The Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) is Victoria’s largest criminal legal practice. The OPP prepares and conducts indictable (serious) criminal matters on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
As a part of the prosecution process, the OPP engages people who have been victims of crime. While they are not ‘clients’ of the OPP, victims of crime are important stakeholders. OPP solicitors and social workers from the Victims and Witness Assistance Service (VWAS) support victims and witnesses during the court process.
Please note: Some people who are victims of crime like to refer to themselves as survivors or victim-survivors. We have chosen to use the term victims of crime throughout this case study as this is the term used most often by the OPP.
The OPP invited Portable to work closely with several victims of crime and stakeholders from VWAS including solicitors and social workers to develop a mechanism for collecting feedback about victim experiences with the OPP.
This project seeks to support two of the OPP’s strategic priorities under their Strategic Plan 2022 - 2025. The first priority is focussed on being fair and providing support to the community while the second priority is about leading reform to achieve better and more efficient justice outcomes.
This project builds on work previously conducted by the Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ), which delivered its report: Communicating with Victims about Resolution Decisions. CIJ proposed that a victim feedback mechanism be developed and implemented to “capture a range of victims’ experiences, both positive and negative, and could provide a useful way of allowing the OPP to be appraised, on an ongoing basis” and provide “an avenue for victims to make suggestions to the OPP as to how it might better support victims'' (p. 105).
This project presented an opportunity for the Portable design team to merge their experience in the justice sector with their experience implementing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in other organisations. It involved designing, developing, testing, and refining a process to routinely gather meaningful feedback from victims of crime while also identifying a way to measure, evaluate, and report on this feedback.
Over the past several years, the role of victims in the criminal justice process has changed. Originally, victims were seen as witnesses in criminal cases. The Victims’ Charter Act 2006 now recognises victims of crime as participants in criminal cases. Despite this shift, research about the experience of victims in the criminal justice system confirms that:
- The experience can still feel complicated, disempowering and re-traumatising
- Each person has different justice needs so different things about the process will be more or less important for different people
- People enter the criminal justice process with different expectations – identifying and managing expectations at an early stage can impact on a person's experience of the process.
The OPP acknowledged that a victim’s experience of the criminal justice process may be influenced by a number of external factors, including their interactions with the OPP, police, or the courts, and the outcome of the case.
The OPP wanted to focus on collecting feedback that is actionable by the OPP, and to be able to distinguish between, for example, a victim’s dissatisfaction with the outcome of the case, and their experience with the OPP. This complex landscape meant that the team needed to stay focused and align closely with the OPP team on the project’s objectives.
The prosecution duty of disclosure.
As a prosecuting agency, the OPP is required to disclose any material that is relevant or possibly relevant to the case. This includes anything that may lead to a new line of inquiry. The only exceptions are situations where the information is protected by public interest immunity or legal professional privilege or is prohibited by law.
This unique consideration influenced our approach, including limiting the type of feedback we recommended OPP collect.
- Appropriate engagement — with OPP staff and victims to inform design.
- Victim feedback process — including questions, measurement, evaluation, reporting framework, and implementation plan.
- Development and delivery — of the process, tool, and all associated documentation.
We worked closely with several victims of crime and solicitors and social workers from the VWAS over six months to define and develop three ways the OPP can systematically measure and improve the service provided to victims.
This work will enable the OPP to understand what people want, manage their expectations and learn what’s working and what isn’t.
Collaboration and co-design:
Understanding the importance of applying co-design principles to our projects, the Portable team took a collaborative approach alongside key OPP stakeholders and victims of crime.
Throughout this project, we made sure that we were informed by the perspectives of those with both lived and professional experience:
- Those with lived expertise shared preferences and insights informed by their personal experience.
- Those with professional expertise shared insights and preferences informed by their work.
This enabled us to take a balanced approach and ensure that what we produced met the needs of everyone affected by the change.
A future-proof solution:
One of the key deliverables was a “working feedback collection tool” that could be implemented with low measures of effort by OPP staff without impacting the workloads of the solicitors, social workers, and legal support staff. The process also needed to be capable of future integration with the new case management system.
To achieve this, we took an approach that involved several steps for engagement and calibration. Crucially, this included collaborating with OPP staff and victims of crime to develop concepts for the new feedback mechanism and then testing and refining these concepts over several iterations.
What worked well was having an engaged project team embedded within the OPP who carried out extensive engagement before the project (to increase awareness and gather initial feedback) and acted as the conduits between Portable and the OPP throughout the project.
Gender impact assessment:
We also supported the OPP in conducting a gender impact assessment that considered how the feedback tool could impact people of different genders.
Completing the gender impact assessment enabled us to identify specific activities or moments throughout the project where we needed to consider gender specifically. The assessment was conducted before the project, and after the project concluded. By undertaking the assessment twice, we made sure that we considered the impact on gender during our planning stages and also considered the impact on gender during the handover phase.
The gender impact assessment involved:
- Challenging our assumptions and identifying gaps in gender knowledge.
- Working with the OPP team to identify who is likely to be impacted by the feedback mechanism and what gendered factors might influence the way different community members are impacted.
- Conducting desktop research and analysing gender-disaggregated statistics to investigate how issues of gender, cultural identity, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or religion might shape how the policy, program or service is implemented or experienced.
- Undertaking collaborative approaches to consultation and engagement to understand access to, and experience of the policy, program or service.
- Developing an option that improves the gender-related benefits and costs.
- Making a recommendation with a rationale for the approach, which considers how the recommendation meets the needs of people of different genders, addresses gender inequality, and promotes gender equality.
Understanding the needs of victims of crime:
We conducted desktop research and semi-structured interviews with staff members, victims and a handful of external stakeholders from Victoria Police, the Office of the Victims of Crime Commissioner, the Department of Justice and Community Safety, and the County Court.
This helped us gain a better understanding of the different experiences that victims have and identify when and how feedback could be collected, how it could be used and the preferences of each of the different stakeholder groups.
Refining the requirements:
We then conducted a series of workshops to align on the direction of the project, agree on the most opportune moments to collect feedback and determine what questions should be asked and when.
Finalising the design and development:
Using Google Forms, we developed three prototypes and tested them with victims and OPP staff. We also analysed several survey tools and selected a solution, eventually migrating the refined questions into the tool so that the OPP could start piloting the solution as soon as possible.
Alongside the forms, we provided the OPP with recommendations regarding an approach to ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and implementation.
Oftentimes, feedback is received by organisations at a point when it’s ‘too late’. In collaboration with the OPP and victims of crimes, we developed a set of three forms that will enable the OPP to understand what people want, manage their expectations and learn what’s working and what isn’t overall.
- Form #1 is to be sent before the first contact. This form collects data about victims at the beginning of the process. This form will help the OPP to systematically learn about and anticipate what individual victims want and need.
- Form #2 is to be available throughout the process. This form collects information about the victim’s experience with the OPP as the matter progresses and hopes to enable feedback to be gathered and responded to in real-time.
- Form #3 will be sent after a matter is concluded. This form will collect data about victims’ experiences that can be aggregated to get an overall picture of performance, once a victim has received their ‘justice outcome’.
Our team also collaborated with various stakeholders to develop a comprehensive ownership model. This model has been designed so that those charged with implementing the feedback collection processes have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, as well as risks to look out for.
To complement the ownership model, we also developed a detailed implementation plan that outlines the various steps and timelines necessary to bring the project to fruition and ensure that the process can be integrated into business as usual at the OPP.
With the proper support, feedback can deliver significant benefits.
Conversations with OPP staff about feedback have highlighted a mixture of hope alongside a range of questions about how a feedback process can be embedded into BAU at the OPP. When managed well, feedback can transform individuals, services and organisations. As designers, we see the potential for systematic feedback collection to help the OPP tailor and improve its support for victims. We can also see enormous benefits for OPP staff and leadership.
OPP leadership can expect a new way to visualise performance, identify areas for improvement and track progress over time. For OPP staff, feedback should be used to support organisation-wide growth in the capacity to recognise and effectively manage victim expectations. Leadership and change management will be required to realise these benefits and enable the necessary cultural change fully.
Testimonials and Reflections
Kirsten Aaskov, Strategic Advisor, Office of Public Prosecutions:
"The Portable team were invested, thoughtful, optimistic, can-do and flexible. The team did an excellent job facilitating the online workshops and creating spaces where participants could engage and contribute.
The sessions were well structured and led to great discussions and insights. The Portable team also helped guide the OPP team through the process – helping us to understand when we had reached the point of greatest complexity and being clear about the challenges of balancing competing considerations throughout the project.
This project represents a really important step towards establishing a victim feedback process at the OPP. "
Emily MacLoud, Senior Legal Designer, Portable:
"Working closely with Julie and Kirsten and the broader team at the Office of Public Prosecutions over the past six months has been thoroughly enjoyable.
Our collaborative approach ensured that we were able to connect with a diverse, representative sample of victims and engage staff at the OPP who could provide critical guidance to our project team, which ensured our project ran smoothly and delivered valuable results.
We look forward to seeing the outputs of this project be implemented within the OPP’s BAU processes and enabling the team to gather feedback from victims of crime in a way that is trauma-informed and accessible and promotes agency, choice and voice for victims of crime."
- Beth Hyland - Lead Design Strategist
- Olivia Gregory - Senior Producer
- Emily MacLoud - Senior Legal Designer
- India Lock - Design Strategist