Adaptive Agency: A Profile Worth Embracing


As the challenges facing our communities grow deeper and more complex, we require innovative solutions that are effective and scalable.  And although we have embraced the importance of innovation in technology and STEM fields, these sectors- even if fully developed- will not be enough to address the full scope of humanitarian need.

Clearly, we must expand our focus on innovation and problem solving to include all fields and disciplines that touch our communities, especially those most vulnerable.

And while specialization is of course necessary to prepare individuals for specific fields, we would benefit greatly from professionals who embody a holistic commitment and readiness to contribute to the greater good.

By visioning this general learner profile and unpacking the associated attributes we can allow for diverse and specialized preparation programs while at the same time working toward a shared vision and goals. 

Through my own professional and community efforts I have developed a profile that I refer to as “adaptive agency.”  This incorporates the Piagetian notion of adaptation that speaks to the dynamic nature of learning through interacting with one’s environment and making successive refinements to existing schemas; and also the notion of agency that speaks to one’s sense of competency and empowerment to make meaningful change.

If you agree that we need individuals across all fields and disciplines with high levels of adaptive agency, then the following component skills and dispositions must be cultivated.

  • A sense of responsibility and competence with regard to identifying  and working toward solutions and responses to large-scale issues and problems
  • A sensitivity to communities and cultures and an ability to reflect on one’s efforts and impacts within broader contexts
  • A broad array of problem solving and critical thinking skills as well as theoretical and disciplinary lenses that can be applied toward innovative solutions and approaches
  • An understanding of assessment, evaluation, and research to help test hypotheses, refine approaches, and share findings toward greater impacts

Although certain civic and service-based organizations, especially Rotary, celebrate and support adaptive agency, the profile is neither widely embraced nor actively cultivated through our current education systems- both at the Prek-12 and higher education levels.

If we are serious about reaping the benefits of adaptive agency, then we must start young.  School-aged children are enthusiastic, empathic, and notoriously confident in terms of their skills and abilities to be successful.  And as they become older and more cognitively sophisticated they can incorporate agency within academic and professional paradigms as well as experiential learning opportunities. 

To be clear, cultivating and even measuring adaptive agency (or some variation of the construct) is in no way difficult or costly, nor would it present any systemic challenges that could not be overcome.

The only real obstacle is getting leaders to recognize the importance of agency and innovation within the broad contexts of community development and sustainability and the need to cultivate the necessary skills and dispositions.

Perhaps organizations such as Rotary that already understand the importance and potential impact of adaptive agency can emerge as catalysts for the broader conversation.  Doing so would in turn increase our own adaptive agency as Rotarians.

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