By Denique “Neeky” Dennis, Social Impact Strategist, Sangfroid Strategy
Our understanding of the dimensions of sustainability within the social impact sector has shifted immensely over the last few decades. We are now more aware than ever that while the measured long-term outcomes of our work are indicators of sustainability, the factors that are the real MVPs mostly lie within the process.
In fact, one of the most immediate signs of sustainability stares us in the face before we even start planning our initiative, yet too often it is completely overlooked!
What is it?
Client or community readiness.
So, what is community readiness and why should you care about it? The simple explanation is that community readiness is the degree to which a community is ready to take action on a specific issue. Community readiness is typically measured on a 9-level spectrum ranging from No Awareness, as in the community or it’s leaders don’t recognize the issue as a problem, all the way up to High Level of Community Ownership, where comprehensive knowledge is had within the community about the prevalence, causes and consequences of the issue.
However, it’s important to recognize that there is a great deal of nuance in this concept of readiness as its degree may vary across different issues and stakeholder segments. For example, the staff and board of a nonprofit may have conflicting opinions on how to shape the organization’s future, thereby causing discord and potentially even the unwillingness of either group to support the approach identified by the other. Similarly, a community may have a cultural landscape that makes them ready to mobilize around education but not mental health.
Having an understanding of where your organization or community currently sits on the spectrum of readiness will help you, a facilitator of change, make better decisions about when/how to proceed with your efforts and reasonably gauge the level of change that may be achieved at any given time.
So how do you know if a client or community is truly ready to fully participate in the change process? Here are three easy ways to tell:
Riddle me this: Is a problem a problem if no one sees it as a problem? People are less inclined to see the importance or urgency of change if they do not share a collective understanding of a situation as being undesirable. On the other hand, a community that is ready has come to a general consensus that the specific issue is undesirable and needs to be addressed.
When the community is buying in, there is consensus on the approach to addressing the issue. Early stages of ideation are often void of a clear solution that everyone buys into, but a high level of commitment to the wayfinding process is still relevant.
By now, you’ve agreed on an issue and the approach to addressing it. Awesome! Now here comes the million dollar question: who’s going to do the work? It is critical to have a representative subgroup of the population that pledges to roll their sleeves up and put the plan into action. In addition to people, key resources and relationships that are necessary to the success of the undertaking must be available.
Before your next initiative goes underway – be it at the organization or the community level – pause and ask yourself these three questions first:
- Are most people in your organization or community able to articulate the situation and the impetus for change?
- Do most people agree on the proposed approach for resolving the issue? PRO TIP: Sometimes you may have to compromise on agreeing on just the next step!
- Are there enough people that have the time and will to devote to the process? Do we have the resources we need for this initiative to be successful?
Next time you’re pursuing change at the organization or community level, try incorporating a readiness assessment and see how it affects your efforts and your impact. We’d love to hear your experience of how it shapes your work! Drop us a line here.
If you’d like more support around understanding community readiness or incorporating a readiness assessment, schedule a free 30-minute consultation and let’s talk it through.