Is Your Organization Ready for Full-Scale Change? Check Your Readiness Now.

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Last month, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation invited me to an energizing event about the civic role of the arts in Manchester England. Speaker after speaker shared powerful projects that deepened inclusivity and relevance. Then, one of those speakers--Matt Fenton of Contact Theater--made a crucial observation. "You can’t just mythologize projects," Matt warned. "Structural inequality only changes when you address and change the structures behind the projects.”

At OF/BY/FOR ALL, our goal is to help institutions change the structures behind the projects. The Change Network provides tools, coaching, and accountability for systemic, inclusive change. Institutional change is complex. It doesn't happen through individual projects alone. Sometimes, an organization can take on a single visionary project, but after that project is over, the vision fades. Like a rubber band, the organization “snaps back” to its traditional way of working. In the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network, we’re trying to equip teams to go further: to change mindsets, policies, and ways of working for the long-term.

Having led full-scale change at the MAH in Santa Cruz, I know it takes years of changes to policy and perspectives--and many leaps of faith along the way. But what does it look like at the onset? What indicators signal that an institution is ready to change?

Today, we're releasing the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network readiness check. It's a 3-minute quiz you can use to get a sense of how ready for change your organization is (and whether you are ready to consider joining the Change Network).

This readiness check is grounded in research on the effectiveness of the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network. We've asked Slover Linett Audience Research to help us evaluate the effectiveness of the Change Network as we pilot and grow. We’re now in our second wave of Change Network piloting, working with 38 diverse organizations in 9 countries. One thing we’re researching is what factors lead to a team being successful--or struggling--in the Change Network.

What makes an organization ready for institutional change?

Based on our observations and Slover Linett’s research, we’ve identified six key indicators that an organization is ready to make systemic change:

  1. Institutional change is driven by urgency. The organization needs a “why” that feels critical right now. A sense of urgency and clarity about why this change matters. You may not know how to proceed, but you know that you must.

  2. Institutional change can’t happen alone. You need a team of individuals from across the organization--from different departments, positions, and levels--who are committed to change.

  3. Institutional change requires leadership. You need a brave individual (maybe you?) who is ready to be the team’s champion. The champion coordinates the work, holds space for change, and fights resistance along the way.

  4. Institutional change requires support from the top. The top executive and the board must endorse, or ideally, directly participate in the work of the team.

  5. Institutional change takes time. The team needs to be able to commit time to this change alongside their “regular” work. This is a capacity-building effort. It takes time and space for people to practice new ways of working with community.

  6. Institutional change takes money. The team needs to commit funds--both to participate in an organizational development program (like the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network) and to initiate new work with their community. This money often comes from a change-motivated leader, trustee, or an activist outside funder.

You can make some change without all these things. Sometimes you have all six within your own department, but not on the scale of the entire institution. Sometimes you have three or four of these but not all six. We encourage you to get moving--and changing--regardless of how many boxes you can check.

But if you want to change your whole institution, or if you feel stuck and siloed in your efforts, consider which of these six may be missing. It may be more valuable to your change efforts to do the internal work to build readiness rather than doing yet another wonderful project that will get ignored or sidelined. That’s why we encourage anyone interested in the Change Network to first do the internal work to build the team, the resources, and the will to participate. You will go further, and make more permanent changes, if you have all six.

We created this readiness check to help you evaluate your position and to help us build a prioritized waitlist for the Change Network program. We’re planning to open up a limited Third Wave this fall. When we do, we will offer Third Wave spots to organizations that are ready to make deep, lasting change with our support. Are you ready?