Scaling/Non Linear Impact of Work

We keep coming across the question around scaling of social/nonprofit orgs’ work. It’s fairly clear that, of course, it should never refer to taking the same solution and implementing it across geographies, communities irrespective of context (though it does happen a lot). But what are the other ways in which good scale can happen?

One that we’ve realized is the scaling of principles and frameworks that work, rather than specific solutions, and that again with adaptation for local context - geography/society and economics. Indeed, interventions that go in with a pre-determined solution which doesn’t account for need or nuances on the ground are at best not sticky, and at worst cause harm. And scale, thus, MUST account for varying needs at varying places.

Another belief we have is that finally, the government is the largest change-enabler at scale. Of course, the one-size-fits-all risk is much higher and something to try and change, but there’s enabling legislation and institutions for local self governance, PRIs and if there’s corresponding flex in schemes and policy, it can move things at a scale all private efforts put together can’t always achieve.

E.g. - @Sauramandala started a fellowship for problem solving that the Govt of Meghalaya then adopted -

What’s your take and experience with the idea of “scale” in public problem solving? What are good examples and not so good ones?

We have a tendency to look for silver bullets and we feel that problems are static things that can be solved by following a set of steps.

In reality, problems evolve with time, and hence so should the process of solving them.

Unfortunately, we have a system which incentivises scale by asking orgs to replicate, all this is bound to do is create a system that will run until it’s continued to be funded without really solving the problem.

This requires us to look at our work as that of ecosystem building. Can we create dynamic ecosystems that respond to evolving problems and create solutions that are locally relevant, contextual and sustainable is what we ask ourselves at SMF.

Another thought process is that large systems cannot innovate. Hence for governments to innovate they need an ecosystem that does the innovation and actively policy advocacy to institutionalise new changes.

I strongly believe that we need a learning layer across different systems (health, education, climate) that consists of designers whose capacity is built in design thinking,HCD and problem solving who can respond actively to the needs on the ground.

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I feel so too. It’s actually not their job to innovate.
A good example i came across is the story of the Makhana. 90% of world production comes from Bihar, all started by a single farmer (who grows 50% of product himself). The snack got a GI tag by GoI and is another Amul like coop story in development.

[Bihar Entrepreneur Grows 50% of India's Makhana While Empowering 12,000 Farmers]

But I think the Centre has some of these things in mind. Policies like 1 district 1 product, and Unity market in state capitals can be piggy-backed on to promote these causes.

Anyway, you guys are working towards something truly essential! All the best!

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Agree, the government is the largest stakeholder and eventually we need to piggy back on what policy is already in place or influence what’s coming next

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There is well established ways and methods of scale for social impact work. I am breaking it down here for simple understanding. Excerpts from the P.A.T.R.I framework of scaling.

Distinction between Scaling and Growth:

Scaling essentially refers to a form of growth. However, there is an important distinction.

Growing typically involves adding resources at around the same rate as adding impact or revenue. The implications are primarily operational. If you’ve already increased reach to more people, more cities or even more countries, but your operating costs have gone up in a generally correlated way, then what you’ve really done is grown rather than scaled.

Scaling differs in that it involves adding impact at an exponential rate while adding resources at only an incremental rate. Although scaling is also commonly approached from an operational perspective, it typically has significant implications for design, not only in terms of the solution being scaled, but also for the way it is delivered.

Why organisations don’t scale (no, it’s hardly ever funding):

  1. Lack of outcome oriented purpose with poor problem definition, which leads to failures in design and decision making
  2. Inapplicable/Non-scalable impact methodology (solution), which limits the flexibility needed to address the varying needs of new environments and demographics
  3. Non-systematic approaches to set-up and implementation, which limits replicability and decreases both efficiency and effectiveness
  4. Inflexible organisational design and lack of operational readiness, which limits ability to deliver at scale
  5. Poor implementation planning, and hence inadequate cost modelling, leading to challenges with raising funds or finance.

Strategies to enable impact model to reach the size of need:

  1. Piggyback on the scale of others
  • State / government
  • Sector institutions
  • Other / bigger players in same field
  • Business
  1. By convincing and enabling them to incorporate / apply / support / enforce your model / methodology through
  • Policy change
  • Law /regulation + Certification
  • Compelling data + Mission value
  • Financial value
  1. Build collaborative replica networks
  • Hub & spoke networks
  • Training & capacity building
  1. Encourage / enable open replication
  • Open platforms
  • Commons licensing
  1. Leverage society and change behaviour + Mass movement

Redesign / re-engineer individual components or programmes to fit new scaling mechanism(s)

  1. Identify key limiting factors
  2. Use these to identify which components will need reengineering to improve scalability
  3. Then look for ways to improve efficiency or create economies of scale for separate components / individual programmes
  • Streamline processes
  • Connect / share services + Create delivery partnerships + Leverage technology
  • Leverage the web