Series

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)
Original Solicitation

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2017, $292,300)

In recent years, the accuracy of forensic sciences has been the subject of increased study, scrutiny, and commentary in the legal system and the forensic science literature. Human factors analysis can be used to advance our understanding of the true nature of errors in complex work settings. Research in this area has identified factors that contribute to inefficiencies and quantified the effects of human and organizational factors on performance of critical tasks. The forensic science community can benefit from the application of the substantial body of human factors work to reduce the likelihood and consequences of human error in the scientific interpretation of evidence.

To assist the forensic community in this effort, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Office of Law Enforcement Standards partnered to develop a series of expert panels to examine human factors in forensic analyses and develop practices to reduce the likelihood of error based on scientific research.

The inaugural publication in this working group series contained forward looking recommendations that lead to significant changes in the field of latent print examination.  This report documents the working group’s findings and recommendations, addressing issues ranging from the acquisition of impressions of friction ridge skin to courtroom testimony, from laboratory design and equipment to research into emerging methods for associating latent prints with exemplars. It provides a comprehensive discussion of how human factors relate to all aspects of latent print examinations including communicating conclusions to all relevant parties through reports and testimony. The report’s recommendations and process map have since been used as the basis for updated standards and best practices within the field. The process map in particular has been translated in four languages, incorporated in SWGFAST/OSAC documents, and used in agency training modules around the world including the FBI. The second working group focused on handwriting examination is nearing completion and its report has recommendations needed to address critical issues within the field.

This funding will establish new working groups in this groundbreaking series. The next two working groups will address DNA mixture interpretation and toolmark examination. Each discipline-specific working group will be comprised of experts from relevant forensic disciplines, statisticians, psychologists, researchers, and other scientific experts, in addition to representatives from the legal community, professional organizations and other identified stakeholder groups.

Project Objectives

  • Conduct a scientific assessment (as defined by OMB) of the effects of human factors on forensic analyses with the goal of recommending strategies and approaches to improve its practice and reduce the likelihood of errors.
  • Review current practices, processes, and procedures to identify and document where uncertainty and/or variability in practice could occur. (Process Mapping)
  • Evaluate new/emerging methodologies, technologies, and standards based on the ability to achieve expected outcomes; is it:
    1. Realistic: Can it be followed or achieved with existing resources?
    2. Reliable: Does its implementation consistently yield the same result (all factors being equal)?
    3. Valid: Is it based on scientific procedures or methodologies?
    4. Clear: Is it understood in the same way by everyone concerned and not subject to distortion or misinterpretation?
    5. Measurable: Can performance be assessed and quantified?


  • Process Maps – graphical representation of the steps involved in the examination and interpretation processes used to provide a common understanding of the entire process.
  • 4 full working group meetings to include workshops on statistics, DNA methods, and human factors.
  • Draft report outline that covers human factors issues in the following areas of DNA mixture interpretation: management, work environment, reporting, testimony, QA/QC, evidence interpretation, use of technology, research, education, and training.

Date Created: December 15, 2020