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Develop agreements and protocols

Last edited: March 07, 2019

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To formalize the cooperation among different partners, it may be helpful to clearly outline the purpose of working together and specify the roles and responsibilities of each member.  Often the fundamental objectives, agreements and arrangements in a coordinated response are spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), sometimes called a Memorandum of Agreement.  This is a formal, but non-legally binding document that should be signed by all agencies and individuals involved.  MoUs can enable organisations to move beyond occasional case-by-case interactions, and actually integrate joint work into the catalogue of an institution’s responsibilities (Grieger et al., 2004).

Protocols may also be developed to document in greater detail agreements regarding how agencies and sectors will interact with each other, roles and responsibilities within the coordination group and in representatives’ own posts/agencies or procedures to be followed in particular situations.  A protocol is essentially a shared agreement among parties or agencies that formalises relationships across services and outlines shared codes of practice (Olle, 2005). 

In the context of a coordinated response, policies and protocols are essential operational tools, as they clearly set out:

  • How coordination is to be undertaken;
  • Roles and responsibilities of individuals and agencies;
  • Lines of accountability;
  • Processes for ensuring each agency is operating within agreed guidelines; and
  • Basic principles to be followed when an agency is presented with a case involving violence against women.

As coordinated responses by their very nature encompass multiple agencies or sectors, it is essential that all parties involved take part in the process of developing and approving any agreements or protocols deemed necessary to aid the coordination, as this will create buy-in and improve the likelihood of agreements or protocols being observed.  The more embedded agreements and protocols become, the more practice can become consistent within and across agencies.  Having essential tasks and responsibilities clearly laid out also aids transparency and communication between agencies about each entity’s role and how they should interact to more effectively support victims/survivors – this should be further elaborated in detail in a corresponding Standard Operating Procedures document (see below).

How to develop an inter-agency protocol (Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, US)

In 1996, Victim Services in Rochester, Minnesota, USA received a federal STOP Violence Against Women Grant to develop a model victim/survivor -centred protocol for the state of Minnesota.  During this process it became clear that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would not work because of the vast differences between counties and jurisdictions. As a result, the project shifted its goal to developing a flexible process that would allow counties to develop their own customised response protocols to best fit the needs and resources of the local community.  This resulted in ‘The Eight-Step Protocol Development Cycle’ (Boles & Patterson, 1997).  In 2001, the process of working with counties was transferred to the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA).  As of 2011, at least 12 Minnesota counties and one Indian reservation have worked in-depth with the 8-step process.

The process

Each site supports a team consisting of (at minimum) representatives of police/law enforcement, prosecution, emergency medical providers, probation/community corrections services and advocacy.  Most teams also include representatives from local human rights and social service organizations representing the diversity and unique nature of the community.  Each team receives training and on-going support and consultation from the staff of the Sexual Violence Justice Institute (SVJI), a programme within MNCASA that promotes justice for victims/survivors of sexual violence through multidisciplinary collaboration, leadership and resources.

The eight-step cycle:

  1. Make an inventory of the community’s existing services for victims/survivors
  2. Collect data on the existing response to victims/survivors via a Victim/survivor’s Experience Survey
  3. Compile relevant data into a Community Needs Assessment
  4. Write the protocol for responding, including:
  • Shared desired outcomes
  • Interactions and processes needed with respect to information, personnel and resources in order to achieve the desired outcomes
  • Tasks necessary to achieve these outcomes
  • Procedures for carrying out specific tasks
  • Primary parties responsible for these tasks
  • Secondary roles other agencies will have, if relevant
  1. Renew inter-agency agreements to comply with the protocol
  2. Train agency staff in how to follow the protocol
  3. Monitor implementation of the protocol
  4. Evaluate the protocol’s effectiveness and take these lessons into the next cycle of the process.

This protocol is envisaged as being dynamic, meaning that the process should be revisited periodically and evaluation should lead to findings being fed back into protocol redevelopment.


Eight-Step Cycle video, available in English.


Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault website

Boles, A. and Patterson, J. (1997) Improving Community Response to Crime Victims: An Eight-Step Model for Developing Protocol, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

National Victim Center (1993) Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Program for Communities Responding to Sexual Assault – Workbook to Accompany Guidebook, Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime.  Available in English.



Example: Joint protocols for service providers (South Africa)

 In 2012, the South African government established the National Council Against Gender Based Violence (NCAGBV) to coordinate and oversee management of gender-based violence initiatives.  The Council constitutes a multi-sectoral approach to address gender-based violence in South Africa, and is meant to provide political and strategic guidance to address gender-based violence, strengthen coherence of strategies to address gender-based violence, coordinate, monitor and evaluate the execution of all gender-based violence interventions and mobilise resources for the optimal achievement of the mandate of the Council and delivery on South Africa’s 365 Days of Action National  Strategic Plan.

Tools and resources

The Community Door website contains a clear summary of Memoranda of Understanding, inter-agency agreements and protocols and how to develop them, including useful templates and checklists.

The Blueprint for Safety: An Interagency Response to Domestic Violence Crimes (St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, 2010).  This is a collective policy for criminal justice agencies seeking to intervene in domestic violence cases, which includes individual chapters containing detailed actions for each sector.  The aim is to join up the practices of individual agencies in a coherent, philosophically sound model of intervention.  Available in English.

Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Female Genital Mutilation (Her Majesty’s Government, 2014), London: FCO.  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK has produced guidelines to support professionals from a range of sectors safeguard children and adults from FGM/C as part of a multi-agency response, which include strategies to encourage agencies to cooperate and work together.  Available in English.

Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage (Her Majesty’s Government, 2015), London: Forced Marriage Unit.  The Forced Marriage Unit within the UK government has produced guidelines to support a range of professionals in safeguarding children and adults from forced marriage as part of a multi-agency response, including strategies to encourage agencies to cooperate and work together.  Available in English.

National Guidelines on Management of Sexual Violence in Kenya (Ministry of Public Health & Sanitation and Ministry of Medical Services, 2009), 2nd edition.  These guidelines provide general information about management of sexual violence in Kenya for all services that should address all the needs of adult and child victims/survivors, including medical, psychosocial and legal needs.  Available in English.

Domestic Violence Interagency Guidelines: Working with the Legal System in Responding to Domestic Violence (Violence Against Women Specialist Unit, 2003), Sydney, NSW Attorney General's Department.  These guidelines are for professionals working in/with the legal system and/or working with women dealing with the legal system and include guidance on the roles of different agencies and strategies for improving collaboration.  Available in English.

Tools and resources for specific groups

The Southern Arizona Battered Immigrant Women Project Protocol for Coordinated Community Response for Battered Immigrant Women: A Community Tool Kit (The Southern Arizona Battered Immigrant Women Project, 2010).  Available in English.