A Model of “Emergent Strategy”

Complex problems and their solutions are influenced not just by grantees, but by the behavior of many different nonprofit, for-profit, and governmental actors as each entity pursues its own strategy. No funder has the resources to compel all other participants to follow its preferred strategy. This is why strategy must be co-created and co-evolve among multiple organizations, rather than be shaped independently. — "Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World"

blogimage_emergentstrategyIn the cover story of the upcoming issue of SSIR, authors John Kania, Mark Kramer, & Patty Russell take on the issue of strategic philanthropy. Making the case for a new approach to giving, they introduce a model of “emergent strategy”.

The emergent strategy model provides an adaptive approach to complex societal issues – one that goes beyond the one point intervention that is the preferred tactic of most foundations and philanthropic organizations. Although they do not fault the organizations for relying on this model of intervention, the authors point to the security and predictability of these interventions as a hindrance to long-term, scalable impact.

Using the example of health care, the authors compare the difficulty of building a hospital – an intervention that, although it may be challenging, has a clear set of parameters, and predictable success. While a hospital provides a fix for the symptoms of a problem, providing access to a population in need of reliable health services, the impact is constrained to that immediate service group. What’s missing from this intervention is a more nuanced assessment of the social, economic, and other factors affecting the overall well-being of a population.

In order to effectively address these complex issues, funders need to break this pattern and make the move toward a more collaborative system. As the authors point out, no one sector has the resources to address these problems on their own. Real solutions ultimately require cross-sector collaboration.