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SART Foundations: The Building Blocks of Sustainability-Part 1

One of the most common issues I see when working with Sexual Assault Response Teams is that many teams express difficulty with sustainability. That’s why I want to talk about some of the building blocks of sustainability: Mechanics, dynamics, base-building, and history/future. This blog is going to focus on the tangible basics: mechanics, base-building, and history/future.

Mechanics: it might sound funny, but you need to have a game plan for your mechanics as a team before you engage in too much base building. Mechanics are the individual components of a larger system—think of all the wheels and cogs inside of a clock. When I talk to teams about mechanics, I talk with them about things like team mission, agreements, membership, and the actual routines of the team. The routines of things like when and where a meeting is held, the contents of the agenda, and communication processes. When you are in the process of building or strengthening a team’s sustainability, you need to be attending to the very mechanics of how your team will work together. If there is a clear way in which the pieces fit, it’s easier to understand why the team’s work matters, which builds up investment and sustainability.

Base-building: this is ensuring that you have a solid foundation as a team. Once you have the plan for the mechanics, you can build the sustainability of the team through ensuring your team members all have the same basic level of knowledge about sexual violence and commit to similar team principles, like being victim-centered or trauma-informed. Additionally, it’s key to make sure that each team member understands the work of the other team members and engages in solid communication processes. Does each agency understand their own practices and policies? When the team has a strong base, it’s easier to ensure the sustainability of the team’s work.

History/Future: this is the documentation that serves as a record and orientation process. Things to consider when developing and strengthening a sustainability plan for your team is writing up a short team history and timeline of events/accomplishments. This is especially helpful for reporting or grant applications. It’s also key that there is an electronic record of agendas, meeting minutes, and team directories. Each team member should have a current team directory with contact information—this is key for increasing knowledge between agencies, which assists with long term work. Finally, part of the history/future is about having a clear orientation plan for new members. Part of sustainability is planning for turnover and transition. Both of those are a given in this line of work. What is the team’s plan for orienting new members so they enter on the same knowledge base as their peers?

This is a brief overview of three blocks of four blocks of sustainability. Each block could be its own novel. However, if you have further questions or thoughts about these blocks, please connect with SVJI to discuss further or leave your thoughts in the comments!