Today, civil society faces many challenges that are too complex or extensive in scope to be addressed by individual organizations or communities, or sometimes even by nations. Increasingly, civil society is organizing networks to address these problems by strengthening action and learning across organizational and geopolitical boundaries.
Complex challenges do not lend themselves to simple solutions. Rather, the know-how to address them emerges from actions taken and results achieved in a variety of situations. Civil society organizations are using networks to share and enrich know-how through peer-learning. For example: A group of community foundations might form a network to increase their impact in rural development, or a group of diverse organizations might create a network to improve conservation of a particular ecosystem type worldwide.
Emergent Learning is a set of practices and tools designed to help network members figure out complex challenges, by pooling what they know in peer learning events and then taking new ideas forward to test in their own practice.
If a network of grantmakers decides to focus on developing leadership in nonprofits, members might convene in person or virtually to compare notes on their current practices. Each organization might then use Emergent Learning tools to bring more focus to testing leadership development strategies in their own grantmaking programs. They might choose to re-convene periodically to refine their thinking based on their experience or continue to tap into the network to do peer-assists. Through this combination of testing in a variety of situations and comparing notes across organizations, “good practices” emerge. The network might propagate these practices further by conducting an Emergent Learning session at a conference involving a much broader community of peers. Or, it might publish a wiki on emerging good practices.
EL Maps™ provide a simple and intuitive structure for sharing and collaboratively enriching know-how. EL Maps pair the richness of story-telling with the rigor of scientific inquiry, and focuses discussion on the experiences most relevant to a particular challenge. What will enable a community to become more sustainable? What will it take to reverse the rise of childhood diabetes? EL Maps™ enable groups to discover patterns and variations across multiple situations. They foster a quality of dialogue that respects all of its participants as “experts in equal measure.”
Before and After Action Reviews, organized into an Action Review Cycle, help organizations plan to take new ideas forward and rigorously test them in practice. It sets in motion a new cycle of action and learning, creating more robust know-how that can be shared and enriched again and again.
Signet is a seasoned team of consultants, with extensive experience helping groups learn and grow know-how together. We provide design consultation, facilitation, training and coaching to help networks use Emergent Learning practices and tools to that grow know-how locally and collectively to improve results.
EL Map is a trademark of Signet Research & Consulting, LLC.
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