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Now is the Time to Radically Reimagine Readiness

A focus on “readiness”—defined as the state of being fully prepared for somethinghas been ubiquitous in our sector since long before COVID-19 and the national movement for racial justice. Yet, as we take cautious steps to emerge from what feels like an endless suspension of normalcy, the concept of readiness has garnered renewed attention.  

At TCC Group, we have been hearing an increasing number of readiness-related questions:   

  • Are we ready to rebuild?  
  • Are we ready for the next pandemic or global crisis?  
  • Are we ready to confront entrenched racial inequities and biases? 
  • Are we ready to shift course to play a newly required role? 
  • Are we ready to tap the renewed sense of purpose, ambition, and honesty needed to face the constellation of challenges and opportunities created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising demands for racial justice? 

As we explore these questions through an equity lens alongside our social sector partners, TCC Group has been deeply examining the concept of readiness. Accompanying our varied work on organizational strengthening, strategic communications, initiative design and implementation, philanthropy services, evaluation– to name only a few – are a series of readiness assumptions. At their best, questions of readiness can foster preparedness. The flip side is the potential to become slowed by fear of forward motion or becoming entangled in unrealistic expectations.  

Whether we seek incremental change or a radical re-envisioning of entrenched societal systems, our readiness to understand, respond, and act can and will determine the likelihood of success. Yet, before any social sector actor can determine its readiness on these fronts, it must assess its readiness to adapt. In addition, funders in particular must examine the criteria they use to assess readiness of grantees to ensure they are accounting for historic and current inequities and access to resources. 

Behind questions of readiness is the fundamental assumption that we have the knowledge and capacity to honestly assess our ability to adapt to a changing landscape. This assumption was certainly put to the test everywhere by the pandemic and the groundswell of demands for racial justice. Let’s do away with baseline assumptions that hinder our honest assessment of needed changesand that cause us to: 

Curtail innovation and advantageous risk-taking

Concerns about readiness can lead to an over-reliance on the concrete and measurable, or maintaining the status quo; this, too often, results in risk-averse behavior.  

Excuse exclusion

The establishment of blanket or seemingly random readiness criteria can be used as artificial gatekeepers, privileging investment in some areas and organizations over others. This has historically led to rationalized exclusion of marginalized communities, organizations, issues, and movements. 

Mask inequitable resource allocation

Readiness can be implicitly assumed in activities and behavior the sector considers commonplace. Collaborative effort organizers – those catalyzing convenings, coalitions, and collective impact efforts, among others – too often assume participants approach these opportunities with the skills, resources, and capacities required to work effectively in relationship with each other.  Lack of appreciation for variations in readiness leads to flawed implementation assumptionsyielding inefficient action. The organizations and individuals most often impaired by these inefficiencies are those with the scarcest resources.  

Fuel unrealistic expectations

The notion that readiness is a state that can be attained and maintained is unrealistic in our complex and changing environment. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, we would be fool-hardy to declare ourselves ready to face any and all future crises. 

Promote ineffective decision-making

If one thinks of readiness as a static concept, we might consider ourselves ready to face a particular challenge or condition, only to find our proposed solution is no longer effective or relevant. 

Our deep experience in advising clients through myriad emergencies prompts us to embrace our learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic and national movement for racial justice and carry them into the future:  What are we willing to carry into the future How have our field-wide priorities shifted, if at all?  How can we consider ourselves “ready” for the next emergency through collaboration and intentional listening?  And what tools and processes can help make the difference?  

We believe we have enough evidence to suggest that a more focused and systematic consideration of social sector readiness is necessary. In short, it is time to radically re-imagine readiness, beginning with a set of proposed readiness principles:  

Readiness is malleable

Readiness is a flexible mindset, a journey – not a static destination. A number of years ago the term “discontinuous discontinuity” was coined to describe organizations facing constantly changing environments. In today’s social sector, all we have is discontinuous discontinuity.

Readiness is context specific

Even with powerful algorithms to guide probability assessments, readiness is best understood through an examination of a specific place, time, and purpose.  

Readiness must account for history and values

Any readiness assessment can be highly prejudiced based on its point of origin, while context, capacity and resources do not exist in a vacuum. Our perceptions of who is ready and who is not can only be understood by examining the history, values, and influences that shape current definitions of readiness. To paraphrase Gloria Walton, President and CEO of The Solutions Project, historic dis-investment in some areas may merit current over-investment.

Readiness assumptions must be explicit and jointly determined

We must abandon the common social sector script that readiness should be decided by “objective” third parties. Readiness criteria must be clearly articulated, agreed upon, and assessed in the context of readiness for what, when, why, where, and by whom. Moreover, the responsibility for determining readiness can’t lie with any one social sector actor alone; it must be shared equally by all—funders, implementing organizations, communities, etc. — that stand to benefit from its ongoing re-imagined evolution.    

As we advance our own organizational mission of collaborating with foundations, nonprofits, and companies to solve complex social problems, we are committed to radically reimagining readiness for ourselves and our partners. We invite you to join us as we unpack ideas of contextual readiness; explore fairer, more relevant ways to assess readiness; and ensure practical, pragmatic, and equity-focused paths to build and apply readiness as a gateway to positive social change.  

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