Based on some great comments on previous posts, more research on behalf of clients, and deeper thought, I'm starting to formulate some preliminary design principles for philanthropic investments in field building. Some of my key assumptions or frame for the following - that the "it" already exists in fragmented ways, the philanthropic intervention is coming along at the point of "organizing and coordinating" and that sustaining structures or systems or business models is a goal (as philanthropic support is always fleeting).
Here they are (raw form) - please let me know what you think:
1) Plan for remixing and re-using of core knowledge - core element of a new field must be able to used by those in other fields to advance their work (e.g. new media to learn to read or write, social enterprise that improves how public problems get solved)
2) Diversity of players and networks, methods and perspectives is key to meaning and survival. And, yes, it makes definitions and standards harder.
3) Be clear on what needs to be standardized (if anything) and what needs to remain open, flexible, and inclusive.
4) Activities for growth and identity matter more than the structures that provide them - identify what is needed, then be forward thinking in how these things get provided or done. (Form follow function)
5) It will take longer to get there than you think, and it may never be "built" but always "building." If it ever is "built," that is probably the moment at which it will need to be replaced or morphed into something else
Given how long I've been thinking about this, it is somewhat of a "doh" moment" to notice that these are core evolutionary principles. They also remind me of my Seven Building Blocks of Open Philanthropy. Perhaps I should have just read Darwin and short-circuited the whole thought process.