A Note to the EL Community from the EL Community Advisory Panel

— Andrea Anderson, Tracy Costigan, Raj Chawla, Tim Larson, Melanie Nowacki

In February of 2021, 4QP held a community call on the topic of “What’s Next?” for the Emergent Learning community. In that call, 4QP asked people how they were called to participate in the community. One option was to serve on an advisory panel to help 4QP think about how the community is evolving and how to help it grow and support it along the way. Five community members volunteered, ultimately, to help us get started: 

Andrea Anderson, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (2018)

Tracy Costigan, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2018) 

Raj Chawla, OCL Group (2020)

Tim Larson, Ross Strategic (2014)

Melanie Nowacki, Feeding America (2018) 

We have been meeting monthly since July 2021 to explore questions related to this evolving community of EL Practitioners. Here is a brief summary from the advisors about what they and we have discussed.

What does it mean to serve on this Advisory Panel?

We started out thinking of ourselves as an advisory panel to 4QP, the firm. Pretty quickly, it became clear that 4QP was asking us to serve as a focal point for creating a vision for the EL community and to think about what it means to steward both Emergent Learning and the EL community, as it evolves. In the process, we recognized acting like an advisory body — being merely responsive and transactional — was not what was needed. The EL community is about the relationships we create and we need to operate in a way that models, as an advisory, the principles of connection and inquiry. 

We also recognized we need to reach out to the EL community and talk about what we are doing and discovering and give the community an opportunity to connect and engage with us. Hence this note. What follows is a description of our conversation so far. This is a seed; a work in progress, and it will need your participation to begin to blossom.

What is our vision for the community in 2026? What has it made possible?

It’s no surprise to many of you that we would do a reverse vision. It’s a great way to really step into what’s possible, full-body.  As Tim Larson observed, “The practice of reflection with a future orientation is a powerful entry point, with or without other tools.” So…it is now the fall of 2026. Here is what we see, feel and sense:

As a community, the tide has shifted. We are seeing good progress towards big breakthroughs on knotty problems. People are saying they see real systems impact, which has broadened the field’s interest in emergent learning. 

Because there are so many people — from young advocates to leaders across organizations and sectors — trained in and using EL, we no longer need to “spread the gospel.” Many in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector now understand how the way they have been doing their work contributes to power dynamics and impedes progress of committed people; they see a path forward to unleash creativity in the social sector.

The EL community is very diverse, in every possible way. EL principles of inviting diverse voices and experts in equal measure have contributed to an increased sense of belonging and welcoming in organizations.

What is this EL Community and what will it take to steward it?

We have come at this conversation from two directions: 

  • What is the essence? Why are people drawn here in the first place?
  • How do we grow, diversify and engage as a community, while also holding strong to that essence?

What is the essence?

The essence of this community is a shared promise: That participating in this community will support ever deepening proficiency as an EL practitioner; that we will learn how to get better at what we do so we can make things better in the places we touch. This feels like both a promise and a commitment. 

There is a sense in this community that it’s possible to do/achieve more than we — and the people we work with — sometimes assume is possible. There is a strong spirit of curiosity that drives our conversations. There is a power in Emergent Learning to democratize processes; to enable transformations that advance social change; to co-create and contribute to a world that works for everyone. The power comes from a combination of the principles, straightforward and fit-for-purpose tools and practices. Something in this needs to be conserved as we grow.

How do we grow, diversify, and engage as a community, while also holding strong to that essence?

This community – like all others – comes together through a shared set of values, beliefs, interests, and experiences. We are intentional in holding both the rigor and fidelity of EL practices and the need to experiment and change. Therefore, the boundaries that help to create this community are both defined and porous. At the heart of this community are practitioners who hold a shared understanding about the intent behind EL’s tools and principles as well as the need to grow, adapt, learn, and change.

The community itself will evolve as it grows. We and 4QP aspire to evolve the EL Community to be self-sustaining. We can’t know what it will look like in a year or five years. But Emergent Learning embodies a set of values and principles that bring us together and can help us recognize, nurture, and grow the community, as long as we keep them visible and lively. 

We hold a vision that the next great idea in Emergent Learning will come from this community, and we want to do everything we can to make that possible, which means encouraging everyone in the community to step in

The kind of community envisioned can only be co-created by all of us!  We need and want to connect with people who have mastered EL in a variety of ways. Our interest is to increase the number of entry points beyond 4QP’s direct training model, while still stewarding that deep understanding about the intention behind EL that makes this community a special place. This might mean addressing the unintentional structural boundaries – related to geography, logistics, cost, culture, etc.   

One role for the EL community, for example, might be to share insights and reflections on how best to extend the reach of the EL skill development while not compromising the quality and rigor of the practice. 4QP has been experimenting with how to make EL training available to a broader, more diverse audience. The virtual EL Intensives they have been running since March 2020 are allowing people who could not have participated before to join in. There are many other models for skill development that we could consider that would extend our reach while not compromising the quality of the training we all value.

The EL Community serves as both a gathering place and a resource network. As we continue to grow and evolve we need to explore several important questions, including: 

  • What is inside and what is outside the boundary of “Emergent Learning”?
  • If and when is it OK to change the language? To change the processes? To add principles and practices? 
  • Who gets to decide who is in the community and who isn’t?

These are very nuanced questions we know will take time and reflection on the part of many of us…not just an advisory panel.

Meanwhile, we realize that some of us see this as a community we are committed to support and others see this as mainly a resource network to call on when needed. Both of these stances are fine. But we want everyone to know they are welcome to step in — to ask a question via the Google Group; to join community calls or to suggest a topic for a call; to share a resource; to reach out to others with a question. If you have a question about how to participate, our community newsletter from December 2021 describes how to do so. 

What questions are we exploring now?

Given all of this, we are exploring questions in three important areas and welcome your input:

Core Values

  • How can this community hold its own learning stance regarding race and racial justice?  

EL Skill Building & Certification

  • Under what circumstances and how would we offer ways for people who are not formally trained to participate in this community?  
  • What other levels of certification might we explore? 
    • Perhaps a “light” version (both inclusive and rigorous) that helps people who may have been trained or practiced in a different way to join the community?
  • What value might be achieved through a volunteer mentorship process and how would we go about launching it?

Community Engagement

  • What different pathways should we explore to actively engage the current members of our growing community?
  • How can we better understand and address the varied interests and needs of this growing community? 
  • How can we make it easier for people to discover and connect with each other?

We continue to hold our own learning stance as this community evolves and grows and ask that you join us in this learning and experimenting. If you have ideas about these questions or other questions we should be thinking about, please reach out to one of us. It would be great to have you contribute to this part of the journey. 

Next Steps

Your thoughts and reactions are welcome now and always. You can send in your comments, questions, ideas or anything else to 4QP-Advisory-Panel@googlegroups.com. You can expect to see announcements about opportunities in the months ahead to join us actively in conversations to take this thinking forward. 

In addition, we are thinking about when and how to invite others onto the advisory panel. We are in the process of developing a plan for rotating community members on and off this panel. We’ll be back with an update around the summertime.

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1 Response to A Note to the EL Community from the EL Community Advisory Panel

  1. Suzanne Leahy says:

    Well done! Inspired by the work of the new advisory group, and questions resonate with me. Thank you for sharing what has been done and what the imagined next steps might be!

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