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How We Review and Rate a Program From Start to Finish

To be included on CrimeSolutions.gov, programs undergo an eight-step review and evidence-rating process. On this page you'll find details of each step in this process. You also will find information on how and when we determine to re-review a program.

1 Preliminary ID. 2 Initial screening. 3 Literature search 4. initial evidence screening. 5 selection of evidence base. 6 expert review. 7 study classification. 8. Program evidence rating

1. Preliminary Program Identification

Programs are identified for potential inclusion on CrimeSolutions.gov through:

  • Literature searches of relevant databases, journals and publications, including:
    • Social science databases using keywords identified in the areas of criminal justice, juvenile justice and victims of crime;
    • Journals (including peer-reviewed journals) and other relevant resources; and
    • Other web-based databases of effective programs, and meta-analyses of evaluated programs.
  • Nominations from the field. See how to nominate a program here: Nominate a Program for CrimeSolutions.gov.

2. Initial Program Screening

After programs are identified, research staff review program materials to determine whether the goals of the program fall within the scope of CrimeSolutions.gov. To fall within the scope, the program must:

  • Aim to prevent or reduce crime, delinquency or related problem behaviors (such as aggression, gang involvement, or school attachment);
  • Aim to prevent, intervene, or respond to victimization;
  • Aim to improve justice systems or processes; and/or
  • Target an offender population or an at-risk population (that is, individuals who have the potential to become involved in the justice system).

Prevention programs not explicitly aimed at reducing or preventing a problem behavior must apply to a population at risk for developing problem behaviors.

3. Literature Search

If the program's scope meets CrimeSolutions.gov criteria, research staff then expand the search for evaluations, research and program materials to identify all relevant information needed for Lead Researcher and Study Reviewer consideration. Nonexperimental, qualitative, ethnographic and case-study research is collected if it adds contextual information to the program description, but is not used to determine the program's evidence rating.

4. Initial Evidence Screening

Once the literature search is complete, research staff review the newly identified studies to determine whether they meet the criteria for evidence. To be considered for expert review, the program's evaluation evidence must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • The program must be evaluated with at least one randomized field experiment or quasi-experimental research design (with a comparison condition).
  • The outcomes assessed must relate to crime, delinquency, or victimization prevention, intervention or response.
  • The evaluation must be published in a peer-reviewed publication or documented in a comprehensive evaluation report.
  • The date of publication must be 1980 or later.

View the list of screened-out programs (xlsx).

5. Selection of Evidence Base

A Lead Researcher with subject-matter and research methodology expertise selects up to three studies representing the most rigorous study designs and methodologies from all available evaluations of the program. The selected studies comprise the program's evidence base and will be scored by Study Reviewers, ultimately to be used as the basis for the program's evidence rating. Additional studies identified through the literature search, but not included in the evidence base, may serve as supporting documentation. The criteria used to determine the three most rigorous studies include:

  • Strength of research design
  • Breadth of documentation
  • Type of analytic procedures used
  • Sample size
  • Independence of evaluator
  • Year of publication.

If a CrimeSolutions.gov Study Reviewer believes there is a compelling reason to review more than three studies, he or she may contact the Lead Researcher to request additional studies for review. The Lead Researcher will then make the final determination. In addition, multiple articles and publications that report on various aspects of a single study are generally treated as one study for purposes of the review; however, two studies that utilize the same data set but include different follow-up periods or analyses may be considered separately on a case-by-case basis.

6. Expert Review

Once the Lead Researcher selects the studies that will comprise the program's evidence base, trained and certified Study Reviewers begin the program evidence review, using the Scoring Instrument to assess the quality, strength and extent to which the evidence indicates that the program achieves its goals. Each study within the evidence base is assessed by at least two Study Reviewers. The Scoring Instrument indicates the overall rating for each study that is reviewed.

The Scoring Instrument consists of two parts:

Part 1 of the Scoring Instrument: Conceptual Framework is assessed only once for each program, regardless of the number of studies in the evidence base. The Study Reviewers make this assessment based on information from all of the studies and program materials they have received. These additional program materials may include nonexperimental, qualitative, ethnographic and case-study research as well as implementation materials.

Program's Conceptual Framework
Dimension Overview Elements
Conceptual Framework Assesses the degree to which the program is grounded in the research literature.
  • Prior research
  • Theoretical base
  • Program description

Part 2 of the Scoring Instrument: Quality, Outcomes and Fidelity is completed for each evaluation study that is included as part of the evidence base (up to three studies). It includes the research design quality, outcome evidence and program fidelity.

Study Quality, Outcomes, and Fidelity
Dimension Overview Elements
Design Quality Assesses the quality of the research design. The Study Reviewers are also required to note specific information, such as threats to validity.
  • Type of research design
  • Sample size
  • Statistical adjustment (if applicable)
  • Instrumentation
  • Internal validity
  • Follow-up period
  • Displacement/diffusion (if applicable)
Outcome Evidence Assesses the quality of the results. (Note: Outcomes are considered and rated separately within this dimension because programs may target multiple outcomes. In addition, the assessment focuses on the programs' primary, intended outcomes.)
  • Substantive program effects
  • Behavior change
  • Outcomes
Program Fidelity Assesses the degree to which the program is delivered as designed and intended.
  • Documentation
  • Adherence

Study Reviewers assign numerical values to each element in the scoring instrument. The elements include a definition and other guidance that Reviewers consider when rating the elements. In the Program Review information, the Reviewers also make note of any other information that should be highlighted as being of particular importance. See the Scoring Instrument for guidance on each element.

The Study Reviewer is responsible for making a reasonable determination (i.e., supported or justified by fact or circumstance) as to the strength of the conceptual framework, research design, outcome evidence and program fidelity on the basis of provided documentation and his or her specialized knowledge with regard to program evaluation.

As a final step on the scoring instrument, Study Reviewers provide an assessment as to their overall confidence in the study design. If both Study Reviewers agree, and the Lead Researcher concurs, that there is a fundamental flaw in the study design (not captured in the Design Quality dimension), this raises serious concerns about the study's results, the study is removed from the evidence base, and it is not factored into the evidence rating. This final determination serves as an additional safeguard to ensure that only the most rigorous studies comprise the evidence base. The study citation will be listed among the program's additional references.

7. Study Classification

The score for each of the four dimensions (Conceptual Framework, Design Quality, Outcome Evidence, and Program Fidelity) is calculated separately and used to assess each study. On the basis of scores, the study is assigned one of the following classifications:

  • Class 1 Studies are very rigorous and well-designed and find significant, positive effects on justice-related outcomes.
  • Class 2 Studies are well-designed but slightly less rigorous, or there may be limitations in their design. They find significant, positive effects on justice-related outcomes.
  • Class 3 Studies are very rigorous and well-designed and find significant, harmful effects on justice-related outcomes.
  • Class 4 Studies are very rigorous and well-designed and find no significant effects on justice-related outcomes.
  • Class 5 Studies do not provide enough information or have significant limitations in their study design such that it is not possible to establish a causal relationship to the justice-related outcomes.

Discrepancies among Reviewers: In the event that there is a classification discrepancy between the Study Reviewers, the Lead Researcher will work to achieve a consensus classification. If necessary, the Lead Researcher will also review the study and make a final determination on the classification.

8. Program Evidence Rating

To reach an evidence rating for each program, the study-level information is aggregated.

All evidence ratings based on 1–3 studies are classified as follows:

Evidence Rating* Study Classification
Class 1 -
Strong Evidence of Positive Effect
Class 2 -
Some Evidence of Positive Effect
Class 3 -
Strong Evidence of Negative Effect
Class 4 -
Strong Evidence of Null Effect
Class 5 -
Insufficient Information
Effective effective icon
Programs have strong evidence to indicate they achieve their intended outcomes when implemented with fidelity.
Must have at least 1 study in Class 1 May have up to 2 studies in Class 2 Must have 0 studies in Class 3 May have up to 1 study in Class 4 Studies do not determine Evidence Rating
Promising promising icon
Programs have some evidence to indicate they achieve their intended outcomes.
Must have 0 studies in Class 1 Must have at least 1 study in Class 2 Must have 0 studies in Class 3 May have up to 1 study in Class 4 Studies do not determine Evidence Rating
No Effects no effect icon
Programs have strong evidence indicating that they had no effects or had harmful effects when implemented with fidelity.
Must have 0 studies in Class 1 Must have 0 studies in Class 2 Must have at least 1 study in either Class 3 or Class 4 Studies do not determine Evidence Rating

* A single-study icon (effective icon) is used to identify programs that have been evaluated with only one study.
A multiple-studies icon (effective multi-study icon) is used to represent a greater extent of evidence supporting the evidence rating. The icon depicts programs that have more than one study in the evidence base that demonstrates effects in a consistent direction.

In some cases, the evidence for a program may be inconsistent, for example, if there is one study indicating a statistically significant positive effect (i.e., Class 1 or Class 2), one study indicating a statistically significant null effect (Class 4), and no third study is available for consideration. In such cases, the Lead Researcher will also review both studies and make a final determination on whether a final evidence rating can be assigned.

CrimeSolutions.gov periodically updates a static list of programs that have been reviewed by Study Reviewers but not assigned an evidence rating due to lack of evidence. A program is placed on the Insufficient Evidence List if the reviewed study (or studies) received only Class 5 study ratings, indicating that there were significant limitations in the study design such that it was not possible to establish a causal relationship to the program's justice-related outcomes (as outlined in the above Program Evidence Rating chart). See Programs Identified But Not Rated.

Read more about CrimeSolutions.gov Researchers and Reviewers.

Search Programs

Re-Reviewing a Program and Updating a Rating

We consider re-reviewing a program when:

  • New evaluation studies, or studies not previously identified, are found that meet the CrimeSolutions.gov criteria. This may include studies that extend the follow-up period of previously reviewed studies.
  • New supplemental materials are submitted that better explain the conceptual framework and fidelity dimensions of the program, which may affect a program's evidence rating.

The new materials may or may not be sufficient to warrant a new evidence rating. If a Lead Researcher determines that there is sufficient evidence in the new materials to warrant another review, then the new information is sent to the Study Reviewers for assessment. Even if the program's evidence rating does not change, the new evidence and materials may be included or referenced on the program's profile page.

For more information: Inquiring About or Appealing an Evidence Rating