Analysts can access DSS-J data in one of two ways: (1) by logging online to DSS-J’s password-protected website and running one of the many existing reports or (2) by using Cognos to directly access DSS-J and develop a customized query for extracting DSS-J data.
1. DSS-J Online
This online data tool allows general users of DSS-J to easily access DSS-J data through a series of over 30 pre-made, customizable reports. The website is easy to navigate, processes data requests quickly, and offers several tools for displaying and exporting data. Users who routinely need the same data each month find the webtool especially handy; they can run an identical report each month without worrying about whether statistics will be consistent across time.
One of the limitations of DSS-J online lies in its user-friendly and simple construction; by providing consistent reports, it also limits analysts’ ability to modify the parameters and link data according to their specific research question. For example, an analyst could use DSS-J Online to examine the number of people booked for a person crime in a given month, but could not use it to analyze that individual’s length of stay in the jail or the final disposition of their case. As a result, analysts often use Cognos or other “power” tools to access the appropriate data or make special requests of other analysts (including DSS-J IT staff) to collect the data.
The online tool may also be too complex for users who either are not familiar with certain aspects of the public safety system or do not have the same in-depth data knowledge as expert DSS-J users. For example, users seeking information about the DA’s issuing practices may be unaware that selecting case “review date” would result in considerably different results than selecting case “start date.”
One opportunity for improving DSS-J Online would be to provide more extensive user training and system documentation. Currently, when a new user gains access to the system, he or she will typically meet for a few hours with the DSS-J customer advocate to learn the basics of system navigation and terminology. However, there is no user’s manual, online training, or data dictionary for novice and veteran users to reference. This lack of ongoing and formal training and support for county analysts may lead some users to abandon use of the web tool.
This tool provides advanced users of DSS-J with complete and direct access to available data and, as a result, with greater ability to construct queries, link information between systems, set parameters, and group values according to their specifications. Although Cognos does not have “pre-made” reports to the extent offered by DSS-J Online, users have the ability to save their reports for future reference. Cognos users can also alter report formatting and print directly from the screen.
Unfortunately, new users of Cognos face a steep learning curve and even after “mastering” the software, may find it difficult to use. Analysts cannot write or edit queries and instead must rely on a pick list of options that makes constructing certain reports arduous, especially if several filters need to be applied. Further, it is difficult to look up the list of values associated with a field; analysts typically need to know the exact wording of a value in order to filter correctly. Further, once a query has been written, analysts do not have the ability to easily and consistently share these files with colleagues – although there is a shared drive, a lack of naming conventions and required descriptors make it difficult for analysts to know which file to use.
These technical difficulties also point to a need for training in using this software. DSS-J staff members do not routinely train analysts in how to use Cognos, in part because there are so few Cognos licenses available that DSS-J staff members rarely encounter new users to the system. Regardless, current and new analysts do not have access to any training materials or to a data dictionary, requiring them to learn Cognos through trial-and-error and through assistance from other Cognos users.
- Survey current and prospective users of DSS-J to determine (a) the extent to which agency managers, practitioners and researchers rely on DSS-J, (b) how to increase the accessibility and “user friendliness” of DSS-J and (c) how DSS-J can be changed to meet more of the operational needs of justice agencies and the research needs of the county. Lead: Elizabeth Davies
- Expand the number of DSS-J “General Users” by examining the list of current users who have logged in over the past six months and identifying additional agencies or users. Lead: Elizabeth Davies / Gail McKeel
- Expand the number of DSS-J advanced users, either by replacing Cognos with another software (such as SQL Query Analyzer) or by obtaining additional Cognos licenses and ensuring that distribution is fair to all agencies (i.e., preference given to analysts from agencies in which no other analyst has access to Cognos). Lead: County IT
- Develop a data dictionary and training manual for General Users of DSS-J Online and Power Users of Cognos (or its replacement). Lead: Elizabeth Davies / County IT