The 4QP Emergent Learning Platform®

People’s first exposure to Emergent Learning tends to be using one or two tools to support a group’s conversation about its work.  But Emergent Learning is much more than that. Emergent Learning is a field of practice, using a variety of interrelated tools over time as a platform to deepen and institutionalize a group’s ability to consistently achieve or exceed desired outcomes even in the midst of unpredictable challenges. We call this suite of tools, therefore, the 4QP Emergent Learning Platform.


This platform has been used to support many different kinds of activities -- strategic and annual planning, developmental evaluation, leadership development and communities of practice, supervision, leadership, coaching and innovation. Using the 4QP Emergent Learning Platform for these kinds of activities creates a shared language and a robust experimental framework that helps ideas take form more quickly and speeds “time-to-solution.”

The most prominent Emergent Learning tools, Before and After Action Reviews (BARs and AARs) and Emergent Learning Tables are described below. BARs and AARs support real-time learning over time around strategic goals, recurring challenges and new opportunities. Emergent Learning Tables support growing shared knowledge across an organization or network around a particular question and identifying opportunities to take learning forward into real work. For more information about other tools in the 4QP Emergent Learning Platform, contact us at


Real-Time Learning: Before and After Action Reviews

Before and After Action Reviews (BARs and AARS)  are a set of practices that make it easier to learn in real-time from real work. They create a discipline that helps a group learn iteratively and improve over time by actually seeing the result of their thinking and seeing their results accelerate. BARs and AARs build a team’s capacity to perform by comparing actual results with intended results, exploring causes of those results, identifying successful practices to sustain and improve, and planning for how to apply insights to future performance. This improves an organization’s agility -- its ability to predict and address challenges in dynamic environments.

We have researched the origins of this practice deeply, in many visits to the Mojave Desert over the course of ten years to see it in action. (Harvard Business Review, July/Aug 2005)


While deceptively simple, using these specific questions before and after anything from a meeting to a major piece of work will help teams create shared accountability while strengthening their collective thinking in order to improve their capacity to achieve the results that matter.


For example:

  • A program officer used BARs and AARs with her staff to co-develop a framework with a range of large financial and philanthropic institutions for bridging a gap in economic opportunity. The process for creating the framework and the framework itself are both innovations never before tried by this group. The framework benefitted from collaborative design. Uptake and ownership for testing it out has accelerated dramatically.
  • A CEO used BARs and AARs to speed the learning curve around how to deliver consistently good results from merger and acquisition activities, starting with the first acquisition ever conducted by the company. He expanded his use of BARs and AARs to dramatically improve the quality of board meetings.
  • A large environmental nonprofit used BARs and AARs to learn how to develop a working relationship with the government of China, in order to partner with it to conduct eco-regional environmental assessments.


Growing Knowledge: Emergent Learning Tables

"Emergent Learning Tables are more than a tool. They are a blueprint for how living systems learn, and reflect recent research findings in neurobiology and cognitive science."

- Arie de Geus, author of The Living Company


Emergent Learning Tables help a team or a cross-section of teams or organizations articulate its best collective thinking about what it will take to succeed, develop a plan to test it, track results, and produce high quality lessons learned.

Emergent Learning Tables are scalable and can be applied in a variety of situations. The visual structure helps groups think through what they already know about a core challenge based on their experience to date and translate that knowledge into testable hypotheses for future work.

For example:

  • The commissioner of a large county convened 150 community stakeholders (mayors, school and hospital leaders, activists) to launch a healthy county initiative by building on lessons from past efforts to create change at a regional level.
  • A center that advocates for rural economic growth convened a group of philanthropists and intermediaries from around the world to reflect together on what it takes to grow local ownership for rural philanthropy and to attract other institutions to invest in locally-driven philanthropic initiatives.
  • An association of grantmakers periodically convened member organizations to do action learning around questions of import to members: How to sustain seasoned non-profit leaders; how to learn from mistakes and failures; how to structure General Operating Support grants, how to maximize the value of public-private partnerships around environmental issues, etc.


The 4QP Emergent Learning Platform for thinking and action sets the stage for a natural adaptive process. As a team tests, refines, adapts and re-applies its thinking, it builds robust knowledge about how to resolve a particular challenge. The product is improved results, better data for evaluation, more transparent decision-making, and the creation of an "engine" which, over enough revolutions, builds the team's ability to learn its way through any challenge.


  • Build organizational capacity to use Emergent Learning
  • Strengthen learning-based leadership and implementation
  • Catalyze cross-sector partnerships
  • Design and support developmental evaluation

© 2021 Fourth Quadrant Partners, LLC