January 22, 2021

Final session: remaining challenges in scaling science and practice

The final session offered the chance to explore remaining questions by IDRC.

Guiding questions

  • What were some good practices that emerged to support integration of the principles of scaling for impact into research? What were some key challenges to doing so?
  • Are there any critical issues that require more thought and attention related to scaling for impact in research?
  • What can research funders do to support you in integrating the principles of scaling science into your work?

The following statements do not reflect all the opinions or reflections presented during the session. In some cases they reflect the ideas presented and shared in their own working groups. We have kept the name of the person who shared this particular idea during the session. 

Key take-aways from the exchange

[Amédé Gogovor, Université Laval]

  • On justification: Multi-stakeholder teams need to be part of the development of the justification for scaling – including competitors and those who will be impacted.
  • On optimal scale: We must consider an equity lens and define types of scaling, for example scaling up, out or deep.
  • On coordination: We must not underestimate the time and resources required.
  • On dynamic evaluation: We must include all necessary evaluation resources – including qualitative and quantitative approaches. 
  • On advice for funders: 1) Provide pre-grant seed funding to support formative evaluation, 2) envision an alliance of funders, and 3) allow for flexibility in budgets and deliverables. 
  • On critical issues that require more thought: 1) Political power, 2) the speed of scaling processes (is this a fifth principle?), and 3) the need to address social values that help build the justification for scale – what values should prevail?

[Tatiana Rincón, Fundación Capital]

  • General reflection: Scaling is not just scaling up – it is up, out and deep.
  • On optimal scale: It is useful to think about a variety of impacts and the equity of impact – who is benefited and affected matters. 
  • On coordination: We need to continuously engage with multiple actors, and those actors often emerge during the scaling process. Sometimes this involves advocating for greater support, especially when you scale with or through government. 
  • On dynamic evaluation: We need to think about evaluation of scaling and not just evaluation of the intervention. When scaling, there are more externalities that are not present in a pilot intervention. We must assess these unexpected impacts too. 
  • For funders: 1) In the North there is a tendency to put a lot of weight on randomised control trials (RCTs) – it seems that people think the only credible evidence is what we get from them. IDRC could respond to this by promoting and advocating for alternative and innovative evaluation methodologies that are more relevant and cost-effective among other research funders. 2) Long-term support for scaling efforts is necessary to take into account the lessons from individual scaling interventions. 3) Continue to support gendered interventions. 
  • On critical issues that require more thought: Effective communication for public adoption of policies and practices is fundamental if we want to sustain scaled-up interventions in the long term.

[Blanca Llorente, Fundación Anaas]

  • On optimal scale: It’s important to reflect on different scaling pathways: up, out and deep – but also to keep it manageable. This needs to be better communicated to all stakeholders. 
  • On process and power: We must constantly reflect on power. For instance, we are ‘obsessed’ with RCTs as the standard of proof, but they are not necessarily the tipping point to advance a pilot to move forward to full scale. Scaling is a political process and we must reflect on what influences political decisions. 
  • On coordination: We need to work in networks and develop our capacity to do so better. National and international networks are useful to learn and work together. Funders can incentivise the formation and development of effective networks.
  • On complexity: Keep it simple, even if scaling is a networked effort made up of connected and disconnected projects, initiatives and efforts. 
  • On critical issues that require more thought: Politics and power.

Final thoughts to take away from IDRC

[Serhiy Kovalchuk, IDRC]

  • On the politics of scaling: Most interventions are designed from the perspective of the innovators rather than the intended beneficiaries or other actors involved in running the systems being affected. We must find a way to turn this around. 

[Hayley Price-Kelly, IDRC]

  • We have heard about the need for funders to be more flexible, to be able to bring multiple funders together, to connect our scaling work with our gender work, and to consider the speed of scaling.
  • We will be sharing a public facing report and videos in 2021.

And we look forward to developing a shared statement from the Global South on scaling. 

Note: additional recommendations

  • Rachid Hakkou: Support the creation of university departments dedicated to scaling or scaling accelerators tasked with  supporting scaling in research.

About the authors:

Enrique Mendizabal:  Founder, On Think Tanks

Louise Ball:  Freelance communications consultant currently based in Medellin, Colombia

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