SVJI’s Rural Technical Assistance Project brings people, knowledge, and resources together to develop real solutions for rural communities addressing sexual violence. The collaborative approach we take means tools, trainings, and conferences designed for rural spaces and tailored assistance to meet your community’s specific needs. 


Our Rural Realities blog is a space to reflect, connect, and share about the work of coordinated sexual assault responses with others doing similar work across the United States. Please contact Johnanna Ganz (jganz@mncasa.org) with any rural related needs or questions.

Please share your thoughts and responses to blog posts via the comment function. Any comments that are deemed inappropriate (e.g. derogatory or inflammatory) will be deleted. 


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  • November 14, 2017 9:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    When thinking about coordinating a team in a rural space, one of the main issues that comes up is needing a medical representative on the team—especially one that can provide competent medical forensic exams. One outstanding technical assistance resource that I always refer folks to is the International Association of Forensic Nurses. IAFN offers a whole host of technical assistance options at http://www.safeta.org/. They provide a form library for medical forensic forms, they do trainings, they do so many good things. If you are working to coordinate a team and are in need of technical assistance around the medical forensic response, I highly recommend IAFN and SAFEta.


    Do you have other related resources that you would like to share? Leave them in the comments!  


  • November 08, 2017 8:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Whether you take on the task of team coordinator when the team is just forming or whether you are taking over from a previous coordinator, the work of directing the team isn’t an easy job. There are a ton of things to consider, and there is so much I wish I had known when I began coordinating my team. Reflecting on that experience as well as working with other new coordinators, I have two recommendations around major tasks to do as a team coordinator: learn and develop.


    Learn: The very first thing a new coordinator must do is take the time to get their bearings and orient themselves to the job, the team, and the agencies. Figuring out the job is shaped by existing documents, previous tasks of a prior coordinator, or by understanding where you want the team to go. If your team doesn’t have a mission statement or vision, now would be a great time to make that happen! This complements learning about the team—individual members as well as the group dynamics. Learning about the individuals members can really help you determine how to use their strengths and interests to further team process. Finally, learning about the agencies that have signed onto the Sexual Assault Response Team give you the opportunity to understand prior history, challenges of all types, and who to call on.


    Develop: the second stage in adjusting to your coordinator role is to begin to create guidelines and habits! Your team will need to know what to expect of you and what you expect of them in terms of communications, attitudes, and work products. The coordinator can really set the tone for the team on all of these items. Because what you do and how you do it shows the team how they should respond. Regardless of your personal skill set, it is necessary to recruit help and develop a system that demonstrates reliability and consistency with the whole team. Leverage the skills of your team and their respective agencies to strengthen and develop the team’s effectiveness. Developing habits with the team from the very beginning is important. Habits like agendas or ground rules for difficult conversations or holding folks to due dates or building positive relationships outside of the team’s regular meetings—these habits help craft sustainability in a team.


    Coordinating a team is a tough and rewarding job. Most folks aren’t paid to do this full-time and have limited hours to dedicate to their SART. Orienting yourself to your job, team, and agencies as well as building a bank of habits that simplify your workload are key steps in becoming a new coordinator.


    Have you got other ideas from when you began leading a team? Please, share in the comments below!


  • November 01, 2017 8:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    When I used to do research and when I work with teams now, I usually ended interviews or discussions with, “If you had one piece of advice about _______, what would you tell someone?” In kicking off this month, I want to poll the expertise that is represented by the rural coordinators and teams who read this blog.


    If you could give one piece of advice to a new Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator, what would you tell them?  Weigh-in below in the comments! 


  • October 25, 2017 7:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There are many reasons to have a standalone Sexual Assault Response Team in each community. 1) SARTs focus exclusively on sexual violence which is the most underreported crime, 2) SARTs can be adaptable and grounded in specific experiences of sexual violence victim/survivors, 3) SARTs can specialize in changing specific practices when responding to sexual violence in the community. There are so many reasons—however, some regions cannot sustain a standalone SART after the initial development of the team or protocols. I’ve had a number of folks reach out and say, “Our rural agencies can’t attend so many meetings. Can we just combine?” The answer is not really and kind of.


    When the issue of the standalone SART arises, you have some questions you need to answer honestly and openly as a team. 

    • Can we reduce meeting frequency/length/location and still maintain a quality team? Sometimes, you can change up the components of the team meeting and this adjustment is enough to allow a standalone team to continue. Particularly around frequency and length of meetings, sometimes a team can move to bi-monthly in order to continue their good work in a more sustainable manner.
    • Can we create a new structure to meet team needs? Sometimes, teams will move to a subcommittee model. This is where the full team meets occasionally as a check-in and update time, and the subcommittee continues to meet regularly to make intensive progress on intiatives. Each committee focuses on a specific set of tasks that are related to their work. For example, think of a hospital protocol subcommittee, college/university subcommittee, or a law enforcement interviewing subcommittee.
    • Are there similar meetings where the majority of the team already meets? Some communities have meetings that center on child protection, domestic violence, or drug task forces. If the majority of your team is already there, perhaps adding an additional, separate SART meeting can reduce strain on the agencies in attendance and increase attendance at your meetings.
    • Can you be part of other meetings and still cover the important work of the SART? If you can’t add that extra SART meeting, can you combine with a similar focus meeting AND still advocate for sexual violence victim/survivors? This can be really challenging but is not outside of the realm of possibility. If you cannot *actually* do the work of the SART--and remained focused only on sexual violence response--in this other meeting, it’s not a good choice.

    Sustaining teams in rural spaces can pose some questions. If you are thinking of combining, consider the questions above with your team. Any experience with this process? Other questions you might want a team to ask themselves? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


  • October 19, 2017 8:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There are many resources that exist to help folks plan and execute meetings. One particularly useful resource is from the University of Minnesota. Good meetings are hard to come by. However, as a coordinator, you have some power in crafting a positive experience for your team members. Here’s a 7-minute TedTalk by David Grady about meetings that might inspire some ideas for your next meeting!


    Do you have some meeting mechanics resources and tips for fellow SART leaders? Leave them in the comments! 


  • October 12, 2017 4:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    If you’ve ever met me or worked with me, you know how much I love a highly structured agenda. I geek out over a good agenda. My bias for agendas aside, I want to share with you about the importance of having an agenda for your Sexual Assault Response Team meetings. With this blog, I’m going to ask you to consider why agendas are critical tools in the success of your SART’s work.


    Agendas can look a number of ways. There are some key design elements that you should consider incorporating into your existing agenda or when you are developing your first agenda. Below are the major points:

    • Date, time, location of meeting, and team coordinator contact information. I usually put this information in big font at the top and center of an agenda. It serves as a reminder of date and time. The location gives people not only the name of the place but also the address—something they can easily plug into their phone’s map programs or into the computer. The contact information is a quick reference point if they are lost, running late, or need something else. When I started putting my contact information on the meeting agenda (that I sent out one week prior to the meeting), more people got a hold of me to communicate needs, issues, or other items. Good communication is key.
    • Content areas with key questions or issues to address. Providing a list of the things your team needs to address gives the entire team a better sense of why they need to come to a meeting. This can fight the feeling of “I don’t have time for another meeting.” If you can demonstrate how the team members’ time will be used, then, they know what to expect and why they should be there. Folks can prepare their comments and ponder questions. This gives introverts and more quiet members of the team some time to reflect and be ready to contribute. It also allows you to have some control over conversations if they run wild. You can bring people back to the main focus as needed. Ever had a meeting hijacked? I certainly have and the content areas helps get the meeting back on track. 
    • Allotted time for each activity. When I first started leading my team, I always gave them content areas as I said above, however, I did not add allotted times. This foiled a lot of my best laid plans. Because I wasn’t estimating how much time something would take, the conversation frequently spiraled, got off topic, ran too short, or took up the whole meeting. When I added the estimated time to tackle the content, team members started figuring out what they most wanted to address about the content; when conversations were no longer producing new information or two members were in a bit of heated conversation, there was a natural way to diffuse tensions or move the conversation ahead. It also let team members self-correct—I didn’t always have to be the one to interrupt. This gave control back to the group in a positive way.
    • Next meeting information. Tell them when and where the next meeting will occur. It serves as a good reminder.
    • Team related items. This could be upcoming trainings, team ground rules, important dates for completion of outside tasks, group agreements, or anything else directly relevant to the team. Providing a physical reminder is really helpful.

    These items are my go-to need to haves on an agenda. An agenda serves a vital role in helping your team focus and accomplish important tasks and discussions. It can serve as a wrangler when the team scatters in different directions and can work to develop better team cohesion and buy-in. Consider how you will achieve these outcomes through an agenda (or alternative format if you are anti-agenda). Additionally, if you want a look at my agendas, just send me an email—I’m happy to share the wealth!


    Do you have must have qualities about your agendas? Any agenda no-no’s? Share your thoughts in the comments! 


  • October 04, 2017 9:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In doing technical assistance as well as in my own team, I find that many people express frustration about meetings. The meetings are too long, too short, don’t focus enough on content, no time for a meeting, don’t have snacks, etc… You get the point. There are always issues that come up around meetings, especially in the multidisciplinary setting. This month’s theme is going to focus on SART meetings.


    What ideas or feelings do you have at the very thought of meetings? Weigh-in on meetings blues or meetings successes in the comments! 


  • September 27, 2017 12:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Final year in review post from November 2016!


    Coming from the upper Midwest and living in some version of the rural Midwest most of my life has really shaped my view on conflict. As whole, Midwesterners hate conflict—especially Minnesotans. Ever hear of the double edged magic of Minnesota nice? I live in Minnesota now. I can assure you: it’s a thing. In the other rural places I’ve lived, friendliness and agreeable-ness are important, like really, really important. When working with SARTs here in Minnesota and other rural teams, my colleagues and I have noticed how often team members are in agreement. Let’s be real, sometimes it is a relief to see agreement. But, there are other moments when a team desperately needs some disagreement. So…here we are! Let’s talk about the power of productive conflict for SARTs and how to be engaged with one another while experiencing conflict.

    • Figure out what the team needs, not what they should do. This ties into the idea of creating a team that has rich participation. You might hold an opinion on what you think your team should or shouldn’t do. However, it is more important to evaluate the whole—what does your team need most in the short term and the long term? So, think through something like, “My team needs a protocol that responds to many types of cases of sexual violence. How can we achieve that?” rather than, “My team has to update their protocol to look like our neighboring SART’s protocol, because that one is better at serving all types of sexual violence cases.” Generally, think of it as an adventure for growth, not a specific destination.
    • Use a supporting structure. Hard conversations in groups only works when there are good structures to support the weight. Ground rules for discussion are a great tool in any context. Ask the group to establish rules that should be a part of every meeting. Additionally, think through whether you need small group or large group discussion, an anonymous feedback mechanism (note cards with comments, surveys, whatever), or some other way to get the information. You need a solid structure and as the leader, you know your team’s style best. Use that to your advantage.
    • Draw attention to energy shifts. This sounds really touchy feely. I get it. However, in being a SART leader, there is value in “taking the temperature” of the room and acknowledging something is happening. Often, there is verbal agreement and non-verbal disagreement happening with challenging topics. Make sure you don’t point out any individual, but do point out that you sense something is not quite settled and you want to invite further reflection or discussion on the issue.
    • Address underlying issues through key questions. Key questions are neutral and open-ended questions that explore an issue by guiding people through the reasoning behind and/or implications of the choice. There is so much value in being able to ask a question that isn’t a value judgment (Are those shoes practical for this weather?) or a persuasive statement (Wouldn’t it be better stop and ask for directions?) dressed up like a question. Your key questions will help people explore the nature of conflict and figure out where and why they hold that perspective.
    • Inspire folks to problem solve together. When you can unite people to fix a problem, they are capable of doing really amazing things. Your SART is no different. Perhaps, you provide an example of where you would like to get and ask your team to think through how they could do something similar that would work for your community. The key is, you have to get people to talk about their differences and then, find how to leverage the strength of difference rather than rely on constant agreement.

    Conflict can be a really good tool for SARTs, especially if the group spends a lot of time agreeing. Make sure to explore your own feelings, pitfalls, and habits when it comes to conflict; that way, you know what to be on the lookout for when navigating your leadership through team disagreement. 

     

    More importantly, what has been your experience in dealing with too much team agreement? What strategies worked best for you in handling conflict? Any advice to others? Leave it in the comments!


  • September 20, 2017 8:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For our year in review, check out this post from January 2017 on Mission Statements! 


    Through doing work with Sexual Assault Response Teams, one of the key things that helps orient the group and keep the work grounded is a mission statement. Sounds cheesy? You betcha. Is it effective? You betcha! Mission statements or clear guiding principles/goals help any group with the work they do, the decisions they need to make, or the outcomes they want to see. Recently, our organization went through the process of updating and revising our mission statement, and the process helped us to grow tremendously and give us a better sense of direction.


    Mission statements or goals should be relatively short and clear. The mission statement tells you all the most essential information that an outside party needs to have a view of what you do and why. Your statement will contain the following information: (1) Who are you? (2) What do you do? (3) Who benefits? Let’s walk through what those mean, even if they seem pretty simple.

    1. Who are you? This is the easiest part of the mission statement. It is the name of your group or agency. If you don’t have a name, now is a fine time to unite under one banner. It should probably describe your service area and include the team type. Let’s just pretend that my SART is named after my cat, CleoCatra. So, the question is answered by the following:
      1. The Catra County SART
    2. What do you do? This might be a little trickier to be able to say in short way, because the truth is that SARTs do a lot of work for their areas. You meet regularly. You build relationships. You challenge your agencies to improve their work. You write and implement protocol. You collect input from service providers and victim/survivors. There are so many things to choose from that it can feel overwhelming. Focus in on the big picture view of your work. Ask yourselves about the end goal you and your team are trying to achieve. Using my example, I might say this:
      1. Increases access to and improves the sexual assault response
    3. Who Benefits? This question is asking for whom are you doing the work. A mission statement will tell people what you are seeking to do and who will be better because of your existence. This helps to justify and clarify the work you do for when people go off track. Knowing the people you aim to serve will help keep your team centered. You will have the power to ask, “For whom do we do this work?” which will help steer people back on course. Keep this part focused on your main population, because many people will probably benefit from your work. So, my example might look like:
      1. Sexual assault victim/survivors in our county

    When we put my example all together, it would read like this:


    The Catra County SART increases access to and improve the sexual assault response for sexual assault victim/survivors in our county.


    Even that has some repeated phrasing. We could shorten it to look like this:


    The Catra County SART increases access to and improves the sexual assault response for victim/survivors.


    This mission statement tells people who we are, what we do, and who benefits as a result. It provides a clear road map for our work and will serve as our touch point moving forward.


    Now it’s your turn. Does your team have a mission statement? Do they need one? Do you think mission statements are frustrating? Leave your thoughts, questions, or stories in the comments! 


  • September 13, 2017 12:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For our year in review, we are posting the year's most popular blogs! Please see this one from December 2016. 


    As a SART coordinator, one of my major gripes was around the problem of what I began to refer to as shiny things or the shiny problem. All teams experience this issue, whether you are rural, urban, new, experienced, or any other descriptor. When working with teams that are engaging in difficult processes (like negotiating the mean of terms, trouble shooting systems difficulties, etc.), the shiny problem especially comes into play. So, you may be thinking, “What exactly is the shiny problem?”


    The shiny problem: when a team begins to lose focus and wants to chase (or chases) after seemingly exciting and large projects or ideas that are unrelated to the current tasks and needs of the team. AKA they see something shiny and sparkly and want to chase it.


    Example: You are working through developing protocol and a team member starts to talk about how important it is to start doing monthly case review.* Other team members suddenly jump on this idea and want to begin spending more time on case review. While case review is important (!), this is a large undertaking and can easily distract the team from the task at hand—protocol writing.


    Most humans are susceptible to the shiny problem. It’s just how we roll. Focus on mundane and difficult tasks is truly hard for the human brain to sustain; research suggests that we can only focus our attention for approximately 20 minute intervals. So, the real question is: how do you deal with the shiny problem on your own teams? Here are my two strategies that work in most situations:

    • Ask key questions! Key questions are neutral and open-ended questions that explore an issue by guiding people through the reasoning behind and/or implications of the choice. Through using neutral, open-ended questions you may discover the shiny is actually necessary or you may uncover other issues at play within in the team. Using the example from above, you could ask the team members questions like:
      • What draws you to the idea of case review during protocol development?
      • How does case review enhance or hinder our current process?
      • Can you tell me more about what you hope to get out of case review at this time?
    • Get folks to commit to the shiny! My preferred way of doing this when someone says, “I want…!” or “Why don’t we…?” is that I first explore the concept through some neutral/open-ended questions. If it seems like a good fit (or, even if it doesn’t but they won’t let it go!) for the team’s work, I ask the team to fill in the blank, “To get that, I/my agency will…” This places the work back onto the team and increases sense of ownership over the work. The commitment strategy can also work to diminish the power of the shiny—it might not seem so great if a team member or their agency has to commit more time/money/resources. Back to our example, if a team is intent on doing case review, you could pose the following to the team to fill in individually or collectively:
      • To finish the protocol, I commit myself and my agency to ___________.
      • To begin doing case review and to support case review as a team process, I commit myself and my agency to ___________.

    If no one or only a small group is willing to commit themselves or their agencies to the work required, you can place it back on the team. Assure them you can always pick the shiny up at another time, and then, you can get back to the task you are trying to accomplish.


    Coordinators are often expected to do a lion’s share of the work with few resources to accomplish the tasks. This gets even more complicated when team members (or you!) begin to experience the shiny problem. Remember, the shiny problem is totally normal! But, you do need to able to refocus on the tasks at hand. The two strategies of key questions and commitment—either individually or as a combo—are tools that promote exploration of ideas and ultimately, increase participation and accountability on behalf of the team and their agencies without shaming, humiliating, or shutting others down.


    Questions? Other strategies you use? Comments? All are welcome! Leave ‘em below! 


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This project is supported by Grant Number 2015-TA-AX-K014 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this content are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. 

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