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Scaling Out, Scaling Up, Scaling Deep Strategies of Non-profits in Advancing Systemic Social Innovation *

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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 67
Scaling Out, Scaling Up, Scaling Deep
Strategies of Non-profits in Advancing Systemic
Social Innovation
Michele-Lee Moore
University of Victoria, Canada
Darcy Riddell
Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, Canada
Dana Vocisano
Concordia University, Canada
To effect large system change, “niche” or local-level innovations must span spatial
and institutional scales to achieve broader systemic impact. Leaders of social innova-
tion, in particular those who work in non-profit organizations and funders of non-
profit and civil society organizations, are increasingly concerned with scaling the
positive impact of their investments.
This study examines the case of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the
implementation of a deliberate strategy, named the Applied Dissemination initiative,
to build grantee capacity and to accelerate their initiatives to achieve systemic
change. One part of the strategy involved an “educational intervention”, where lead-
ers of more than a dozen national-level initiatives in Canada convened regularly over
a period of several years to learn from each other’s efforts to achieve scale. The group
was successful not only in their efforts to scale for positive impact on their respective
issue areas, but also in catalyzing a field of practice in Canada with a growing exper-
tise in scaling innovation for systemic change. The findings show the success of six
different strategies that may be adopted to scale innovation on the pathway to large-
scale or systemic impact, which cut across three different types of “scaling”: scaling
out, scaling up, and scaling deep.
OSocial
innovation
OScaling
OImpact
OTransitions
studies
OScaling
strategies
DOI: [10.9774/GLEAF.4700.2015.ju.00009]
*
* The authors would like to thank the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, our project
Advisory Board, the participants, and the detailed comments of three anonymous review-
ers for sharing their insights and supporting this study.
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68 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
Darcy Riddell, PhD. is a Vancouver-based researcher affiliated with the
Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience in Canada. She is a
consultant who works primarily with social change organizations and funders
to support systemic transformation.
Dana Vocisano is an organizational development consultant with 30 years of
experience in the non-profit sector. She has a long-time interest in scaling
social innovations and most recently has focused on social enterprises. She is a
MA candidate in Human Systems Intervention at Concordia University,
Canada.
Michele-Lee Moore is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography
at the University of Victoria, and she leads the Water, Innovation, and Global
Governance Lab at the Centre for Global Studies.
u
Dept of Geography, University of
Victoria, CANADA
!
mlmoore@uvic.ca
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 69
scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep
How can brilliant, but isolated experiments aimed at solving the
world’s most pressing and complex social and ecological problems
become more widely adopted and achieve transformative impact?
Leaders of large systems change and social innovation initiatives
often struggle to increase their impact on systems, and funders of such change
in the non-profit sector are increasingly concerned with the scale and positive
impact of their investments. As Bradach and Grindle (2014, p. 7) state, the
catchphrase ‘scaling what works’ has become ‘a rallying cry to direct more fund-
ing to interventions that actually get results’. But questions remain about how
funders and social change leaders can work together to have an impact across
scales and what ‘scale’ or ‘scaling’ actually involves.
In this article, we argue that the process of scaling social innovations to
achieve systemic impacts involves three different types of scaling—scaling
out, scaling up, and scaling deep—and large systems change (LSC) is likely to
require a combination of these types. Although large systems change processes
in any complex problem domain will be emergent, we found that certain strate-
gies are associated with each type of scaling process. This argument is based
on experiences from social innovation experiments conducted by charitable
organisations and funded by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, over more
than a decade in Canada.
To clarify terminology, we define social innovation as ‘any initiative, product,
programme, platform or design that challenges, and over time changes, the
defining routines, resource and authority flows, or beliefs of the social system
in which the innovation occurs’ (Westley and Antadze, 2010). We believe social
innovation is required to create large systems change.
This paper first examines the literature on management strategies for scaling
the process of social change. In particular, we focus on the scholarly fields of
strategic niche management (SNM) and social innovation and discuss the chal-
lenge of applying existing ideas for scaling from these fields to large systems
change. Next, we describe the methods of this study and our case study of the
J.W. McConnell Foundation and their grantees, as they collectively set out to
learn how to scale the impacts of initiatives to achieve broader systems change.
Following that, we present the study results, describing six strategies employed
by these systems-change leaders.
Literature review
With the growing interest in scaling, questions arise about how leaders of social
change initiatives may achieve scale, and thus, affect large systems change.
Two bodies of literature have sought to address such questions: strategic niche
management and the broader literature on social innovation.
Strategic niche management (SNM) is a sub-field of transitions studies that
emerged in the 1990s (see Rip and Kemp, 1998). The conceptual logic on which
SNM hinges, is that organisations interested in supporting the development
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70 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
of innovations must work to create innovation ‘niches’ (Kemp et al., 1998, Ver-
bong et al., 2010, Hegger et al., 2007). These niches are understood as ‘safe’
spaces—places that are protected from the daily operational concerns of the
organisation, even though the work being undertaken may not yet be profit-
able, or even feasible (van der Laak et al., 2007; Schot and Geels, 2008; Smith
and Raven, 2012). This strand of research primarily focuses on socio-technical
transitions—the pathways involved in new technological adoption, and their
role in breaking institutional lock-in within a given ‘regime’, which refers to
the reinforcing social, economic, cultural and technological systems in a given
organisational field (Geels and Schot, 2007).
SNM scholars have devoted considerable effort to understanding how to cre-
ate a ‘niche’ that is safe and have provided detailed understanding about the
mechanisms of shielding, nurturing, and empowering (Smith and Raven, 2012).
Secondly, consideration has been given to the types of organisations that are
able to generate an innovation within that ‘niche’ (Caniëls and Romijn, 2008),
which is understood to involve organisational capacities to articulate expectations
and a vision, build social networks to create support for a new technology, and
facilitate learning processes within and among niches (Schot and Geels, 2008).
However, due to the overt focus on the management of technological niches,
questions remain about how or whether these mechanisms and capacities apply
beyond the technological, to the scaling of social innovations. Despite this, multi-
dimensional systems change has been widely recognised as necessary to address
some of our most complex social and ecological challenges (Folke et al., 2011), and
thus, cultivation of innovation in technological niches alone will be insufficient.
Later work in transitions studies builds on a framework to address how niche
innovations interact with different scales, known as the multi-level perspective
(MLP). The MLP depicts three scales or levels to consider when managing an
innovation or transition for system-wide change—niche, regime, and an exog-
enous landscape depicting the broader environment and accrued social trends
(Geels, 2002). Van den Bosch and Rotmans (2008) describe the mechanisms by
which transition experiments can successfully contribute to transitions, includ-
ing: deepening (described as learning about culture, norms, values), broadening
(repeating an experiment in different niche contexts), and scaling up (embed-
ding a transition experiment into dominant thinking within a niche or regime).
However, efforts to explain when or how an innovative initiative moves across
scales have been much more limited, as have analyses of the deliberate scaling
strategies involved, beyond nurturing smaller-scale niche technologies until
they are ready to compete with the dominant technology in a regime. Two stud-
ies have illustrated that knowledge translation and the process of ‘anchoring’ or
linking are important mechanisms for connecting the niche to the regime level
(Smith and Raven, 2012; Elzen et al., 2012, respectively). But overall, analysis
of the processes or agency required to impact the broader system or regime are
underdeveloped in SNM and transition studies, despite the fact that large systems
change likely involves all three scales. Moreover, further explanation is needed to
describe the multiple paths leaders may take to link across scales, and the strate-
gies that may generate large systems change beyond new technology adoption.
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scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep
Beyond the SNM literature and transitions studies, scholarship in social inno-
vation and social enterprise has focused on the strategic agency required to move
ideas from one context to a larger scale (Bradach, 2010; Evans and Clarke, 2011;
McPhedran et al., 2011; Mulgan et al., 2008). From a social innovation perspec-
tive, large-scale change will necessarily involve changes to rules, resource flows,
cultural beliefs and relationships in a social system at multiple spatial or institu-
tional scales. However, in social entrepreneurship and social enterprise studies,
the emphasis on ‘scaling for impact’ reflects a product and consumer orientation,
synonymous with diffusion or replication of a programme, product, or organi-
sational model in multiple geographic locations and contexts to maximise the
number of people that a social innovation reaches (Dees et al., 2004; Wei-skillern
and Anderson, 2003; Mulgan et al., 2008). Even authors who recognise that trans-
formative social innovation will require more than just replicating a programme
(e.g. Bradach and Grindle, 2014; Ross, 2014), tend to emphasise diffusion.
However, scaling social innovations to effect large-scale change will necessarily
involve a more complex and diverse process than simply ‘diffusing’ a product or
model. Therefore, we contend that empirical investigations of deliberate strate-
gies that social innovators use when attempting to create systemic change are also
needed—in particular ones that go beyond a focus on geographic and numeric
dissemination of a product or service, to impact social systems or institutions.
Westley et al. (2014) characterised the dynamics and pathways of scaling
in cases of social innovation by describing five unique pathways to advance
systemic change. They differentiate between two kinds of scaling: ‘scaling
out’, where an organisation attempts to affect more people and cover a larger
geographic area through replication and diffusion, and ‘scaling up’, where an
organisation aims to affect everybody who is in need of the social innovation
they offer, or to aims to address the broader institutional or systemic roots of a
problem (Westley et al. 2014). Our research builds on the distinction between
scaling out and scaling up, adding new insights by describing associated strat-
egies, and adding the further distinction of ‘scaling deep’ to create a typology
of three approaches to scaling. In so doing, we contribute new research and
theoretical perspectives that address gaps in the SNM and social innovation
literatures. Moreover, our typology underscores the complexities and comple-
mentary nature of the strategies involved in advancing large systems change,
opening up new avenues for research on how different scaling strategies relate
to one another, and illuminating the role of funders and conveners in amplify-
ing the system-wide impacts of social change initiatives.
Case study and methods
This case study involves a group of grantees in Canada, funded by the Montreal-
based J.W. McConnell Family Foundation (herein referred to as McConnell
Foundation), who sought greater systemic impact through social innovation.
In 1998, the McConnell Foundation began pursuing a deliberate strategy for
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moving beyond discrete project-based funding, in order to enable broader impact
by their grantees. The strategy was called Applied Dissemination (AD) and sup-
ported social innovators in disseminating new programmes, processes, skills or
knowledge in their work with communities and organisations, and to apply or
adapt innovations in different settings (Pearson, 2006). As one part of the AD
strategy, the McConnell Foundation hosted a community of practice, convening
diverse grantees to learn from one another, to integrate concepts of systems
change into their practice, and to accelerate the impacts of funded innovations.
Organisations were awarded AD grants after an in-depth review. Selection
criteria included showing: a deliberate strategy, demonstrable demand (McCon-
nell Foundation, 1998), and completed evaluations that showed impact and dis-
tilled the ‘minimum specifications’ (Zimmerman, 1998) or variable and fixed
elements of an innovation. From 2002 until 2007, the McConnell Foundation
formally convened annual meetings with this AD learning group, and many par-
ticipants continued in peer-support roles beyond this period. Organisations had
diverse social change missions, governance and organisational structures and
strategies, but shared a focus on scaling their work. Participating organisations
included Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Child Development Institute, Tama-
rack, PLAN, LArche Canada, JUMP, L’Abri en Ville, Community Health and
Social Services Network, Roots of Empathy, Santropol Roulant, Meal Exchange,
and Engineers without Borders. Note that several of the same organisations also
participated in the Westley et al. (2014) pathways study on social innovation,
in which additional case data and organisational descriptions are provided. At
the learning group, participants shared experiences and dilemmas, and learned
from experts about topics including scaling, developmental evaluation, social
marketing, complexity theory, and policy advocacy. Although some efforts did
not succeed, almost 17 years later, many participants from the AD learning
group have scaled their initiatives through a variety of means: by reorienting
their mission to address root systemic issues; by spreading geographically; and
by leading the development of new policies and cultural shifts.
Methods
Given the lack of baseline data on scaling strategies for large, complex systems
change, we adopted a case study method (Yin, 2014) to begin building a theory
of scaling, as per Plummer and Fennel’s (2007) theory development approach
which consists of concepts, variables and relational propositions. Here, we align
with Flyvbjerg (2006) who argues it is possible to begin building theory from
a single exploratory case study. As Yin (2014) states, the case study approach
investigates a particular phenomenon of interest within its ‘real-life context’.
Because many study participants are still involved in scaling their social innova-
tions (given that such a process has no endpoint), the phenomenon of scaling
could only be studied as it unfolds in its real-life context.
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scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep
In July 2013, 15 original AD learning group participants were invited to
participate in this research. Because most participants were involved over
long periods, they brought broad perspectives on changes in their initiatives,
organisation, and their own practices over time. We asked them to reflect on the
full arc of their own deliberate learning process on scaling. Participants com-
pleted a structured survey that used open-ended questions, including: What did
‘going to scale’ involve for your organisation? How did the AD learning group
contribute to your perspective? And, what methodologies or understandings
influenced how you grew or scaled your work? Participants were also invited to
participate in a small focus group session (max. focus group participants = 4).
Some participants chose to only complete the survey (14), but eight participants
completed the survey and the focus groups. In total, three focus group sessions
of 1.5 to 2 hours in duration occurred in August–September 2013. Focus group
questions were: 1) What did you learn about scaling your initiative? 2) How do
you now think about ‘scale’ and ‘scaling’ in your work? 3) What unintended con-
sequences arose as you attempted to scale innovative initiatives? and 4) What
leadership challenges did you face as you undertook this work?
We coded and analysed the survey responses and focus group transcripts,
using first an open coding process, and then selective coding, as recommended
by Dey (1999). As patterns emerged, we tested themes against the data to fur-
ther substantiate the theme or refute it. Following the case study approach of
Crutchfield and McLeod Grant (2008), we noted where patterns did not hold,
helping us to identify differences in the strategies employed, their relationship
to different types of scaling, and how these types of scaling differed from one
another. We emphasise that our findings focus on the phenomenon of scaling,
and the strategies by which actors can move social innovation impacts across
scales. It is beyond the scope of this paper to describe the details of each social
innovation and organisation involved; rather, we describe the patterns across
the different initiatives.
A group of external advisers familiar with the AD learning group reviewed
and responded to our preliminary findings.
Results and discussion
Many social change practitioners and funders are focused on scaling their
impact, in order to meet the scope of contemporary social and environmental
challenges. Executives within the McConnell Foundation believed that while the
Foundation had invested resources into several initiatives, which successfully
generated new models, these initiatives failed to address the roots or complex-
ity of many social problems. That is, the Foundation was effectively supporting
‘niche’ development, but there were limited impacts on the broader regime or
system. Our findings revealed that through the intensive learning process in the
AD learning group, participants began to recognise opportunities to scale the
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74 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
impacts of their initiatives beyond their own ‘niche’ (whether that was a single
school, a community, or a narrow programme area).
Not all participants pursued the same type of ‘scale’ or strategies to advance
systemic impact. The strategy of choice was dependent on many factors: the
founding conditions of their organisation; the context surrounding their issue;
the resources and support they could access; choices they made about partners
and strategies; and the windows of opportunity—political, cultural and social—
that emerged. But we contend that several cross-cutting strategies were patterns
in the various initiatives and that three different types of scaling emerged from
our data: scaling out, up, and deep (Figure 1). The next section provides an
overview of the three types of scaling and the strategies that align with each, as
well as a short discussion of the leadership challenges involved with scaling.
A typology of routes to systemic impact: scaling out, scaling up and scaling deep
Our research found cross-cutting scaling strategies, and unique strategies
that we have categorised into three broad types, refining Westley et al.’s (2014)
distinction between scaling out and up, where scaling up refers to institutional
changes—in cultural beliefs or rules and policies. Because of the unique strate-
gies involved in these two kinds of institutional change, we suggest the third
category of ‘scaling deep’.1 ‘Scaling out’ was the approach that McConnell
Foundation staff and the AD learning group focused on originally, emphasis-
ing replication of successful innovations in different communities (or ‘niches’),
with the hopes of spreading those same results to more people. While at least
one organisation has found this to be an enduring means to deal with context-
specific issues that affect the system they are trying to change, the majority of
participants found that replication might never address the root of the problem
if these lay within broader institutions. For many initiatives, the route to greater
impact lay in changing institutions and laws, or ‘scaling up’ to affect policies.
Many participants described the shift in their scaling efforts to focus on the
policy level because it has ‘the largest impact’ and was capable of changing the
‘rules of the game’. Strategies for ‘scaling deep’, built on earlier work by Van
den Bosch and Rotmans (2008), are related to the notion that durable change
has been achieved only when people’s hearts and minds, their values and cul-
tural practices, and the quality of relationships they have, are transformed (see
Figure 1 and Table 1).
1 This term was coined by Tatiana Fraser, the former Executive Director of GirlsAction,
during the AD learning group.
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scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep
Figure 1 Scaling out, scaling up and scaling deep for social innovation
Scale Up:
‘Impacting laws and policy’
Changin
g institutions at the
level of policy, rules and laws
Scale Out:
‘Impacting greater
numbers’
Replication and
dissemination, increasing
number of people or
communities impacted
Scale Deep:
‘Impacting cultural roots’
Chang
ing relationships,
cultural values and beliefs,
‘hearts and minds’
Strategies for social innovation and large systems change
Tips for diffusing innovation are abundant. But the findings in this study reveal
a new and far more complex picture of what is entailed with ‘scaling impact’
depending on the type of scaling. Some of the strategies that have been well
documented by other scholars consider the skills and agency of actors who
are navigating complex systems, trying to stimulate or support large systems
change, and leverage the necessary resources to achieve this change (Moore and
Westley, 2011; Marshall et al., 2012; Westley et al., 2013; Geobey et al., 2012).
For instance, participants routinely cited the need to build and engage net-
works for all three types of scaling activities. Networking across sectors (rather
than within sectors) was noted as especially valuable for focused collaboration,
resource-pooling, extending the organisation’s sphere of influence, and devel-
oping unusual alliances. Our findings specifically confirmed Waddell’s (2014,
p. 22) previous work, in that networks were not used merely for coordination,
but for ‘generating coherence through targeted interventions and stewarding
development of particularly critical ingredients of a complex change system’.
Moreover, all participants acknowledged that once they re-focused their
organisational purpose on scaling, as opposed to simply generating an innova-
tive initiative within a niche, their ideas, process, or programmes required either
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new funding, or entirely new funding models than what their original initiative
required. Funding was not only perceived to support the scaling process, but
it was also sometimes perceived as a necessary precursor to scaling in order to
build internal capacity for systems approaches. As one participant stated:
We came to understand that in order to grow, we had to build organisational capacity
and we have done so in an effective manner over several years. As a more mature
organisation we needed to allocate new resources to growth and development.
But beyond confirming strategies that have been well-documented elsewhere,
several other strategies were found to be essential for the scaling process. One
cross-cutting strategy served as an important starting point for all participants
when they first began to attempt to scale their initiatives. This was the strategy
of broadening the framing of the problem to reveal it systemic or root causes.
Cross-cutting strategy 1. Broaden the problem frame
The organisations involved in the AD learning group began with a particular
issue-focus such as girl’s empowerment, preventing youth incarceration, build-
ing networks of support around people with disabilities, and reducing poverty
in communities. Their organisational strategies were most often focused on
particular populations, in specific regions. However, through participation with
the AD learning group, participants realised that they could not achieve their
goals of scale and impact unless they broadened their problem-framing.
Several participants described how adopting a systems-change perspective
(using systems and complexity frameworks introduced by Westley et al., 2006)
was critical to building this consciousness and intention to change. It is beyond
the scope of this article to detail the material and exercises the AD learning
group undertook to develop a large-systems change perspective. However,
in general, the learning process widened previously narrow constructions of
problems and solutions, enabling organisational leaders to consider different
types of scales (e.g. organisational scales, temporal scales, political scales), and
to understand the complex interrelated layers of variables and phases of change
that could influence their issue as they tried to scale their impact.
Broadening their problem definition led several organisations to re-conceptu-
alise their goals, as they shifted from being focused on a specific issue, to being
more deliberately focused on solving the roots of the problem. For example, the
Executive Director of Meal Exchange observed,
It allowed me to evolve Meal Exchange beyond an emergency food charitable organi-
sation to a food security/food systems organisation. It provided me the mental
model and questions to guide the work: ‘how do you make access to healthy food
systemic? To what end?
Different organisations expressed their new commitment to scaling and
systemic impact in different ways. For instance, two organisations formally
re-drafted their organisational vision/mission statements to incorporate clear
intentions to effect systemic change rather than focusing on a single issue.
Other participants used internal communication processes (both formal and
informal) to establish agreement among staff to reorienting for greater impact.
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scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep
Strategies for scaling out, up, and deep
After broadening their problem frame to pursue large systems change, partici-
pants described different strategies depending on whether they attempted to
scale out, up, or deep. Table 1 summarises the strategies described below.
Table 1 Three types of ‘scaling’ and their main strategies
Description Main strategies
Scaling
out:
Impacting greater numbers. Based
on the recognition that many good
ideas or initiatives never spread or
achieve widespread impact
Deliberate replication. Replicating
or spreading programmes
geographically and to greater
numbers while protecting the fidelity
and integrity of the innovation
Spreading principles. Disseminate
principles, but with an adaptation
to new contexts via co-generation
of knowledge, leveraging social
media and learning platforms:
‘open scaling’
Scaling
up:
Impacting law and policy. Based
on the recognition that the roots
of social problems transcend
particular places, and innovative
approaches must be codified in
law, policy and institutions
Policy or legal change efforts. New
policy development, partnering,
advocacy
Scaling
deep:
Impacting cultural roots. Based
on the recognition that culture
plays a powerful role in shifting
problem-domains, and change
must be deeply rooted in people,
relationships, communities and
cultures
Spreading big cultural ideas and
reframing stories to change beliefs
and norms.
Intensively share knowledge and new
practices via learning communities,
distributed learning platforms and
participatory approaches
Invest in transformative learning,
networks and communities of
practice
Cross-
cutting
Seek alternative resources
Build networks and partnerships
Broaden the problem frame
Scaling out strategy 1. Deliberate replication
Initially, organisations participating in the AD learning group were focused
on the types of diffusion activities documented in previous scaling literature
(Dees et al., 2004; Bradach, 2010). That is, efforts focused on expanding the
geographic scale of programmes or initiatives, and increasing the number of
people impacted by a social innovation. Leaders made decisions about whether
to grow in a centralised manner, to franchise, to pursue other ‘social enterprise’
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models, or to ‘seed’ like-minded organisations through affiliation, branching, or
accreditation systems. Although this is similar to the approach of many social
enterprises, our findings indicated that given the systems-change perspective
and years of testing different dissemination approaches, participants began
recognising the limitations of a replication or dissemination approach. Partici-
pants began to critique the isolated use of scaling out strategies and emphasise
the impact and durability of a change. For example, one participant reflected:
You can’t just transport it in a box. And I think there’s a lot of confusion in some
places with the concept of scale and impact that, in some cases, impact is simply
defined as the number of widgets you’ve spread.
Prioritising system-wide change also led to emphasis on fidelity and integrity
for some innovations. One participant stated:
As we learned that we were replicable and we could scale (1 site to over 100), we real-
ised that the number was not as important as the impact and the sustainability fac-
tor. If you cannot replicate your programme and ensure it is done with high integrity
and fidelity (achieve positive outcomes you know the programme can achieve) and
ensure the programme can be sustainable, then your efforts of scaling are fruitless.
Protecting the integrity and fidelity became referred to in the AD learning
group as Zimmerman et al.’s (1998) ‘min specs’ or minimum specifications.
That is, leaders needed to determine what the non-negotiable aspects were,
and what could vary when replicating, to ensure they were achieving a sustain-
able impact along with scale. This led some organisational leaders to jettison
programme scaling and focus on spreading principles.
Scaling out strategy 2. Spreading principles
In recognising the limitations of a geographic replication approach, some
organisations pursued more of an ‘open scaling’ model, where the core prin-
ciples and approach of the innovation were spread, leaving it to the local
community to adapt it to local conditions: ‘You can scale an idea that lives out
differently in every context’.
Shifting to focus on scaling impact demanded that organisational leaders
distil the essence of their innovation and hone their capacity to disseminate the
knowledge and principles associated with it:
We had to be very careful about articulating clearly the principles guiding our actions
and that we always made sure to stick to those principles to the extent that we
could. Those were our real guide-posts. And so groups could feel free to undertake
whatever activity they wanted to, but they couldn’t deviate from the overarching
principles that we had set that bound us together as a collective, as a group.
A potential drawback of this approach is the intensive work involved in
translating an approach in numerous different contexts, when there is no spe-
cific ‘product’ to simply adopt. Tamarack addressed this in part by creating a
national-scale learning community for anti-poverty initiatives in hundreds of
communities in Canada and the United States—blending a scaling out strategy
with a scaling deep strategy.
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scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep
Scaling up strategy 1. Scale up through policy or legal change
Our findings showed that scaling out mostly concentrates impacts on the niche
scale, through developing more niches. For many social innovators, an equally
powerful opportunity lies in impacting higher levels of institutions through pol-
icy change—referred to as the regime by SNM and transitions studies scholars.
We refer to this cross-scale dynamic as scaling up. As one participant claimed:
‘We don’t have to have more chapters or more people involved, or expand to new
regions—we can take the issue and get it into the policy domain, have public
policy discussions and scale those up.’
Participants described at least two approaches for scaling up. In the first
approach, pointed to in the quotation above, social innovators working at the
level of families or communities shifted their work to higher levels in govern-
ment in order to address root causes in larger-scale institutions that affected an
entire population. One example of this is the work of Planned Lifetime Advocacy
Network (PLAN) in their creation of the world’s first Registered Disabilities Sav-
ings Plan, which changed the financial regulations guiding savings and benefits
for people with disabilities and enabled them to escape financial dependency
on the state. Creating new policy or regulatory frameworks was seen as part
of disrupting existing systems and transforming them into something better.
This differed from replication strategies, since it often meant leaving behind
the initial innovative initiative, and starting an entirely new initiative focused
on policy change.
The second approach focused on linking together community-level policy
interventions into a more coherent movement. Interestingly, just as applica-
tion within the local context is important when disseminating new ideas and
programmes, it was also seen as critical when scaling policy change from one
jurisdiction to another. One participant described how ‘one of the things that
we learned in trying to scale up in terms of policy-related work was that context
really mattered’. Those leaders who were seeking to scale policies faced chal-
lenges because municipal contexts and systems vary greatly across Canada, and
approaches had to be adapted to new jurisdictions each time.
Scaling deep strategy 1. Generating big cultural ideas
Our language changed—from feed the hungry to ‘good food for all
Closely linked to the cross-cutting strategy that involved broadening the prob-
lem frame, many participants and organisations found that scaling the impacts
beyond the niche to the regime required scaling deep into the beliefs, ideas, and
narratives of dominant social structures. Working with norms and values as
vehicles for scaling innovations was described as critical because ideas live dif-
ferently in every context but can spread rapidly. One strategy that was employed
involved deliberately reframing predominant narratives that existed about the
social issue participants sought to address. By changing the narrative, partici-
pants described how they could successfully begin to change cultural norms and
beliefs about the issue. As one example, a leader with L’Arche, an organisation
focused on people with intellectual disabilities, described the following:
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80 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
We have, with others, been successful in reframing the goal of disability support
from charity to contribution, from group to individual, from need to asset, and to
significantly reduce the stigma attached to intellectual disability. Much more work
to do, but today, as opposed to 10 years ago, the goals of belonging and citizenship
for people with intellectual disabilities are widely accepted.
Culture change strategies varied tremendously, but one example included
using stories as a method for sharing and co-creating ideas. One practitioner
explained that amalgamating stories from the individuals affected by the rel-
evant social issues, and translating them into a resonant framing enabled
individual anecdotes to tell a more systemic story about the need for change.
Therefore, our findings indicate that creating new stories and amplifying those
that exist becomes an important vehicle for generating cultural ideas and thus,
scaling deep to affect the ‘regime’ level of institutions, and even to the broader
cultural landscape.
Scaling deep strategy 2. Invest in transformative learning
What we learned was how to develop a community of learning that in turn develops
the growth and development of the networks we created. It is the connectedness that
is the strength of our networks and this connectedness can only be created through
sharing experiences and best practices.
What it was we wanted to scale was an experience rather than a particular pro-
gramme or process
A common strategy to increase the scale and impact of socially innovative
initiatives is to invest in learning processes (e.g. Dweck, 2007; Crutchfield
and McLeod Grant, 2008). But cultivating learning became a specific strategy
used to build shared mind-sets across a range of sectors and organisations, to
ensure the impact of their initiative is scaled deep into the defining routines
and practices and beliefs of partners and collaborators. Participants described
how learning processes for scaling can be supported by a range of methods,
including: mentorship, deliberate transfer of practices, capturing and sharing
organisational or community culture, and shared reflection and evaluation
practices. Interestingly, many AD learning group participants who used learn-
ing communities as a central means of scaling credited their experience in the
AD learning group itself as the inspiration or model.
Our findings suggest that less mature forms of scaling focus on replication,
and as social innovators begin to take seriously the need for large systems
change, their approach transforms to include scaling up and/or scaling deep.
This occurs as leaders of change gain confidence, grow partnerships and net-
works, and aim more consistently to change the system dynamics that gave rise
to the problem in the first place. Consequently though, our findings revealed
that large systems change impacts could occur when participants moved from
scaling out to scaling up, or from scaling out to scaling deep. No single partici-
pant immediately jumped to scaling up or scaling deep, and thus, we believe
that large systems change involves at least a combination of the three types of
scaling. Relating to the transitions studies literature and SNM, scaling across
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 81
scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep
multiple niches remains a critical step before being able to scale impacts to the
regime, landscape, or both.
Challenges in scaling
While the strategies described above were utilised to achieve different types of scal-
ing, they were not without significant challenge. Inevitably, ambitious large sys-
tems-change goals can present leadership, organisational and social challenges.
Often, a socially innovative initiative is managed and implemented by a small
portion of a larger organisation. As cited earlier, research in SNM emphasises
the importance of safe spaces for innovation (e.g. Schot and Geels, 2008;
Caniëls and Romijn, 2008). But in practice, this creates tension, both with
other staff in the other sections of the organisation, or with board members
who see the initiative as an anomaly from the organisation’s central mission.
As one participant stated: ‘We ended up with a “business” operating inside
of a non-profit. We had conflicts between the “old” and the “innovative”. Our
operational needs were different than other departments in the organisation’.
These internal tensions were sometimes the most time consuming part of scal-
ing processes. As one person described: ‘I underestimated the time, skills, and
talents required to get other colleagues within the organisation to understand
and support what we were trying to do’.
Participants noted that the time and energy required for scaling was one
of their greatest scaling challenges, as it placed demands on the growth and
sustainability of their own capacity to act as leaders. Here, the support of like-
minded peers was essential to sustain the innovators as they pursued a path of
systemic change and scaling. As two participants described:
. . .to me this question of stress and the capacity to manage the ambiguity and to
inspire others to stay with you in the ambiguity, is a key capacity. And when we talk
about key leadership challenges, it’s certainly maintaining in oneself that capacity
over time. Because none of this work, if we’re really talking about impact, durability
and scale, is in any way a short fix.
Note to self: Do not underestimate the resistance that will come from within and
without. It takes great commitment and time and energy to grow into the new. In
our larger and decentralised organisation, we are not always unified as we struggle
to hold together the old and the new, the ‘system’ and the individual, growth in
numbers and growth in character and leadership, the simplicity with running alone
and the complexity of partnering with others for greater impact, and the longing for
stability and completion with the reality that change is our constant companion.
Conclusion
While previous research on strategic niche management and social innovation
has shown the benefits of replication and diffusion strategies, or of creating
‘safe’ spaces for experimentation within an organisation, we conclude that these
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82 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
only contribute to systemic change when used in conjunction with a variety
of other strategies that ensure impacts are scaled up or deep. While both sets
of literature widely acknowledge the importance of recognising scale and the
general mechanisms needed within a niche to ensure an innovation’s ‘readi-
ness’ to be taken to scale, little insight has been provided about the strategies
of actors to cross those scales.
This study of the AD learning group participants found that scaling for
impact involved a combination of strategies. One of the key, but often over-
looked, changes required when an organisation chooses to scale an innovative
initiative involves re-framing the problem, and therefore the purpose of the
organisation and their initiative.
Different strategies may then be used to scale out, up, or deep, but a formula
does not exist for their precise combination. Rather, an important finding is
that the three types of scaling and their strategies can interact in powerful
ways to advance systemic change goals. The different types of scaling reveal
at least three dimensions of systems that need to be engaged in large-scale
change efforts: the quantifiable breadth of people and systems included; the
institutional shifts in law, policy and resource flows that are necessary; and
the subjective and inter-subjective transformations in values, relationships
and cultural practices that support durable system-wide change. Furthermore,
by tracing the patterns of scaling, this study highlighted that it is a combina-
tion of scaling out, up, and deep that is most likely to lead to large systems
change, rather than any single strategy. That is, an organisation cannot simply
expect to scale up to effect systems change without having gone through the
lessons and capacity building experiences that occur when scaling out, or
scaling deep.
Additionally, as scaling occurs, it is essential to ensure that the endurance
and stamina of leadership can persist for the duration of time that is required
for scaling an initiative. Applied learning processes, such as the AD learning
group, can serve as an important forum to address this type of challenge.
However, theoretical and practical questions remain. First, additional research
would be helpful to discern how the different types of scaling interact in other
contexts, and whether these patterns are similar in cultural and policy contexts
outside of North America. Second, these conclusions are based on more than
a decade of experience; much of which involved learning by doing. The ques-
tion that remains for the future is, how much of this can be ‘taught’, so that
non-profits and funders today can leapfrog on the scaling successes of the past.
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... There is a sophisticated understanding of processes that lead to the consolidation of initiatives (i.e., stabilizing) and an increase in the number of initiatives (i.e., growing, replicating, transferring, and spreading). However, our understanding of how initiatives accelerate their impact (i.e., speeding up), influence higher institutional levels (i.e., scaling up), or change values and mind-sets (i.e., scaling deep) remains limited (Westley et al. 2014;Moore et al. 2015;Olsson et al. 2017;Pereira et al. 2018;Lam et al. 2020). For example, Olsson et al. (2017) argue that the literature needs to move beyond only discussing processes that increase the number of initiatives as this perspective reinforces a growth paradigm, and may invisiblize whether initiatives lose their "game changing" elements or be co-opted during growth processes . ...
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