Steve Pitt, Chair of the YOU Group Board, reflects on the impact of unknowns the charity has faced in 2021.
For YOU Group Trustees the current year is dominated by two factors; the large number of our services that are going out to tender; and the long-term impact of COVID-19.
Donald Rumsfeld – the US politician who passed in June 2021 –said:
There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. – Donald Rumsfeld
The tender process takes us into the realm of “known unknowns”. In this case we can say we have confidence in our ability to write credible bids. However, we don’t know whether some of the financial thresholds work for us. We also don’t know for sure how our commissioners or competitors will respond.
As individuals, we know more and more about the impact of the pandemic. It’s common knowledge that people are facing more practical problems relating to debt, work, housing and education. So, these in turn are having profound consequences on mental health. For example, people who can normally be relied upon to be strong and supporting – family carers, staff – are struggling too. And this exacerbates the effects on people they are trying to support. That said, we have seen the value of communities pulling together, and of services that are agile and able to change to meet emerging needs.
The world is a lot less certain. But perhaps we should think it ok that we don’t know.
But there are some aspects of COVID that we have yet to really perceive or understand – “unknown unknowns”. Many have yet to understand how the experience has affected them. Perhaps some don’t like to say that they are struggling. Some may have been ‘re-wired’ by the experience. Others affected more by the fear-based messaging that we have been exposed to and some may be ‘lost in isolation’ after months of lockdown.
The world is a lot less certain. But perhaps we should think it’s OK that we don’t know. There are management thinkers who suggest that the words “I don’t know” are the most important words a leader can say. Why? Because it makes it safe for others in an organisation to say “I don’t know” too. We have to use this as an opportunity to work with our staff, partners and local communities to co-produce different solutions to emerging issues. Time will tell what the impact of unknowns will have on us.