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NIJ Director John H. Laub's Vision for NIJ


Identifying and communicating my vision for the National Institute of Justice was my top priority when I arrived in July 2010. That effort received a fortuitous boost from the release, just a few weeks earlier, of an in-depth evaluation of NIJ by the National Academies of Sciences. The evaluation turned out to be a unique opportunity to leverage the communication of my vision for NIJ with the agency's response to the NAS report. Read NIJ's progress report on its response to the NAS recommendations in Strengthening the National Institute of Justice.

To me, it is crucial that NIJ establish itself as the nation's leader in scientific research on crime and justice. Beyond the scientific integrity of our research, this means that our work must benefit practitioners. That may sound obvious, but NIJ is like no other federal agency: we translate science for the street.

NIJ must develop an innovative, integrated, cutting-edge research agenda. By "integrated," I mean bringing together the three seemingly disparate sciences that form the bedrock of NIJ — the social, forensic and physical sciences — to serve our constituencies. I want to tie NIJ's projects together in a way that will give the agency's work more coherence.

We also need to be more visionary about the issues that are going to be most important and most useful to practitioners in the future. We cannot do research on every question. Rather, our research agenda must focus on building a cumulative knowledge base that is most valuable to the field.

We must reconnect with our constituency groups, our stakeholders. One of my primary goals is to reestablish relationships with — and make NIJ's presence better known to and valued by — our key stakeholders in the research and practitioner communities, our federal partners, and the Congress. We need to establish, in words and deeds, that it is a new day at NIJ.   

One of NIJ's missions is to disseminate scientific knowledge, a crucial component of my dream for NIJ. I call it "translational criminology," which basically means bringing the best research evidence to practice. Not only should we disseminate evidence, we should also figure out if it is being implemented correctly. In medicine, this is referred to as "bench-to-bedside." It is not just about finding the evidence that something works; it is figuring out how to implement the evidence and understanding why it works.

Another goal I have for NIJ is transparent decision making. Nothing is more important than a fair and open process in awarding grants, for example; but there is a perception that some of NIJ's work is not transparent, open and competitive. This is a problem, regardless of the reality, that I intend to change. 

It is important that everyone at NIJ be engaged in the collective enterprise to make our vision a reality. I believe that leadership is a two-way street. Not everyone has to agree with me. In fact, I welcome the chaos of dissenting ideas. I have "open office hours," a carry-over from my college professor days that is quickly allowing me to get to know everyone and their work. For NIJ to be successful, everyone must be a part of what NIJ is today — but, even more important, what NIJ can be tomorrow: the premier science agency focusing on crime and justice.