It’s time for a change. Whether because of COVID-19 or the uprising against racist violence, it’s time. Maybe you’re eager for change because you felt the old model was broken. Or maybe you’re terrified to let go of things you cherished for a long time. Both starting points are valid and worth honoring. But it’s time to choose to change.
Even in a pandemic, we have choices. This framework is for people who choose to change - who believe in the potential of a more inclusive, more sustainable future
Here are five steps to help you get there.
UNLEARNING: What do you want to unlearn or let go of?
COMMUNITY: Who is critical to the future of your organization?
VALUES: What core values inform your path forward?
ASSETS: What assets can you share or creatively redeploy?
STAKEHOLDERS: Which stakeholders do you need to involve to make your vision real?
Let’s dive into each step
Reimagining takes space for new ideas and initiatives to grow. So - before you imagine what’s next, you need to make space by unlearning that which will no longer serve you.
If you don’t start by unlearning, you may fight yourself the whole way through. You may be weighed down by assumptions and work practices that aren’t relevant to you anymore. You have to let go to make space for something more relevant.
To unlearn, we invite you to explore these questions:
What didn’t work for you before the pandemic?
What was already broken?
What was unjust?
What do you never, ever want to do again?
Make a list of these things. Big things. Maybe it’s a subscription model that prevented you from working with new partners on ambitious programming. Maybe it’s a touring model that prioritized prestige over community relationships. Maybe it’s a culture of whiteness that prevented people of color from feeling included. Whatever it is for you, make a list, talk with your colleagues, and figure out what is most critical for you to unlearn right now.
It’s likely the people who have the best ideas about this in your organization have been agitating for change for a long time. Black people, people of color, and staff from other marginalized groups have likely spent a lot of time thinking about what’s broken and how it could be transformed. Follow their lead. Now is the time to listen to them, not lay them off.
If we can unlearn ______________, we can build a stronger, more relevant organization.
Who do you see as critical to the future of your organization? Who do you see as critical to build the staff, audience, patrons, and the community partners of the future?
We see a lot of organizations holding their pre-COVID audiences close right now. We also see organizations that are newly energized about involving Black people and people of color. If you can make future-focused decisions - and allocate resources accordingly - you’ll build an organization that can grow and transform, rather than retract and retrench.
We invite you to think about three categories of communities:
Pre-COVID “existing” communities. These are the people who you have served for a long time - your core audiences, participants, partners, volunteers, and supporters.
Pre-COVID communities of interest. These are the people you were moving towards before the crisis hit. Maybe you were in the midst of a project to involve LGBTQ parents. Or indigenous culture-bearers. Or creative teenagers. These are people you see as part of your long-term future who may not have been well-represented in the past.
New communities of interest. These are people who you see as critical to serve now - during the crisis, and perhaps beyond. In some cases, they may be people who are more vulnerable because of COVID-19. Or, they may be groups you’ve been curious about who are now eager to partner for the first time. Or, you may become newly aware of communities whose interests and assets line up with yours.
We encourage you to have an honest conversation about who you want to stand beside you when you reopen. Who you want to feel especially welcome, and who you are willing to devote more resources to. If you focus your resources on specific communities, you’ll be able to build deep relationships towards long-term, meaningful change.
If we can build meaningful relationships with _______________, we can build a stronger, more relevant organization.
It’s possible many of your pre-COVID programs are no longer viable or relevant to the communities with whom you wish to move forward. How will you figure out how to engage people in this changing world?
At a time of organizational reimagination, your values can help anchor and guide creative experimentation. Look at your mission, vision, and values - whatever foundational language describes who you are and what matters most to you.
Print them out - or find a digital way to mark them up.
Circle things that you think are particularly relevant as a guiding light right now.
Cross out things that you think are not relevant to where you want to go or the communities you want to go there with.
Look at the things you’ve circled. If you were to live these values to your greatest ability right now - given the constraints you are under - what would you do?
You can try this exercise on an organizational level or a programmatic level. For example, imagine you decide to rethink your hiring practices to attract more racially-diverse candidates.
If your organization has a value like “transparency,” you might map out a transparent hiring process, with clear salary information and candidate communication throughout.
If your organization has a value like “lifelong learning,” you might rethink educational experience requirements and professional development benefits, or you might decide to advertise at community colleges and other institutions that serve adult learners.
This creative exercise can help you lean into what has mattered to you for a long time - even as you imagine a future you haven’t built yet.
If we can lean into the value of __________, we can build a stronger, more relevant organization
Right now, it may feel like your assets are severely depleted. Less cash in the bank. Staff on furlough. Limited access to your facility.
But we all have assets. You have assets. Your colleagues have assets. And your community has assets. In times of crisis, we find ways to pool and share them. That’s what mutual aid initiatives are all about.
When you focus on assets instead of needs, it can unlock greater levels of creativity and generosity. We see many examples of how organizations are sharing and repurposing assets right now. Museums are offering childcare for essential workers. Public gardens are growing and giving away food. Theaters are opening their lobbies to protestors. Libraries are calling isolated elders to check in on them. Many organizations are partnering with local relief efforts to share resources with specific vulnerable communities. And some are looking internally, asking themselves what assets staff members can contribute to offer new forms of community value and keep people meaningfully employed.
Get creative and generous with your assets now (especially with a focus on those communities that matter most to your future). It will help you show up for the people you say you want to engage. And it may point to new directions, programs, and business models you can build out in the future.
So - make a big list of all your assets. Get creative, include physical assets, financial assets, human assets, skills, capabilities, strengths, perspectives. And ask yourself:
Which of these assets might be most relevant to the communities you identified?
How might you want to deploy them very differently than you have in the past?
If we share __________, we can build a stronger, more relevant organization.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve got a sketch of the communities, values, and assets that can help you build a stronger, more relevant organization. But you’re not done yet. The last, critical step of this reimagining work is to involve others.
Who is most crucial to involve? We encourage you to make a list of the top 3-5 people in each of these categories:
Who will be most impacted by the envisioned change?
Whose permission or endorsement do you need to make it possible?
Whose partnership or support could accelerate it?
Be as specific as you can. Don’t say, “board” if what you mean is “Peter, LaDonna, and Charles on the board.” The more focused your list, the easier it will be for you to make a call list and start talking with them.
Notice also who is NOT on your lists. It’s easy to get distracted by those who talk the loudest but who are not critical to making change possible. Many change efforts get derailed not because of a lack of will or interest but because other voices, priorities, and activities distract us from the work.
We encourage you to involve stakeholders from different levels of authority and perspectives. Front of house staff. Community partners who you see as part of your future. We got the sector we had before the crisis listening to the same old voices. If we want something different, we need to listen to new voices - voices that haven’t been given enough power in the past.
If we can involve __________, we can build a stronger, more relevant organization.