Design for Emergence

4QP helps funders and nonprofits bake emergence into the design of new initiatives, so that everything about the initiative and how it is managed builds its potential to create outcomes that are sustainable, environmentally fit, and greater than the sum of its parts.


Solutions to complex problems can’t be completely designed in advance. They require the wisdom and experience of the whole community working and experimenting in real time with the challenges they face on a daily basis to discover nuanced and sustainable solutions that will continue to evolve and adapt along with the landscape of which they are a part.


Initiatives that are designed to be emergent have the potential to create a wider and more adaptive range of results than what any one funder or intermediary could produce by managing the process themselves. Rather than asking grantees or participants to respond to a list of requirements, emergence engages their creative energy to be part of creating the solution.


4QP works with a number of funders to design emergence into new initiatives, to assess current initiatives, and to provide coaching through implementation.


Design for emergence emphasizes expanded agency, strong line of sight, freedom to experiment, and a way to return learning to the system. Rather than waiting until the end of an initiative to ask questions about sustainability, a design that focuses on emergence asks those questions from day one.

The Colorado Health Foundation has been using emergent learning practices since 2013 to guide strategic grantmaking and program implementation in building healthy communities in Colorado. The Foundation is currently implementing and testing two different approaches to community engagement for greater health: the first, based on a more traditional foundation-generated strategy that features a new set of practices for the program officer;  the second, working in specific communities for a longer term through cultivation of stronger local networks, investing in community-driven solutions that emerge organically from partnerships and helping to build the capacity of community members’ leadership and civic engagement skills. 4QP is supporting real-time learning across both approaches so that the Foundation can learn from and about this work, to inform better decision-making and results across the whole organization.

© 2021 Fourth Quadrant Partners, LLC