In response to the ever–growing problem of domestic violence, the American Red Cross of the greater Salt Lake area, in collaboration with the public agencies responsible for domestic violence cases in Salt Lake, was awarded in 1999 the first of several discretionary grants by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Violence Against Women Office, to coordinate services and activities related to the investigation, prosecution, and management of perpetrators of domestic violence. Two grant staff were hired and numerous special project initiatives were later funded through the grant. The first year of the project yielded the development of important relationships between grant staff and the agencies involved in domestic violence cases; data was also collected and analyzed to provide a detailed understanding of the flow of cases through the criminal justice system, the resources available to respond, and the training and information needs of agencies.
In early 2001, a formal collaborative team, The Implementation Steering Committee (ISC) for the Office of Justice Program’s Collaboration Project, was formed, with thirty–nine members representing all of the community’s domestic violence stakeholders, including, among others, law enforcement, the adult and juvenile court, prosecution, community corrections, victim advocacy, corrections, defense, child and family services, guardian ad litem, and children services. Grant staff and ISC members prepared a vision and mission statement along with by–laws, goals, objectives and a memorandum of understanding. The Team held a total of nine monthly meetings in the fifteen months prior to the SJI–sponsored Collaboration Project’s first site visit to Salt Lake in May of 2002. Much of the ISC’s early work together focused on the development of a shared understanding of “how… disjointed and incomplete procedures” negatively impact the outcome of domestic violence cases.
Nine separate initiatives were launched by the ISC, many to address the problem of coordination and information sharing across agencies. Nonetheless, in their application for participation in the Collaboration Project they indicated, “The problems … exist between agencies as well as within agencies and are major factors in the re–victimization of adult victims and children. Dealing honestly with problems that have more to do with professional and personal behaviors rather than processes and then safely reaching a constructive outcome is [a] formidable endeavor.” Input from team members, as well as observations by the Collaboration Project, revealed the following problems and challenges for the ISC:
Lack of Consensus on Purpose:
- Elusive Vision and Mission: While the ISC had vision and mission statements, most individuals who participated in the initial round of technical assistance interviews felt uncertain about what they were. Several individuals indicated that they felt certain that if polled, each of the 39 members of the ISC would offer a slightly different perspective on its purpose.
- Lack of Measurable Goals and Objectives: A significant number of those interviewed indicated that the ISC lacked clear goals and objectives, despite the fact that these had been recorded and the nine separate initiatives to address them were underway. Further, when asked about the potential of the ISC, many lacked perspective on what the ISC could do, although several people clearly indicated that the “ISC has access to the most powerful policymakers.”
- Unclear Scope of Work: Probably as a result of its vast membership
and lack of clear goals, some members expressed confusion over the scope
of the ISC’s work—whether it extended to both family and
criminal court, and whether it focused on the city, greater Salt Lake
area, or to the entire state.
Group Membership and Structure:
The ISC was organized as a broad–based group of constituents representing all of the individual agencies—from public to private, large to small—with a stake in ending domestic violence. Its 39 member body was led by a Chair and managed entirely by two grant staff.
- Isolated Leadership: The responsibility for its leadership rested solely with the Chair and committee staff.
- Lack of Ownership: Interviews revealed that many members perceived ownership for the group to rest with the project staff; some individuals held the belief that the participation of some members stemmed from loyalty to staff or “because it is the right thing to do,” rather than as a reflection of their own genuine commitment to the issue.
- Unclear Roles and Responsibilities: Almost universally, members indicated a lack of clarity regarding their role in the group.
- Arbitrary Project Rules: Rules of management were stipulated in the ISC’s by–laws but were not entirely adhered to.
- Lack of Purposeful Agendas: Meeting agendas were prepared by grant staff in consultation with the ISC Chair in advance of the meetings. Agenda items were not clearly tied to the ISC’s vision, mission and goals.
- Meetings Not Action—and Decision–Oriented: Meetings appeared to be run largely as didactic events, rather than action–oriented, decision making opportunities.
- Inconsistent Meeting Attendance and Participation: A review of the group’s meeting records reflected sporadic attendance by many members.
- Documentation Problems: Meeting records were routinely prepared and circulated to all members, although decisions and action items were difficult to discern.
- No Outside Facilitation: Meetings were run by the Chair and did not have the benefit of a neutral facilitator who could attend to group process, enabling members to participate in, rather than manage, the meetings.
- No Ground Rules: Members had not established a set of norms to define their expectations of one another.
- Disputable Progress: Despite what appeared from the outside to be significant progress made over the past year, several individuals interviewed indicated, “things are not changing” as a result of the ISC.
- Insufficient Attention to Team Building: Members appeared to lack a sense of camaraderie, despite having worked together on this committee for over a year.
Technical assistance to the ISC began with a two–day site visit that included individual interviews with nearly half of the 39 member team, several key individuals not on the ISC, review of meeting records from the nine previously conducted monthly meetings, and observation of a combined regularly–scheduled meeting and training on the cycle of domestic violence for the ISC and a limited number of their colleagues. Shortly following this site visit, six representatives from the Salt Lake ISC participated in a three–day national workshop. The event was pivotal, providing members with an opportunity to assess their strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies for change. They were extraordinarily willing to receive suggestions and guidance.
During the project workshop, the Salt Lake Team:
- Defined the scope of their work (to include the greater Salt Lake area, with a focus on cases entering the domestic violence court);
- Renamed their committee—the Salt Lake Area Safe at Home Coalition (SLASHC);
- Established ground rules for their work together—which, with a few additions, would later become the ground rules of the full SLASHC;
- Discussed and redefined both their vision and mission statements; and
- Defined a new working structure, involving the establishment of an Executive Committee—whose responsibilities included active participation in defining the direction of the SLASHC and assuming a major role in carrying out the work tasks of the group—and identified a broader membership group, selected specifically for their ability to define targets of change and identify resources to address these changes.
- Community, agencies, and systems will respect and act on the belief that the well being of victims and their children needs to over ride issues of history, politics, limited funding, and over burdened staff.
- The community recognizes that we can, will, and must work together to have any lasting beneficial impact on the devastating effects of violence in the home.
- Creativity, ingenuity, honesty, and respect are recognized as key factors in assisting the community in honoring and acting on their responsibility to deal with victims of violence.
- Create sustainable collaborative initiatives addressing the needs of victims and children impacted by domestic violence.
- Facilitate, develop, implement, and evaluate a coordinated and collaborative community approach in the identification and response to victims and children when domestic violence and child abuse are present.
- Ensure interventions promote the safety, dignity, accountability, and respect of all individuals.
- Everyone Safe at Home…. Families Free from Violence!
- To create a collaborative community approach to domestic violence and child abuse in the Salt Lake area, increase adult and child safety, and perpetrator accountability.
Following the workshop, four additional technical assistance visits were made. The first involved a one–day retreat of the ISC membership, during which the full membership had an opportunity to react to, and refine, the work of the sub–group that attended the workshop. The sub–group’s work was supported with great enthusiasm and was enhanced with additional input from the broader group.
Thereafter, three additional technical assistance visits were conducted. For each, Collaboration project staff, working with the newly formed Executive Committee, developed the agendas and facilitated each of the meetings. These meetings resulted in the following:
A More Narrowly Defined Set of Measurable Goals:
The development of goals followed a significant progression. The ISC had cast to paper a set of goals and objectives that had nonetheless eluded its membership. During the SLASHC retreat, a broad set of long and short–term goals were identified, and subcommittees to address each were formed. However, few of these subcommittees met and several months later, the Executive Committee diagnosed the barrier to progress as an overly ambitious effort. A new approach was adopted: the Executive Committee agreed to select no more than two goals to work on at any given time. The criteria for selection included goals that were: of significant importance to each member (these were selected by consensus); attainable within six months time; and achievable within the current resource environment.
Shared Responsibility for Group Process, Task Achievement and Outcomes:
Each of the core members agreed to become active participants of the group and its products. Ground rules were posted at each meeting and members gently reminded one another of their previous agreements. Members readily agreed to accept assignments and then faithfully carried these out and reported back on their achievements at the next meeting. The group’s official leadership—which, according to the by–laws should have rotated annually but had not—changed, this time including the designation of a Co–Chair who, it was understood, would rotate into the Chair’s position in the following year. The willing designation of the Domestic Violence Court Judge as Chair and the Assistant Chief of Police as Co–Chair were considered significant steps in the group’s evolution.
Assignment of a Permanent Facilitator:
Recognizing the value of a skilled facilitator, Executive Committee members together brainstormed a list of potential volunteer facilitators and succeeded in gaining the commitment of a local individual with experience in facilitation to serve in this capacity.
Acknowledgement of Successes:
Despite a list of significant accomplishments, members historically failed to fully recognize and appreciate their achievements. A “wall of accomplishments” was produced by one of the members, representing a structure built with bricks. Each “brick” carried a label representing an accomplishment and, over time, the Executive Committee added each new achievement to a brick on the wall, which was proudly displayed at each committee meeting.
Finally, significant changes were made in the management of meetings. A permanent meeting time and location were established to avoid scheduling conflicts and confusion over location; each meeting began with a brief recap of the previous meeting and a review of the day’s agenda; the agenda for the subsequent meeting was formulated collaboratively before adjournment; a permanent agenda item (“new business”) provided an allotted time to attend to unanticipated items; and action–oriented meeting records were produced, providing extensive detail on each discussion and highlighting each decision and task assignment made. The team’s new ground rules provided a framework for productive interactions within this new format, and the team learned to “self–police” according to these ground rules very quickly.
Over the course of ten months and six technical assistance contacts, significant changes occurred within this group. Clearly defining the scope and target of change, developing a results–driven structure, defining members’ roles and responsibilities, and establishing a method of supportive accountability, while building a sense of esprit de corps, were pivotal in reshaping and restructuring this group. Changes in logistical operations—such as the method for establishing meeting agendas and agreeing on a regular meeting time—created a more efficient and effective working structure, while identifying an outside facilitator to attend to matters of group process, and task completion enabled all group members to substantively participate in meetings. The creation of an Executive Committee, tasked with steering the Coalition’s work and assuring the link between goals and objectives and vision and mission, was a critical step and infused new energy into the group. Sharing leadership—indeed, expecting full participation and leadership from each Executive Committee member—served to increase investment and ownership over the group and its work. Finally, focusing the group’s efforts on small, attainable goals that could be achieved within the existing resource environment (and marking each achievement with another “brick” in the foundation of a Safe Home) propelled the group into a new arena: one that offered the possibility of immediate results and promise for long–term impact on the problem of domestic violence in Salt Lake.