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News & Events Scaling readiness: experiences from the CGIAR scaling readiness approach
Scaling readiness: experiences from the CGIAR scaling readiness approach
Scaling readiness: experiences from the CGIAR scaling readiness approach

Challenges with regards to scaling is not unique to the land sector. Working in the context of agriculture for development, CGIAR and Wageningen University developed the Scaling Readiness approach.  This approach response to the fact that the pressure to demonstrate fast and visible results and impact at scale, has sometimes resulted in unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, and in fact stimulated simplistic and non-sustainable scaling approaches.

The Scaling Readiness Approach is currently mainstreamed across the CGIAR. All their innovations and interventions are looked at through a ‘scaling lens’. Our knowledge partner Neil Sorensen (Land Portal Foundation) interviewed scaling expert Marc Schut to learn more about their vision on ‘responsible scaling’.

How would you define scaling?

“Within the Scaling Readiness philosophy, we take a deliberate or intentional approach to scaling. An organization, project, or business may have an innovation, such as a technology, land management model, or policy innovation. Once these new innovations have been tested, piloted, and validated to work, there is often a desire to "scale" them. The initial investment in innovation development is usually quite high, and the expectation is that this is justified because we expect it to eventually reach or benefit more people than those who were involved in the initial design, testing and validation of the innovation. For example, if you test a new seed variety with 30 farmers and it's successful, you've also typically invested a lot of time, money, and resources, but that's okay because we expect them to scale that innovation to benefit 30,000 farmers or 300,000 farmers or 3 million farmers. Over time, that initial investment will come down as we reach more people. That's the intentional approach to scaling. Of course, scaling happens all the time in a society without projects, without companies, and without organizations. But we have an organizational R&D approach to scaling innovation. The definition of scaling is when something is maintained or used by people who were not involved in the initial design, testing, and validation of an innovation.”

What is Scaling Readiness? How did it come about?

“Scaling Readiness is an approach that supports the design, implementation and monitoring of scaling strategies. It takes a systemic and holistic approach to transformation and change, because scaling is ultimately a process of change or transformation that people have to adopt, and there may be political, socio-cultural or financial issues involved, which requires a holistic approach to scaling and moving away from simplistic ideas about scaling.

There are a lot of myths and simplistic ideas about scaling. (…) As if scaling is something that happens automatically

We saw that there are a lot of myths and simplistic ideas about scaling. For example, that if your innovation is good enough, people will see it and start using it, as if scaling is something that happens automatically. Or, alternatively, that scaling is simply a replication of what you did before with the 30 farmers, you replicate it to do exactly the same thing with 3,000 farmers, which basically means that you are multiplying your initial project by hundreds, including the initial cost by hundreds. In many of the projects we saw that in the last three months, people would print 30,000 leaflets and then give them to farmers and say, "We reached 30,000 farmers," and of course that's not what scaling is about. Scaling is about changing practices in a sustainable way and making sure that people have access to services in a sustainable way. For example, in a project that has governance or policy innovations, they decide to do a policy brief in the last month of the project. They ask for a meeting with the minister, they hand over the policy brief, and then the policy brief lands on the desk, and ultimately it doesn't lead to policy change, as this is a process you have to invest in.

Another problem is that despite the fact a project or intervention may create the enabling conditions for the innovation to be used, once the project stops, those conditions disappear and people immediately stop adopting the innovation. What we try to do is take a systems approach and a sustainable approach to scaling, where we know that if we want to scale a particular innovation (such as a particular land governance model), we also need to scale up other enabling conditions like people's capacity or political or policy innovations. Scaling Readiness supports a critical thinking process of what those enabling conditions are so that people can actually access and benefit from innovations in a sustainable way.

Scaling is about changing practices in a sustainable way

What we are trying to do with Scaling Readiness is to help people think through what scaling would look like, including the starting point and the critical steps, the bottlenecks that we might face, and how we can develop strategies to overcome those in a sustainable way. We help project teams or organizations develop a strategy for scaling. Scaling Readiness is not a software or a magic formula. It's an approach that has different steps where we take project teams by the hand and try to help them think through what it would take to scale a technology, a governance model, a land management model, or any kind of innovation.”

What activities are you doing to promote this approach?

“The idea started in 2017 and we (Murat Sartas, Cees Leeuwis and myself) started developing and testing the new approach with the project teams we were working with. We developed it as a bottom-up approach to scale and evolve use cases from a very early stage. In doing so, we went through our own process of figuring out the best way to leverage scaling readiness. Now we are mainstreaming the approach across an international research for development organization, and we have interest from funders like the World Bank to apply the same methods to their scaling projects. Because our approach is quite structured and action-oriented, a lot of organizations see the value, because it's very easy to talk about scaling and systems change, but then the real question is how to make it happen. 

That's where Scale Readiness comes in. We try to walk project teams through five steps. The first step is to characterize what it is you're trying to scale. This sounds like a very simple question, but many project teams struggle with it, especially when it comes to non-technical or technological innovations. There are usually very different ideas within a project about what is actually being used to track scale. The second step is more about determining what else needs to be in place for this integration to scale in a sustainable way. This step looks at the enabling conditions and what we call designing an integration package. You can have a very nice land management model, but if there aren't sustainable financing mechanisms to invest in those kinds of models at scale, it's never going to work. The second step is really about designing a package around the innovation that allows it to scale in a sustainable way. The third step is very much about strategy. We have metrics that help us identify which elements in the package are limiting scaling. Is it capacity development, is it policy, is it finance, is it market access? Is it stakeholder engagement? We do this in an evidence-based way by identifying the critical bottlenecks. The fourth step is to agree on the best strategy or the best interventions to make it happen. The fifth step is to manage the implementation of that action plan. Itt is like a cycle. These steps help people and teams to understand why they are doing this and to approach the process in a structured way. We find that many project teams appreciate this because it helps them take it one step at a time.”

How do you think scaling readiness, with this holistic view of scaling, could benefit a program like LAND-at-scale?

“LAND-at-scale has tested different types of land management models in different places. There's now a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't. I think it will really help project teams to think critically about what it would take for this model to benefit not just one community, or one district, or one country, but to go beyond that. They will see that copying and pasting initial pilots is not what leads to scale. When you're thinking about impact at scale, there are a lot of things you have to think about that are different from your initial pilot. In some cases, when we work with project teams, we find that it's really an eye-opener for a lot of people to have this more holistic systems perspective on scaling. I think that will help LAND-at-scale think things through and come up with a realistic strategy for what scaling might look like. I expect that by working with some of the project teams, this will help them to consider all aspects of what scaling is and what scaling could look like within their respective projects, and help them to develop scaling strategies that will allow them to achieve their impact.”

We find that it's really an eye-opener for a lot of people to have this more holistic systems perspective on scaling

Want to know more?

·         Scaling Readiness website: 

·         Science behind Scaling Readiness: