A contextual inquiry approach to improving DNA service delivery in sexual assault investigations

  • Katie Jetten

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The forensic science arena in England and Wales is structurally, financially, and culturally in a state of crisis, where limited funding and a fragmented approach to service delivery stifle research; innovation; and the implementation of evidence based change in frontline practice. Whilst from a whole system perspective the forensic evidence journey traverses multiple stakeholders; agencies; and actors; systemic challenge and a siloed approach to research expose the system to areas of vulnerability. However few detailed end-to-end examinations that holistically evaluate the evidence journey from collection through to interpretation exist.
To begin, this thesis demonstrates the shortfalls to a siloed approach, and presents a case study that highlights the need to holistically examine the system to create effective change. Next, a novel application of a modified Contextual Design approach is implemented, where a detailed end-to-end examination of the DNA evidence journey in sexual assault investigations, from collection through to interpretation, is presented through the lens of one Forensic Service User and one Forensic Service Provider.
By implementing a novel framework for identifying requirement in the forensic science arena, 56 breakdowns across the system are evidenced and categorised according to an original three-tiered system; Local level Category 1; Local level Category 2; and National level requirement. Key breakdowns include deployment of Crime Scene Investigators to Sexual Assault Referral Centres (Category 1); the sustainability of complex in-house facilities (Category 2); and the need for a national cultural reform within the forensic science arena (National).
By exploring each of the breakdowns in the context of wider literature, this thesis presents an empirical evidence base to propose 38 recommendations for impactful change within the DNA domain. Changes include routine crime scene to court proficiency testing, and the development of a nationalised reporting system.
Date of AwardAug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorClaire Victoria Rhodes (Supervisor), Katherine Brown (Supervisor) & Fiona Myers (Supervisor)

Cite this