Scaling up a successful program

All too often, successful projects end without the means to expand the good work that's been carried out. With some careful planning, partnerships and a willingness to take risks, scaling is within everyone's reach. Scaling a program usually calls for the investment of additional resources, but it also compounds a program's benefits.

What is scaling?

Scaling involves expanding the impact of a project beyond a limited community (geographic or human) to a greater level - sometimes much greater.

It doesn't necessarily entail expanding an organisation so that it can deliver the same program to more people. It can mean expanding an idea, an innovation, a technology or a skill, or even expanding advocacy or policy change.

How do we go about it?

Successful scaling has impact as its central focus. It begins with a clear sense of purpose and approach.

Achieving significant social change is beyond the capacity of most not-for-profits. To build capacity they need to focus on empowering others outside their organisation; they need to focus on being part - perhaps the central part - of a network, rather than the sole provider.

You can work on improving solutions, or you can work on changing the social conditions that cause the problem.

Grantmakers for Effective Organisations (GEO), which publishes Scaling What Works, says grantmakers need to be prepared to provide long-term support for general operating budgets if they want to support scaling. When an already resource-strained not-for-profit is struggling to attract and keep staff, it cannot develop the externally focused core capacities, such as alliance-building and communications, that would position it for growth.

Other ways you can facilitate scaling include:

  • helping a grantseeker determine their readiness for growth, through a business plan;
  • defining what is expected from growth as opposed to business as usual;
  • helping grantees to develop infrastructure for gathering data;
  • helping grantees to secure additional funding.

The process of growth, says GEO, is risky. This must be recognised, understood and agreed. GEO recommends four steps to scaling:

  1. Clarify your purpose.
  2. Define your approach.
  3. Target activities that facilitate scaling.
  4. Adopt practices that support grantee results.

How can we ensure success?

A report by the Health Communication Partnership at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Taking Community Empowerment to Scale: Lessons from Three Successful Experiences, lists 14 key factors for successful scaling up:

  1. Have a vision for scale from the beginning.
  2. Choose pilot sites carefully.
  3. Aim for high impact.
  4. Develop solid partnerships with existing organisations at all levels.
  5. Involve partners from other sectors.
  6. Foster the emergence and growth of dynamic community and political leaders.
  7. Strengthen systems and organisational capacity.
  8. Promote horizontal networking.
  9. Test the approach.
  10. Consolidate, define and refine.
  11. Simplify program design as much as possible.
  12. Continuously monitor and evaluate.
  13. Recognise achievement and publicise program results.
  14. Diversify the funding base and encourage community ownership.

To find out more, read Taking Community Empowerment to Scale: Lessons from Three Successful Experiences, and Scaling What Works .

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