Adaptive Action


Adaptive Action Planning is an iterative planning process
involving three questions.

  1. What? – We gather pertinent data from across the environment to develop a picture of the underlying dynamics of our current status. What are the patterns we see and what do we know about their impact on the system?
  2. So What? – We examine data to make sense of it. We come to understand what the “picture” of our current status means and begin to explore and plan next steps. We explore the impact of the system patterns on the whole, part, and greater whole; the conditions (CDE) that generated those patterns; and options for action that can shift the patterns to make the system more adaptable, more sustainable, more fit.
  3. Now What? – We take action and then pause for a second check to measure our impact. By following up and asking where we are now and what is to be done next, we start the next cycle in the iterative process.

Progressing through the three steps to collect and analyze data that informs next steps becomes an ongoing cycle that can be carried out at all levels of the system. This sounds and looks much like the “Plan-Do-Check-Act”-type models that are used in a number of approaches to change. There are, however, fundamental differences that set Adaptive Action apart.
—What? So What? and Now What? questions examine the dynamic patterns of decision making and interaction.
—Analysis of those patterns focuses on understanding the conditions (Containers, Differences, Exchanges) that generate those patterns.
—Some options for action can emerge from decisions to amplify or damp current patterns by influencing environmental conditions.
—Other options for action can emerge from decisions to shape new patterns by shifting environmental conditions toward greater sustainability and fitness.
—This approach to planning is intended to be iterative or nonlinear, meaning the cycle never ends. Each “Now What?” returns to a new “What?” to launch a new cycle.
—This constant cycling through means it can happen as in the span of a heartbeat or across the arc of a longitudinal study.
—The constant cycling through also requires that the we remain in a stance of inquiry, always watching and remaining open to what we can learn from the dynamics that swirl around us.

In a human system, long-range change can happen as individuals and groups use multiple and connected cycles of Adaptive Action to shape their own patterns of productivity and performance to support the overall, agreed-upon goals of the system. This shared direction and action is what we refer to as coherence in the system and is a more effective and productive approach to planning than traditional strategic planning.

Check out this video of Glenda Eoyang, founder of the field of HSD, as she talks about Adaptive Action.


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