Center for Effective Public Policy & Arnold Ventures

A website that shares information about the Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research initiative to ensure that every person in the justice system is treated equally under law.


The Center for Effective Public Policy (CEPP) works closely with judicial system practitioners to transform the criminal justice system through innovative, evidence-based policies and practices. Their work spans across a broad range of criminal justice issues, including: transforming probation and parole norms, addressing the unique needs of women in the criminal justice system, and advocating for local criminal justice systems to use research to inform decisions. Most recently, CEPP has partnered with Arnold Ventures and others to launch the Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research (APPR) initiative, a 5-year initiative focused on pretrial justice - policing to bail, prosecution to public defense - to ensure that every person in the justice system is treated equally under the law.

The Problem

According to APPR, “Pretrial decisions have enormous consequences for both the person charged with a crime and for the community. Those who are detained in jail can lose their job, housing, health care services, even custody of their children.”  As such, APPR is dedicated to advancing pretrial justice through research, technical assistance, policy, and advocacy. Key to this initiative is the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), an actuarial assessment that gives judges research-based information to make more informed pretrial decisions.

Exygy partnered with CEPP to design and build a website that shares information about the APPR initiative so both the public and jurisdictions can learn about their work in pretrial and easily access online learning resources to implement the PSA in their local jurisdiction.

The Approach

Grounded in User Needs

The US judicial system is complex and nuanced, with processes and roles that vary across every jurisdiction. To communicate effectively within this context, this project had to first ground itself in understanding the people working in the judicial system: their goals, needs, and challenges. We began by partnering with a digital learning vendor to interview 14 key PSA stakeholders, representing various jurisdiction sizes and roles in the pretrial space. Each interview focused on understanding each user’s needs related to information and educational resources before, during, and after PSA implementation.

We also analyzed the original PSA website to understand website visitors’ common flows through the site and most valued pages, assessing metrics such as unique page visits, time on page,  and bounce rate. These metrics helped us understand which information and content to maintain in the future site, while revealing opportunities for improvement in the website flow.

From this research, our team was able to create a high-level user flow and define common user segments, based on the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework.

Our team then traveled to New York, where we assembled a collaborative workshop with CEPP stakeholders to finalize the purpose and scope of the future website.

Together, we aligned on four user segments:

  1. Information Seeker: Any person seeking information about pretrial assessment, PSA and/or APPR.
  2. PSA Interested: Any person considering the PSA for their jurisdiction.
  3. Starter: Any person beginning to implement the PSA.
  4. Website Admin: Person(s) responsible for managing website users/permission and maintaining up-to-date website content.

The future-state decision flow for APPR’s “Starter” user type.

We created Persona Boards: future-state decision flows for each user type, which summarize needs and goals uncovered in interviews, map the most common step-by-step flow that a user might take to achieve their goal, and capture the primary common questions they’ll have throughout their journey. 

Compared to traditional user journeys, these Persona Boards have user flows that are meant to represent cognitive decisions that a user will naturally make - separate from a screen. Its purpose is to highlight friction in the existing product flow and serve as guideposts for the next stage of work: creating and strategically organizing the content.

Content Strategy for Complex Content

Armed with a deep understanding of the four PSA user types, our team launched into action - working to align with APPR on a content strategy to meet the needs of users from each type. Our challenge was designing for groups with far-ranging degrees of familiarity and expertise on pretrial actuarial assessments. Each group had very different goals and needs, implying drastically different content requirements. Our goal was to structure the website to be intuitive for users, allowing people to ask for more information when they want it, and keeping things simple when they don’t. 

Here are the three primary tactics we took to shape the content strategy for APPR’s website:

  1. Voice and Tone Workshop: Due to the nuanced nature of criminal justice systems, our voice needed to be intentional, compelling, credible, and precise. Using classic branding techniques, our team worked with APPR stakeholders to clearly articulate the voice and tone that their content needed to convey accuracy, clarity, and trustworthiness. This then formed the foundation for content guidelines developed by APPR’s Communications team.

  1. Content Library: This is an Exygy template used to track content at each phase of development. Included in the content library are the content themes, key messages, and a map of how they meet the defined user needs. We’re able to identify what format different content pieces need to take (i.e. video, diagram, paragraph).

  1. Weekly collaborative check-ins: We met with APPR’s Communications team each week to keep evolving content and design needs tightly in sync. Using Figma, a design tool that allows for real-time collaboration, their content team could review live versions of changing designs, and even upload their own content to see how they would look - all without a single line of code. These stakeholder check-ins and tools were critical to our success in managing content and design for an ever-shifting scope.

Multiple Components for Multiple Users

Taking into account the three public user types, we structured the website to provide access to four features to help people get what they want efficiently.

  • Informational pages with full access for all visitors.
  • DIY guides for jurisdictions implementing PSA, with limited access for unregistered accounts and full access for registered accounts.
  • A channel to the “APPR Community”, a digital space for pretrial practitioners to connect with peers, find answers, and share experiences.
  • A channel to the “Learning Platform”, an invite-only platform (at the time of launch) for jurisdictions to self-instruct and self-guide through their own PSA implementation, with virtual support from technical assistance (TA) providers

The online community is only accessible for users with registered accounts.

Complex processes - like understanding if one’s jurisdiction is ready to implement the PSA - are broken down into simple screens. 

Building a User-Friendly CMS

The former PSA website was created in a custom CMS, where some parts of the website (like the resource library and user management) was able to be managed by admins. Meanwhile, the majority of content on the website required developers to manually edit the code. When designing for the website admin persona, our engineers took the need for user-friendly content management into account, and recommended CEPP make a shift to WordPress. 

Today, any APPR content member is able to easily access, manage, and edit content without developers. This includes centralizing all content management for PSA guides, informational pages, additional resources, news and announcements, and upcoming events.

The Impact

In order to create the PSA tool, APPR analyzed over 750,000 cases across the country, and validated their findings with over 500,000 additional cases. Their dedication to creating a tool that is accurate, trustworthy, and accessible has been proven to increase rates of pretrial release and reduce use of financial conditions of release. When implemented responsibly and as part of comprehensive, systemic pretrial improvement, the PSA can improve racial equity, fair treatment, and reduce the impact of systemic racism within the pretrial process.

In order to create change on a national level, the PSA tool must be implemented by jurisdictions across the country. This all-in-one platform bridges the gap between jurisdictions and the PSA tool. Through comprehensive content strategy, our designers strategically tailored content to the identified user types in order to meet users wherever they’re at - whether they’re familiar with the PSA tool and are ready to adopt it, or have never heard of it and want to understand the basic principles.

Throughout our work with CEPP, our goal has been simple: to help people understand the potential that APR has to reform our pretrial system. Giving decision-makers this critical information is the first step in reforming how our nation treats those in the justice system.

The APPR website was launched in May 2020. We continue to actively collect and analyze incoming user metrics, which inform future product iterations.

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