How to Assess Adaptive Capacity, a Critical Part of Responding to Coronavirus

A quick scan — and then a more careful analysis – of the headlines from major newspapers across the United States and Israel from the beginning of the Corona virus reveals prevalent confusion about what it means to “react” versus what it means to “respond.” Reaction, in standard dictionaries and in psychological publications, refers to fast, unconscious, sporadic and often emotional behavior, and is grounded in the Latin for doing/performing. Respond on the other hand connotes calmer, more thoughtful and well-reasoned choices, from the Latin to reply or to answer. These are related and both are legitimate, especially during these confusing and unsure times. Only one of them however — the latter — is practically useful for us as stakeholders, deeply committed to strategic social change.    

We are Jenny Cohen (Evaluation Capacity-Building Consultant) and Batya Kallus (Israel Director) of the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society. If you are like us, you may have found yourselves of late inundated (perhaps welcomingly, perhaps begrudgingly) with endless analyses of the coronavirus crisis and related reactions and/or responses. We decided to try to channel our (oft-anxious) energies into a pragmatic response and the result is a concrete tool (described in PDF below) for assessing the adaptive capacity of SVF grantees and applicants. The model advances two main functions: to inform immediate SVF grant-making decisions; and to help support on-going grantee capacity-building efforts. Building on ideas initially developed at Shatil and Sikkuy (see Strichman, Bickel and Marshood, 2007), particular indicators of adaptive capacities related to financial, human, social, in-kind, program, and learning organization capital have begun to be piloted for analysis in the field by individual grantees and on the aggregate level by fund staff and board members.

These days, with new and often conflicting data awaiting us at every turn, even the most strategic of thinkers/practitioners may find themselves unmoored, reacting rather than responding. Evolving methods such as these, for remembering and utilizing agreed-upon values and standards may be precisely the type of anchor that evaluative thinking can contribute to the field.

Please do not hesitate to share your experiences and thoughts and feel free to be in touch should you have any questions: and