Strategy Design Amid Complexity: Tools for Designing and Implementing Adaptive Funding Strategies

Published: July 2015

Type: Publication

This Foundation Review article offers tools to help foundations design adaptive strategies, and ideas for balancing accountability with adaptability. 

Tanya Beer

Increasingly, foundations recognize the importance of designing adaptive strategies that can respond to complex environments and problems. Some philanthropic articles have cautioned against practices common in strategic philanthropy that hinder the ability of foundations and grantees to account for changing contexts and adapt their strategies accordingly.

But understanding the importance of, and barriers to, adaptive strategy is not sufficient. Foundations now need processes and tools to create and implement adaptive strategies while also addressing the core dilemmas these strategies create: managing accountability in the context of adaptation, adapting at the right level, and responding to changes in context without creating too much instability for grantees.

Using a case study from the Colorado Health Foundation’s advocacy funding strategy to increase health care coverage, this article offers a set of tools to help foundations design adaptive strategies and ideas for balancing accountability for achieving goals with adaptability throughout the course of an initiative.