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Step 2. Assess current organizational capacity for addressing vicarious trauma

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The VTT Project Team found that organizations seeking to address vicarious trauma often did not know where to start, what goals to set, or how to achieve them. Becoming a vicarious trauma-informed organization requires a focused and intentional effort to assess the organization’s current strengths and gaps in five evidence-informed areas of organizational health. Findings can then be used to develop strategies to address vicarious trauma through policies, procedures, practices, and programs.

Task 2a: Create a Realistic Timeline

Set a timeline for conducting the VT–ORG assessment that maximizes the quantity and quality of staff responses to the survey, considering other surveys conducted recently, changes in leadership, or other organizational challenges.

This chart provides guidance on a recommended timeline, to maintain momentum during the process:

Task Timing Lessons Learned Resources
Head of agency informs staff of the organization's effort to address vicarious trauma using the VTT and VT–ORG. 3 days before the VT–ORG link is disseminated. Leadership requiring all staff to complete the VT–ORG promotes a higher response rate. Sample Emails to Staff
Share the link to the VT–ORG, noting its purpose and the ability to respond anonymously. Allow 2 weeks for responses. Send the link early in the week rather than before a weekend. Sample Emails to Staff
Remind staff of the deadline and reiterate to all the importance of providing input. After 7 days, and 3 days prior to the deadline. Ensure the deadline works for all staff and shifts.  
Announce the close of the survey, thank staff for input, and describe next steps and when the report will be provided. 1 day after the deadline. Sharing details about next steps will keep staff engaged in the process. Sample Emails to Staff
Analyze results and prepare findings. Within 10 to 14 days after the deadline. Calculate overall averages from individual responses. VT–ORG Scoresheet, Sample Report of VT–ORG Findings


Task 2b: Conduct the VT–ORG Assessment

The VT–ORG assessment can be conducted in a variety of ways based on your organization’s size, structure, and needs. The following implementation suggestions come from VTT pilot-test participants:

  • Distribute the VT–ORG across the organization to management and staff at all levels; viewpoints will vary.
  • Consider using survey software that provides anonymity for the respondents.
  • The VT–ORG can be distributed to one division/unit at a time or organization-wide.
  • Use the VT–ORG questions and/or results as a conversation starter at a staff meeting or other forum.
  • Hold roundtable discussions with representatives from different parts of the organization.
  • Use the VT–ORG created specifically for your discipline (Emergency Medical Services (EMS)Fire ServiceLaw Enforcement, or Victim Services).
  • If you receive responses unevenly across departments or from less than 30 percent of those surveyed, consider distributing the survey again or making it mandatory to encourage participation.

The VT–ORG can be distributed in hard copy or by using survey software. The software can be set up to automatically ensure anonymous responses. If you are distributing the VT–ORG in hard copy, consider ways to ensure anonymity, including designating a secure place where staff can return their surveys confidentially. When entering VT–ORG data into survey software, maintain the fidelity of the VT–ORG assessment tool by using the same language and Likert scale for responses. You may choose to add additional items (e.g., demographics, department, job title), but be careful that items do not compromise the respondents' anonymity.

Additional safeguards to ensure confidentiality may include—

  • assigning an individual(s) to compile survey responses who respect(s) the critical need for anonymity;
  • having respondents create unique respondent IDs that they can use for future VT–ORG surveys;
  • asking participants to identify their department only if its size is large enough to maintain the anonymity of its members;
  • only sharing aggregate data (i.e., no individual and written responses) with department supervisors.

Task 2c: Determine Current Capacity as a Vicarious Trauma-informed Organization

Use the VT–ORG Scoresheet and Action Plan to capture your assessment data. There is a corresponding Scoresheet for each discipline-specific VT–ORG. The Scoresheet automatically populates the Action Plan template with your data, within the spreadsheet.

  1. As staff return their completed surveys, make sure each has a unique ID—either a unique respondent ID created by the employee or a code applicable to each one (e.g., R1, R2).
  2. Using the appropriate VTT Scoresheet, open the tab for Leadership and Mission.
  3. Starting with the first survey (e.g., R1), enter the information for each statement under the Leadership and Mission heading, using the numerical value selected by the respondent (1 = Never, 2 = Rarely, 3 = Sometimes, 4 = Often, 5 = Always).
    • Leave blank any responses that are not filled in or are filled in erroneously—that is, if the response is not a number between one and five, do not enter a zero.
    • Enter “N/A” if that is what the respondent indicated; do not enter a numerical value or leave it blank.
  4. Enter complete data for each survey before moving to the next survey.

The VTT Scoresheet will automatically calculate the average (mean) score for each of the five areas of organizational health and for each statement within each area. The cumulative average for each area of organizational health will be transferred automatically to the tab on the VT–ORG Scoresheet labeled “Summary Sheet.”

NOTE: The VT–ORG Scoresheet is designed to assess capacity either organization-wide or for a single department or program. Organizations that want to do a departmental analysis, and that have the relevant technological expertise to do so, can modify the Scoresheet for a department-specific analysis. Each department should then review its findings to determine next steps.

Task 2d: Prepare a Report To Share the VT–ORG Assessment Findings

Use the Sample Report of VT–ORG Findings to summarize and share findings with staff, including—

  • response quality and demographic information (if captured),
  • average scores for each of the five areas of organizational health,
  • average scores for each statement within each of the five areas of organizational health,
  • any critical internal or external issues that may have affected data collection, and
  • a summary of findings to guide discussions and next steps.

How To Create the Report Using the Sample

  1. Open the Sample Report of VT–ORG Findings. Enter the name of your organization and save the file under a new file name.
  2. In Section I. Response Quality—
    • enter the number of responses received and determine the response rate using the total number of respondents you hoped would complete the survey as the denominator;
    • enter any demographic information you collected and note if it mirrors staff demographics in gender, race, age, and years of service; and
    • if a departmental analysis was done, enter responses by department and determine rate of response for each department.
  3. In Section II. VT–ORG Survey Results—
    • open the Summary Sheet of the VT–ORG Scoresheet;
    • copy cells A2 through B6 (under Average Scores for Areas of Organizational Health) and paste them in the report under Average Scores for Five Areas of Organizational Health Across the Organization.
    • If you have done a departmental analysis, enter average scores by department.
    • Return to the Summary Sheet and copy cells D2 through E78 (under Overall Item Scores) and paste them into the report under Organization-wide Findings, Data by Area of Organizational Health and Individual Statements.
    • Ensure that the scale used is readily available to individuals reviewing the findings.
    • In the report, highlight the highest scores (strengths) in bold and the lowest scores (gaps) in italics, as shown in the following example:
      Leadership and Mission Management and Supervision Employee Empowerment and Work Environment Training and Professional Development Staff Health and Wellness
      4.2 3.23 2.1 3.35 3.17
    • If a departmental analysis was done, present average scores for each of the five areas of organizational health, by department, and average scores for each statement within each of the five areas, by department.
        Leadership and Mission Management and Supervision Employee Empowerment and Work Environment Training and Professional Development Staff Health and Wellness
      Direct Services 2.35 2.31 2.45 2.32 2.56
      Outreach 3.64 3.21 3.03 3.27 3.21
      Admin 3.68 3.06 3.19 3.32 3.19

  4. In the Critical Issues section, provide potential context for the findings based on a snapshot of what occurred in the 6-month “look back” recommended for the VT–ORG assessment. For example, internal or external influences (e.g., employee layoffs, leadership changes, natural disasters, mass casualty events, staff injuries or deaths, other critical incidents) may affect how respondents completed the survey.
  5. In completing the Summary of Findings section, when looking at average scores, remember the scale used is one of frequency (i.e., how often the stated practices occur within your organization.) Items scored in the 3.5–5 range occur “sometimes,” “often,” or “always,” and suggest strengths; items scored lower than 2.5 occur “rarely” or “never,” and suggest gaps.
  6. Consider emailing the report to staff along with information about next steps (e.g., that the designated individual/team will determine priorities and develop an action plan.)

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