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  • Deena Etter

Finding grace & trust in the fog of "emergence"

Hi there! I am a Masters of Social Work graduate student currently in my field placement with Emergence Collective. Over the last three semesters that I have been at Emergence Collective, I have thought a lot about the collective’s use of the word “emergence” and how it shows up in day-to-day work.


When I first thought about the collective’s name, “Emergent” conjured up the image of the Collective gracefully and deftly navigating new and complex learnings, recognizing patterns as they appear like expert chess players and quickly adapting their strategy without skipping a beat. Instead, what I have learned through my time here is that emergence is often quite a messy process that requires patience and trust.


In one project I was involved with, EC had established an evaluation plan with a partner organization. Going into the initial kick-off meeting, our evaluation team and the organization’s leadership team believed there was alignment around the project’s goals and how the different departmental teams were all going to work together in order to achieve this goal. After the discussions in the initial meeting, the EC team realized the project required more level-setting, and all parties needed more shared orientation. We knew in order for the project to work, we needed to slow the process down and build trust and mutual understanding in the project team through more dialogue.


After interviews with individuals from each team, EC established a better understanding of where more clarification was needed and where goals and principles of each team aligned. This “emergent learning” was critical to the project, but it was not the graceful pivot that I had imagined. Instead, it required internal and external conversations over multiple meetings and continual check-ins to discuss the progress of the project. Yet through these continued conversations, I saw the relationships in the team strengthen and the shared vision of the project grow more cohesive.


I’ve appreciated the collective’s willingness to adapt to an “emergent” learning when unexpectedly confronted with one, even when a developmental approach has not been intentionally taken at the forefront. Admittedly, being in a space on a project when we don’t know the exact roadmap forward is a bit scary and discomforting, but there is also freedom and opportunity in these moments. It is also a chance to build trust with teammates and partners as we work through the fog together.


When mulling over these ideas with members of Emergence Collective, I realize that part of the evolution of my understanding of “emergence” also comes in part with unlearning expectations of urgency and perfection that were socialized into me by white supremacy culture. Does grace have to mean no mistakes? Does adept have to mean we sacrifice time and additional thought? Reflecting on this, I recognize the origins of my discomfort while also seeing that there is grace and flow within the messy process of emergence and am grateful I have the opportunity to be a part of it.


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