A Whole Greater than Its Parts:

Exploring the Role of Emergence in Complex Social Change

 

In April 2018, Fourth Quadrant Partners (4QP) released its research into emergent strategy, using seven examples of widely varying social change initiatives to draw insights about what emergence means, what it looks like in practice, and what it promises to achieve. The 4QP research team thanks the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for their generous support of this research.

 

Click here* to download the complete report. If you have examples of emergent initiatives, you can click here to share them with us.

*NOTE: This report and associated case studies is presented in a .pdf portfolio (compressed in .zip format). In this format, the report will not 'preview' in your web browser. Once downloaded and unzipped, the portfolio format allows you to easily toggle between the report, the case studies, and associated article. If you encounter problems in downloading this report, please contact us at info@4qpartners.com.

 

About the Research

4QP’s research into emergent strategy drew upon Complex Adaptive Systems theory to compare seven case studies of a wide range of initiatives (size, geography, scope) that displayed some aspects of emergence in their design and/or results. Cases included:

  • The East Scarborough Storefront in Toronto, Canada
  • Leadership Development for Mobilizing Reproductive Health in Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines
  • Social Innovation Generation, Canada
  • Charleston Illumination, Charleston, South Carolina
  • D3 Institute and Working Families Success Network, Northern Texas
  • Letsema Gender at Work, the Vaal, South Africa
  • The Story Garden, Gallup, New Mexico

 

The research team looked for results that appeared to be greater than the investments made in them would predict; where a diverse set of actors participated in creating solutions; where the solutions that got created were designed to be fit for their environments and to adapt over time.

 

Case comparisons helped us explore three anticipated contributors to emergence:

  1. strong and shared line of sight,
  2. freedom to experiment, and
  3. a mechanism for returning learning to the system.

 

We explored what these contributors looked like in practice, and how their presence or absence affected the results produced by these initiatives. We explored the role of peer learning and evaluation. We asked: Can an emergent strategy produce sustainable results at scale?

 

The approaches these emergent initiatives used were not completely new. They included network strategies, participatory methods, community engagement and other familiar approaches. What made them emergent was the way in which these familiar strategies were employed.

 

As funders recognize the complexity inherent in the social change they aspire to create, many are becoming more interested in pursuing emergent strategies. The experiences of these real life change agents can help funders and nonprofits explore how to think about strategy; how to develop  working relationships that support emergence; and how to engage an entire community in experimentation and learning. They raise new questions: What does it take to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts? Can emergence be replicated? Under what conditions is emergent strategy a good choice? When is it less likely to succeed?

 

We at 4QP hope that this discovery research stimulates a conversation among funders and nonprofits about the role of emergence in creating sustainable social change.

 

Click here* to download the complete report.

*NOTE: This report and associated case studies is presented in a .pdf portfolio (compressed in .zip format). In this format, the report will not 'preview' in your web browser. Once downloaded and unzipped, the portfolio format allows you to easily toggle between the report, the case studies, and associated article. If you encounter problems in downloading this report, please contact us at info@4qpartners.com.

 

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© 2018 Fourth Quadrant Partners, LLC