Return to Create a VLAN
Stage I: A Network of People
Stage II: Moving from the People to the Vision
Stage III: Planning for Implementation
Stage IV: Implementing a Network

Moving From the People to the Vision

Once the Stakeholders are identified there are many approaches to move from people to vision.  Developing a vision involves three phases: exploration, initiation, and definition and formation.  Each of these is discussed below.


Exploratory conversations among a few Stakeholders can answer key questions about the community and determine next steps for developing the Network.

What is the level of interest in creating coordinated and collaborative victim legal services?  Introductions between individuals and agencies involved as Stakeholders should take place, including identifying existing resources available in the community. Past discussions involving victims’ legal needs should be taken into account.

What are the current perceptions of under- or unmet needs in the community?  Stakeholders should identify current gaps and barriers in services and the need for and scope of the Network.

Who needs to be involved in further in-depth conversations? Stakeholders should identify and cultivate relationships with potential Partners to better understand existing community resources, needs, gaps, and barriers to access.


Once the need for and interest in networked legal services is understood, Network development can begin.  During the Initiation phase an informal Needs and Capacities Assessment can assist in developing the community’s vision of the Network.  To ensure buy in, it is important to actively engage and obtain input from Stakeholders.

Best practice to ensure roles and responsibilities are clear is to use an Agreement or MOU to secure Stakeholder commit to the Network.  Network success will depend upon consistent coordination of Stakeholders, including dedicating time and effort to identify the availability and capacity of individuals and organizations to achieve the vision of the Network and to learn more about Stakeholder concerns, such as increased workload versus funding, increased competition for funding streams and/or volunteer resources, etc.

Definition & Formation

Building on the information and commitments garnered during Initiation, the scope, structure and services of the Network can now be defined.  A formal Needs and Capacities Assessment deepens understanding of the community to be served so services are meeting community needs.  An Implementation Plan outlines how the Network is structured and the steps involved in making it operational.

A) Scope of a Network

Defining a shared vision of the scope of a Network provides a framework for a formal Needs and Capacities Assessment that will ultimately refine this vision.  The question of scope includes at least five areas.  Click on each component to learn more.

Network geographic scope can vary from a city to an entire state and may change over time.  Because there is no perfect geographic area, determining scope of any particular network can be informed by asking the following questions:

  • If the network is to serve a single urban center what are the implications (e.g., do victims and service providers need to know city/county lines)?
  • If the network is to serve a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas what are the implications (e.g., transportation options to access services)?
  • What are the demographics of each possible geographic area and what are the implications of the variations (e.g., language access)?

Will the geographic area include tribal jurisdictions?  Campuses?  Military facilities?  Prisons?  What are the implications of the variations?

Stakeholders may serve victims of particular crimes such as intimate partner violence, sexual violence, stalking or human trafficking.  Understanding which victim populations and which crime types are currently served by which organizations and comparing this to the desired scope of services for victims will reveal gaps.  Common gaps include victims of identity theft, fraud, homicide and gun violence, robbery and burglary, vehicular crimes, hate crimes, and cybercrimes.  With this information, the critical determination will be whether filling these gaps is best achieved by inviting additional Stakeholders and/or building capacity within existing Stakeholders.  As with geographic area, a phased rollout of crime types served may be desirable.  To determine gaps and the desired scope of crime types to serve consider asking:

  • What crimes are the primary foci of Stakeholders?
  • What services does each Stakeholder provide to victims of that crime type?
  • What victim populations contact Stakeholders that are not ultimately served, and to whom are they referred?
  • To what extent does current service capacity meet the needs of victims of all crime types, in terms of the number of victims seeking services and the timely availability of services?
  • How could service capacity be increased?

An effective, holistic legal Network should be able to respond with cultural intelligence and humility to diverse populations which experience unique barriers, including victims who are immigrants, houseless, elders, people of color, Native Americans or Alaska Natives, LGBT, religious and/or living in rural or frontier areas.  In addition, there must be capacity to work with victims who have physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities or have limited English proficiency, little or no access to technology, transportation barriers or limited financial resources.  Assessing the current landscape and identifying gaps will ensure these capacities exist.  Questions that can help assess capacity include:

  • Which communities and populations exist in your jurisdiction (looking beyond census data)?
  • Which communities and populations are served by each Stakeholder in a significant and culturally appropriate way?
  • Which communities and populations contact each Stakeholder but are not served and to whom do they refer?
  • Are there populations present in the community that are not seeking services from any Stakeholders but who statistically are likely to be victims of crime? To whom are they turning?
  • To what extent does current service capacity meet the legal needs of victims from each community and population in the geographic service area?
  • To what extent are policies and resources in place at each Stakeholder organization to eliminate barriers and increase access to services for each community and population in the geographic service area?
  • How could service capacity be increased?

While the vision is of networked legal services responsive to every victim’s every need, articulating which services (legal and non-legal) will be included in the Network, which will be by extra-Network referrals, and establishing a process for fluid movement between each is critical.  With regard to legal services the inquiry must include what types of law will be covered (e.g., rights enforcement, immigration, employment, housing, education, family, benefits, Indian, military) in what settings (e.g., criminal, civil, administrative, campus, tribal, immigration).  With regard to non-legal services the inquiry must include what types of services will be covered (e.g., housing, health services, language access, education, safety planning).  As with geographic area, a phased rollout of crime and service types served may be desirable.  An achievable vision of a Network requires asking both what exists and what one hopes will exist, including:

  • What services are already provided by Stakeholders?
  • What services are available from non-Stakeholders in the community or surrounding areas?
  • What unmet legal and non-legal needs of crime victims are believed to exist?
  • To what extent does current service capacity meet the demand, in terms of the number of victims seeking services, the timeliness of services, and accessibility?
  • What commonalities exist among victims not seeking services (e.g., crime type, community)?
  • How could service capacity be increased?

Accurate information regarding available resources, including funding, personnel and technology, will affect decisions about the scope of a Network and how Partners refer, coordinate and share information.  Critical information to assess includes:

  • Service Provider capacity (e.g., staffing, volunteers, pro bono networks, funding);
  • Service eligibility requirements and restrictions (e.g., income, population type);
  • Accessibility of services (e.g., including language accessibility as evaluated by languages spoken by service providers, available interpretation services and languages of written materials);
  • Existing technologies and victims’ access to them (e.g., websites with legal information for the public; referral lines or networks); and
  • Methods and processes of inter-service provider collaboration and information sharing.

Voices from the Networks

B) Formal Needs and Capacities Assessment

A formal Needs and Capacities Assessment can create a more accurate and comprehensive picture of community needs.  For an assessment to meaningfully capture the needs of victims and the gaps in services in a community, innovative strategies should be used to collect a wide variety of data from victims and service providers.  Experiences of the ten OVC-funded Networks reveal a successful Needs and Capacities Assessment has three key components.  Click on each component to learn more.

The Needs and Capacities Assessment process should consider factors that may impact the amount of resources, time, and funding needed.  Among the internal factors to consider are staff expertise and capacity, financial resources, technology needs and competing organizational needs.  External factors include timelines for design, approval, and deployment of research instruments; delays due to slow return rates for surveys, weather, holiday and school schedules, translation or transcription; and any applicable Institutional Review Board (IRB) processes.

For a Needs and Capacities Assessment to prove useful, sufficient data must be collected.  A mixed methods approach that gathers information from a diversity of persons provides the most complete picture of victim needs and gaps in services.  Common instruments include one-on-one interviews, focus groups, listening sessions and surveys that solicit input from victims, service providers (both front line and leadership) and others who work within systems and live in our communities.  Assesments won’t necessarily go as smoothly as planned and require patience in implementation.

Throughout the process, trauma-informed and culturally-appropriate perspectives and tools should be used.  Things to consider:

  • Plan in advance for victim trauma reactions and ensure someone is available if the victim is triggered by a survey, interview or focus group;
  • Ensure researchers and focus group facilitators are well-trained regarding:
      • trauma and trauma responses,
      • signs of distress, including non-verbal cues;
  • Design data collection tools to reduce participation barriers (e.g., reading level, language diversity);
  • Make focus groups physically, linguistically and geographically accessible;
  • Use tools to ensure informed consent (e.g., consent quizzes); and
  • Ensure that the trauma needs of research personnel are taken into consideration before, during and after each research step.

While each jurisdiction’s assessment will reveal unique needs, findings common to the ten OVC-funded Network Needs and Capacities Assessments included:

  • Victims and service providers alike lack awareness of available services;
  • Service coordination is lacking;
  • Inadequate availability of services, resources and funding;
  • Victims experience barriers to accessing services; and
  • Crimes are often concurrent or consecutive and focusing on one type of crime type often misses victim need.

In addition to anticipated results, assessments may produce results that are challenging to confront, such as the following results from several of the OVC-funded Networks:

  • Victim service staff are under-trained, lack knowledge of victim needs, or make inappropriate and untimely referrals;
  • Agencies have inaccessible locations and information;
  • Trauma-informed, culturally appropriate services are lacking;
  • Different crime victims receive different levels of services; and
  • The community has a limited knowledge of victims’ rights.

Voices from the Networks

Stage II Replication Tools

RESOURCES | Considerations for Needs Assessment Design
RESOURCES | Considerations for Successful Data Collection
RESOURCES | Considerations For Increasing Participation
RESOURCES | Menu of Questions for Interviews, Focus Groups and Surveys
RESOURCES | Menu of Possible Research Instruments for Needs Assessment
EXAMPLE | Steering Committees During Needs Assessment
SAMPLE | Initial Meeting Agenda