ArtsFwd in 2014: Introducing Our New Direction

Over the next eight months, we’re devoting the ArtsFwd blog to our 2014 Research Question: How do organizations stay continuously adaptive?

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It’s my pleasure to announce that ArtsFwd is pursuing an exciting new editorial direction in 2014.

Over the next eight months, we’re devoting the ArtsFwd blog to a deep exploration of our 2014 Research Question: How do organizations stay continuously adaptive?

Why a new direction?

For the last two years, ArtsFwd has been exploring innovation in the arts and culture sector. We’ve shared stories, critical writing, and resources in hopes of stimulating the field to question assumptions and explore new practices.

In a way, last October’s National Innovation Summit was the culmination of this exploration. It was a remarkable event that celebrated the innovative work of organizations across the country and brought together arts leaders to wrestle with the question: What will it take for arts and culture organizations to continue to be relevant and vital to our communities?

The Summit also amplified a shift that was already underway in our work at EmcArts from focusing on single innovation projects to supporting the development of adaptive cultures.

Hearing from over 60 organizations at the Summit affirmed our hunch that there is a great deal to be learned about the structures, processes, and practices that organizations put in place to stay continuously adaptive in the face of complex challenges and unprecedented opportunities.

This ability to stay adaptive over time, which we call “adaptive capacity,” has become a major area of interest at EmcArts and will, over the next eight months, become the focus of the ArtsFwd blog.

On language and why it’s important

I was recently introduced to a new phrase that I find spot on and hilarious: “jargon monoxide poisoning.” Here at EmcArts, I’ll admit that we spend a lot of time grappling with language and thinking about how the language we use connects with people in the field.

We’ve gotten a lot feedback about our use of the word “innovation.” While some find it to be a powerful way to think about organizational process, others argue that use of the word advances a harmful corporate mindset.

It’s clearer to me now than ever that the word “innovation” isn’t easy, and that there will never be a singular understanding of what it means or a single way to undertake transformation in our field.

Despite these ambiguities, I believe that it’s useful to continue to strive towards a deeper understanding of thorny terms like “innovation” and begin to explore new terms like “adaptive capacity.”

That’s why, in 2014, we’re continuing on with our work to test out and clarify language on ArtsFwd, in order to strengthen our ability to communicate about the real practices in our organizations that are engaging people and creating value.

Our key research questions

Over the next eight months, we’ll rigorously explore two key questions:

  • What does the phrase “adaptive capacity” really mean? We are looking to share our perspective, learn from others, and refine our use of language about adaptive organizations so that it really resonates with organizations’ leadership and staff, boards, and funders.
  • What does the work of adaptive organizations look like in practice? What are the practices, processes, and structures that organizations are putting in place to stay continuously adaptive? Which organizations are already highly adaptive, and what can we learn from them?

Framing our exploration around eight areas of organizational life

We’ll be organizing our approach around eight areas of organizational life, focusing each month on one of the following topics:

Each month, we’ll:

  • Publish an introductory blog post with two or three research questions that explores the monthly topic
  • Invite responses from a variety of voices and conduct at least one in-depth interview
  • Facilitate dialogue through different mediums, including Twitter chats, in-person events, group phone calls, and more

The eight areas of organizational life that we’re focusing on, and the research questions we’ll explore, are inspired by the Mosaic of Learning about Adaptive Change, which was developed at the Summit with participants who attended.

Stay tuned

This month, we’ll be launching this new editorial direction with a focus on Adaptive Leadership. We’ll explore research questions like: How do you seek out perspectives different from your own and let them influence you?

We’ll collect responses to our research questions via survey, email, and comments on the blog. Our hope is to gather a diverse set of real practices that individuals, organizations, and communities are putting into practice that we can share with the field on ArtsFwd.

I hope you’ll take a moment this month and through October to share something from your own adaptive practice that your colleagues might find useful.

Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.