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2016 Symposium Planning Well Underway

March 18, 2016

This year’s Symposium on overcoming isolation and fostering social connectedness is being co-created by a small team of partners following The Value Web’s Emergent Design process. Emergent Design is a process for creating sufficient structure and space for ideas to emerge in a multi-stakeholder setting; allowing diverse groups to find shared intent and common direction. The process is used by many of the leading multi-stakeholder organizations in the world (the UN, World Bank, World Economic Forum, to name a few) in order to find common ground on complex issues where solutions are urgently needed, but the answer is not readily apparent.

There are a number of properties – learning, alignment, innovation, inclusion – which are desirable, yet are emergent factors from the many other implicit and explicit design decisions that we make. There are also issues of sufficient complexity, due to the number of actors involved or the distribution of knowledge required for a solution, where the appropriate resolution cannot be realistically known in advance.

It is for these situations that we use Emergent Design – a set of tools and methods which allow us to reliably design for properties which can’t be directly achieved, or for answers which cannot be pre-determined. Where there are many people, each with a small part of the possible outcome, we see the need for interaction, sharing, co-creation and collaboration.

In order to design an effective collaboration, we believe that there are six dimensions which need consideration, with each dimension always viewed in relation to the decisions made in all of the others.


The first dimension is Purpose: without a clear articulation of the objectives and outcomes up front, it is difficult to assemble the rest of the pieces for an effective collaboration. To do this, we start at the end, imagining the change that we are trying to make and laying it out in clear language in order to guide the rest of the design process.

The second is Players: once we have a purpose in mind, who are the people that we need in order to achieve it? We believe the gathering should assemble people that represent the many aspects of the system it is trying to influence – emergence happens when solutions are designed by a group, not for them.

The third dimension is Structure: there are many elements of time and place that need to be in place to support assembly of players – from the space they will need to collaborate to the information they will need to have on hand to be effective in their work.

The fourth dimension is Process: since we are designing for an emergent outcome (ie, a result we don’t know in advance) we must design a process which will allow participants – through active engagement – to share, learn experience and experiment until they come up with solutions to the problems we identified for our Purpose.

The fifth dimension is Facilitation: collaboration and co-creation can be hard work, so as our process design comes together, we imagine how it should best be supported in order to make it easy. What obstacles can we remove in order to let the best outcomes emerge?
And finally, the last dimension is Sharing: no intervention happens in isolation, so we plan how best to share the fruits of the collaboration into the larger system in order to spread the impact.

Taking a holistic approach to design means going slow at the beginning in order to go faster later: ensuring that the foundational elements of Purpose and Players are solidly in place to allow for the best Process to emerge, which will in turn allow for the emergence of the outcomes we are looking for.

We can’t say how, and at what moment, a child will learn, or the answer to an intractable problem will become apparent to a group, but we do know that if we identify a clear goal, assemble the right people to achieve it, ensure the right information is at hand, then allow for a sufficient set of experiences and interactions between them – properly supported – then there is no better chance for that learning to emerge, or that answer to reveal itself.