The MetaCapital Framework: A Design-Led Approach to Mapping Ecosystems

Newly available: 4 Impacts, 10 Capitals, and 4 Bottom lines to build a Wisdom Economy


By Susanna Carman for Enlivening Edge Magazine

It takes 4 Impacts, 10 Capitals, and 4 Bottom lines to build a Wisdom Economy, according to MetaIntegral co-founder, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, Ph.D. Dr. Hargens is an academic, author, trans-disciplinary designer and the most highly-published leading scholar-practitioner in Integral Studies. For all you surfers out there, I liken Dr. Hargens to a long board shaper whose new design, the MetaCapital Framework (MCF), enables the rest of us to hang 10 at the emergent edge of next-wave ecosystem mapping.

The MCF takes the shape of a mandala and is grounded in a commitment to impact.

Dr. Hargens defines Impact in 4 ways:

Deep Impact: transforming hearts and minds

Clear Impact: transforming behavior

High Impact: transforming systems

Wide Impact: transforming relationships


He describes impact as:

“The positive transformation of any of these four dimensions (hearts/minds, behaviors, systems, and relationships) that can be cultivated and measured with first-person, second-person, or third-person formal and informal methods and practices.”[i]

Within each impact domain of the MCF there exist multiple forms of capital. The International Integrated Report Council (IIRC) defines capital as “stores of value that can be built up, transformed, or run down over time in the production of goods or services.”[ii]

I am a member of a community of practice currently exploring the MCF territory. Dr. Hargens, who is co-facilitating the CoP, has enacted a key principle of Participatory Design Thinking by challenging assumptions implicit in the IIRC definition of capital, and inviting group members to collaboratively re-define the word. The HMW question he has framed for the group:

How might we define capital in a way that includes its typical forms, mainly financial capital, but at the same time expands the definition to include the 10 forms of capital in the MCF?

Dr. Hargens identifies 10 capitals: 5 interiors and 5 exteriors, in the MCF. The interior capitals include an individual’s knowledge, psychological and spiritual stores of value, as well as a collective’s social and cultural ones. The exterior capitals include the health and human capital of individuals and the manufactured, financial and natural capitals of whole systems (for a more in-depth descriptions of the 10 capitals, visit

I have a personal interest in the potential of MCF as a meta-design tool for mapping value exchange within and across ecosystems. I’ve been testing the tool in both community-building and for-profit contexts. In all cases, I am experiencing an elevation in the quality of stakeholder engagement. That is, MCF is providing language and subsequent expressive capacities for people to talk about value and its flow across systems in ways that facilitate genuine acknowledgment of their profit, people, planet and purpose bottom line commitments.

As metaphor, consider the alchemical acupuncture model. In the Taoist tradition, each organ stores value in the form of that organ’s spirit. For example, the kidneys house the spirit of wuwei and the liver, the shen. Each of these organs are seen as clusters within interconnected webs of energy, blood, bile and fluids, or jin ye, and each exists in relationship with the system of internal organs, or zang fu.


Now compare capitals to the body’s zang fu system, and currencies, or flows, to the jin je system. In the Chinese medicine tradition, disease is what happens when the spirit residing in or flowing through one organ dominates the system. In contrast, a return to balanced, harmonious flow is the signal for wellness. Just like an acupuncturist who checks pulses and inserts needles, MCF practitioners can measure stored value, map flow rates and restore balance to the exchange of capital across a system.

I am currently testing the MCF with a network of entrepreneurial women in regional Australia. We are experimenting with MCF as a meta-design tool that can:

  • Measure the capital present but under-valued in our community
  • Identify under-developed capitals worth investing in
  • Map the current networks
  • Test appetites for communities of practice to grow value in each capital
  • Match practitioners and expertise with the appropriate capitals

In this way, we are using MCF to make conscious both tacit and explicit stored value already being traded across our community.

As a designer, researcher, facilitator, and practitioner, I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this framework. The degree of positive market response is staggering, irrespective of developmental level. MCF gives me the vocabulary to talk about and challenge traditional notions associated with capital with my clients.  Combined with the principles of curiosity, humility and empathy inherent in Design Thinking, MCF introduces the next-stage distinction of stewardship vs. ownership in a way that truly connects the dots for people.

Until next time, this is Susanna Carman inviting you to challenge your own think about all things value-related.

[i] S. Esbjorn-Hargens, personal communication, October 14, 2016

[ii] The Concept of Capital in Integrated Reporting, Integrated Reporting Update, Ernst & Young Global Limited, 2013 [online]. Available:$FILE/EY-the-concept-of-capital-in-integrated-reporting-july-2013.pdf [Accessed: 13-Oct-2016]



Susanna Carman is a trans-disciplinary designer, researcher, facilitator, and writer specialising in Design Leadership and Integral Engagement. With backgrounds in adult development, design, brand and business strategy, Susanna works with leaders of enterprise and organisations to embed Design Thinking into the cultural fabric of human systems. To work with or read more by Susanna Carman, please visit  or contact her directly at susanna