Born out of a desire to move beyond criminal justice advocacy, the Healing Justice New England Program draws its inspiration and focus from Indigenous principles employed to help communities impacted by oppression to heal from intergenerational trauma and grief that are often at the root cause of poor social cohesion. Physically located in Perry, ME with a satellite office in Cambridge, MA, the program began a long process of reimagining its Criminal Justice Program and its expanded focus in 2007. In late October 2016 Trewon was contracted to complete a formative evaluation of the Healing Justice Program and its development through its three phases of growth: conceptualization, planning, and implementation.

Incorporating Key Stakeholders’ Participation in the Evaluation

Using a community-based approach, the Trewon team assessed the program’s progress through its three stages of development and implementation. Partnering with AFSC on multiple elements of the evaluation process from interview development to comment and input on the final product proved to be critical to participants’ comfort with the interview process and participation and ensured the team remained sensitive to the nuances of healing justice work, how Indigenous principles played into program development, and that cultural and social perspectives were given voice. Trewon found, as it has in past work that this level of cultural sensitivity and community participation supports rather than detracts from conducting a rigorous study.

Developing Clear Exacting Instruments

We drew on key secondary data such as annual reports, monthly reports, program plans, media review and established evaluation questions to develop an evaluation matrix for the project. Based on the matrix semi-structured instruments were developed, and then tailored to the perspective and knowledge of each subgroup of participants. These carefully honed and reviewed primary data collection tools were used to conduct focus group sessions and one-on-one interviews with regional and national staff, board members, program beneficiaries, and community partners.

Keeping Data Collection Thorough While Flexible

Following a consenting process, the evaluation team conducted a series of interviews and focus groups telephonically. Secondary data drew on reports, program plans, concept and planning documents, media scan, and other diverse sources. Quantitative data were extracted and input into Excel for analysis and interviews and focus groups were digitally recorded and thematically analyzed individually and as a group for commonalities and differences. Using a mixed method approach enabled us to triangulate our data and provide a nuanced evaluation.

Presenting Findings and Viable Recommendations

The study found that major, cumulative growth occurred throughout the program’s three stages of development in infrastructure growth, partnership development, impact on community, funding, and the major leadership roles held on nonprofit organizations’ boards, task forces, and a Tribal/State Commission. With consideration to the challenges of funding for social justice work, realistic recommendations for short and long term change were provided.