As a research organisation, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is often confronted by the challenge of how best to facilitate the transfer of research findings into effective crime prevention policies and programs. While recognition of the importance of evidence-based crime prevention continues to grow, along with the number of quality evaluations that have been conducted, simply producing and disseminating research findings is not enough to ensure that the accumulated evidence base is used to inform decision making. Instead, it is necessary to look at ways through which those working on the ground can be encouraged to make better use of the available evidence.
One such approach is to partner with those agencies whose responsibility it is to develop crime prevention policy and support practitioners working in local communities. Continuing a long history of collaborating with crime prevention agencies, the Crime Prevention Division of the NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice commissioned the AIC to undertake a large-scale systematic review of interventions to prevent a number of crime types identified as priority areas for local councils in New South Wales.
Systematic reviews are a popular and important mechanism for drawing together the evidence base to help inform decision making. The purpose of a systematic review is, in short, to sum up the best available research on a part
icular topic by drawing together the results of multiple studies. Traditional systematic reviews have attracted some criticism because of their focus on outcomes at the expense of understanding where and how particular strategies work best.
The AIC has attempted to overcome some of these limitations by developing a methodology that combined elements of both experimental and theory-based approaches to evaluation. This approach places greater emphasis on factors such as local context, the mechanisms underlying an intervention and the requirements for successful implementation, as well as evidence of effectiveness. This has the potential to better inform the process of selecting and adapting effective interventions by providing more useful information on the effectiveness of different prevention strategies and their successful implementation, helping to get the most out of crime prevention evaluation.
The value of this novel approach is already being demonstrated. Using this methodology, the AIC was able to identify and review well over 100 studies across six major crime categories—non-domestic assault, residential burglary, stealing from motor vehicles, malicious damage, stealing from person and retail theft. As well as identifying which interventions appeared to work, the review was also able to work out why and in what circumstances the programs worked. Importantly, the review was able to describe the requirements for successfully implementing those interventions supported by evidence—demonstrating how to apply the best practice principles described in important resources such as the National Crime Prevention Framework.
While the findings from this review are described in this report, detailed information on the characteristics of specific interventions, the steps needed to implement them and illustrative cases studies have been used to develop practitioner-focused resources. Working closely with staff from the Crime Prevention Division, the AIC has used the findings from this review to develop 24 practical resources, including fact sheets, handbooks and costing frameworks for eight intervention types supported by some evidence of effectiveness. These resources will help local government, along with other crime prevention practitioners in New South Wales and hopefully other jurisdictions, to select and implement evidence-informed strategies to reduce crime.
Nevertheless, despite the wealth of information that could be captured as part of this project, it was clear that there remain significant gaps in the evidence base. While there was strong evidence in support of many of the intervention types examined as part of this review, much of this was drawn from international studies completed over a decade or more ago. It was also the case that many popular initiatives were not supported by any evidence, positive or negative. Thus, there is scope to improve both the level and quality of crime prevention evaluation, particularly in Australia, which is something that the AIC is working hard to achieve. Some ways forward have been described in this report.
Finally, I would note that this report represents one of the first outputs produced by the AIC as part of its new crime prevention technical assistance program, Crime Prevention ASSIST (ASSIST is the acronym for Advice, Specialist Support, Information & Skills Training). Crime Prevention ASSIST has been developed in recognition of the importance of building the capacity of those working in crime prevention. Current priorities for the program include targeted evaluation work, applied resource material development and training and professional development activities for government and non-government practitioners, as well as a new website presence. It is particularly through Crime Prevention ASSIST that the AIC hopes to bridge the gap between research and practice and make an important contribution to the goal of evidence-based crime prevention.