Fueling Adaptive Capacity: A Mosaic of Learning from the 2013 National Innovation Summit

What does adaptive capacity really mean? What does it look like in practice? Summit attendees share their learning in a downloadable document.


Click here to download Fueling Adaptive Capacity: A Mosaic of Learning about Adaptive Change from the 2013 National Innovation Summit and Appendix: Examples of Next Practices – Adaptive Capacity in Action.

What is the purpose of this document?

In our rapidly changing world, leaders in the arts and culture field are facing complex challenges in their quest for relevance and impact. They are questioning ingrained assumptions about how they work, letting go of established practices that are no longer working, and successfully creating new ways to deliver public value. To sustain these “next practices,” they are exercising their organizations’ adaptive capacity.

But across the field, there isn’t a shared understanding of what adaptive capacity means and what it looks like in practice. That’s why we’ve developed this document, which is meant to be a guide and resource for deeper questioning and clearer understanding around adaptive capacity. It’s not, in any sense, a final set of recommended approaches to be replicated, but rather a starting-point to fuel conversation in the field.

How was it developed?

This document is a summary of insights into the key elements of adaptive capacity from leaders of more than 60 organizations in 11 communities across the country. It was developed with participants at the first National Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture in October 2013, supported by EmcArts as facilitator and editor.

What’s in the document?

The document proposes:

  • Five principles to guide adaptive change. They were developed in response to the questions: What might adaptive communities of the future look like? What values will drive how organizations approach their work?
  • A series of questions about eight critical aspects of organizational life. They identify and probe the nature of adaptive capacity in each area.
  • Examples of next practices (Appendix). This is a gathering of how Summit participants are responding with specific new behaviors or ways of thinking.

Click here to download the documents: Fueling Adaptive Change and Appendix.

How might I use it?

We hope the principles and guiding questions about organizational dynamics put forth here will be a useful provocation for artists, organizational administrators and trustees, funders and service providers. Your responses to these questions will allow you to explore how developed your adaptive “muscles” are, and perhaps, to identify opportunities to strengthen your adaptive capacity.

As you explore the tessellation of insights in this Mosaic of Learning, you’ll notice that the document offers points-of-view that are not necessarily all aligned. Diversity of thought and action – rather than following any single set of established “best practices” – is what drives adaptive change. These days, the pathways to resolving complex challenges are local ones, attuned to particular starting conditions, frequently collaborative, and always exploratory journeys of discovery.

We hope that sharing what many practitioners are learning about adaptive change will assist you on your own journey. Please keep in touch with us about what else you discover, so we can share it across the field and continue our own learning.

Richard Evans is the President Emeritus of EmcArts, where he directs program design, research, and strategic partnerships that place a particular emphasis on innovation, adaptive organization change, and effective ways that the arts and culture field can respond to the demands of a new era.