What is Scaling Up?

In development, scaling up refers to the need to have large impact.  We define scaling up as reaching large numbers of people with interventions that transform their lives. Scaling up impact can be achieved through: (i) growth within an organization; (ii) replication of a model to other organizations; or (iii) collaboration across organizations that are pursuing a common goal.

This cross-cutting issue occupies an important place in the thinking of governments, donors and NGOs because of persistent service delivery challenges. It is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to eradicate illness in the world, to educate billions so they can have a better life and to fight poverty at a global level. Governments and donors can be very good at delivering physical investments like highways, bridges, hospitals, irrigation, etc. They are less successful in providing services that involve adaptations in human behavior, such as teachers showing up at school, patients cured, and farmers that learn how to improve their productivity. Many of such “wicked development problems” have been solved at a local level by organizations that are either owned by the poor or very close to them. But most are not able to scale up. In spite of great success in both physical investments and local solutions to poverty, there is a large missing middle that neither top down nor bottom up approaches get to. This is the space that needs to be populated for development solutions to solve some of the most difficult challenges we face today.

IMAGO usually begins by understanding the sector where the organization is working and the reasons why it is facing difficulties scaling up. After analyzing the market and government failures, we work with the organization to answer the questions below which are used by Larry Cooley at MSI to plan for scaling up. We added a lean startup approach to the questions, where scalable business models are discovered by frequent iterations with customers in a way that uses as few resources as possible before scaling. A lot of the work happens in preparation for scaling, understanding the theory of change, how it will be tested, how will revenues be generated, and the strengths and weaknesses of the model. Its only after months of iterative testing that an organization can find a scalable model. At that point we start working on building the scaffolding for scaling up, including the Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.

When an organization is providing public goods or goods that have positive externalities, the best path to scale is through government programs. This could be done by providing services through contracts with governments or to be funded by donors that want to help innovations at the grassroots level incubate until they are ready to be scaled up through government programs.

Our work recognizes that the frontier for governments to achieve sustainable development impact centers on three main areas:

  • Reaching the last mile of service delivery
  • Institutional challenges preventing successful scaling up
  • Mindset and behavioral changes to address complex development challenges