FTCoE Takes New Approach to Informing Stakeholders

Webinars. Podcasts. A conference report. Links to articles and workshop presentations. A new topical focus on a redesigned website. All of these are elements in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) promotion of educational materials related to forensic pathology and medicolegal death investigations (MDI).

The wide array of materials on this topic isn’t a one-off effort, but rather the start of a new approach, according to the FTCoE’s Rebecca Shute: “We’re trying to focus on themes that are very timely and we’re taking an approach that involves several different types of deliverables. Using this multi-pronged approach will help us reach as many users as we possibly can.”

While forensic pathology and MDI are the first topics to benefit from the new approach, the Center has plans to emphasize at least a half-dozen more topics in the same way during 2019.

“Everybody processes information differently; some people are visual and some would rather hear it. I work on a lot of landscape reports, but sometimes people just don’t want to sift through that much information,” Shute says. “They would rather listen to a podcast while they’re running errands, or watch a webinar during lunch.”

For those who prefer the latter two methods, NIJ’s FTCoE offers a four-episode special series of its Just Science podcast program, touching on topics such as the difference between coroners and medical examiners and how their roles differ, and several webinars on related topics, including two fall 2018 webinars related to entomology and postmortem interval estimation, or time of death.

“We’re focusing on MDI and forensic pathology now because of two recent conferences: the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners (IAC&ME) Annual Training Conference in July and the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) Annual Meeting in October. The FTCoE promoted their MDI resources at both of these annual events,” Shute says.

Understanding the varying needs of professionals in this field is also a priority of NIJ, which supports the FTCoE. The Center produced a report on Strengthening the Medical Examiner–Coroner System Through NIJ-funded Programs: 2018 Medicolegal Death Investigation Stakeholders’ Meeting, an NIJ-sponsored event that brought together a diverse group of stakeholders from 21 states and the District of Columbia in February 2018.

NIJ’s goals for the meeting included learning how the agency can better help the community with its high-priority needs, identify solutions to help with their challenges, and inform participants about existing NIJ programs and initiatives. NIJ had initiated this effort in response to both a nationwide shortage of forensic pathologists and recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Commission on Forensic Science, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s National Science and Technology Council.

That NIJ prioritization and stakeholders’ meeting made the topic a natural fit as the first one to benefit from the new FTCoE approach, which is also timed to work with the redesign of the FTCoE home page.

“We have redesigned the home page so that it’s easier to use and to find information on what you’re looking for,” Shute says. “All of the new information is right up front, and it’s easy to find links to topics of interest, including pathology and MDI.”

Following that link here leads the user to the aforementioned podcasts and webinars, along with reports, archived workshops and other resources.

“We’re able to offer a lot of solid information to the forensics community and we want to be as comprehensive as possible in doing it,” says Shute. “Switching to this approach allows us to provide a lot of value to multiple stakeholders. We’re trying to be more intentional in serving end users better.”

For more information on forensics programs of the National Institute of Justice, contact Gerald LaPorte, Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, at

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