January 22, 2021

Guiding principle 1: Justification 

Scaling is a choice that must be justified based on a balance of technical evidence and values. And that choice to scale must be shared.

An introduction to Guiding principle 1: Justification

Every cycle was launched with a set of guiding questions for the scaling advisors to address in small groups. 

Guiding questions:

  • Do you have an example of technical evidence in support of scaling an innovation, and what moral issues did you need to weigh against this?
  • Have you encountered circumstances where scaling should not be attempted or should be postponed?
  • Who should decide what is the moral and technical justification for (or against) scaling?
  • How can we involve different stakeholders in data collection and interpretation for justifications for scale?

General conclusions from the discussion

The conversation around this principle highlighted the need to continually assess both the technical and moral justifications for scaling, and to provide space to do so within the parameters of projects. As new evidence is generated, the technical justification must be revisited and re-assessed. Similarly, as the identification of new stakeholders and new interests evolves in the scaling process, additional (and potentially conflicting) values are likely to emerge. Sound moral justification therefore also requires an ongoing understanding and balancing of these interests and values.

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. 

Discussion

[Teresa Mosquera, Universidad Nacional de Colombia]

  • The justification for scaling an intervention may be in the final purpose of the intervention. For example, scaling an intervention to improve the nutritional value of potatoes is driven by the objective to reduce high-levels of malnutrition.  

[Tatiana Rincón, Fundación Capital]

  • The prospect of scaling is often driven by technical justifications. Moral issues do not always come to the fore during the pilot stages. Moral justification tends to gain importance as the intervention is scaled. 
  • Scaling is important, but we need to be careful about unexpected impacts. Continuous research should be conducted to avoid unexpected negative impacts when scaling.

[Amédé Gogovor, Université Laval]

  • Technical evidence is universal. It refers to issues of efficiency and efficacy of an intervention. 
  • Values are not universal. When many actors are involved and affected by the intervention is it not easy to develop a common/universal moral justification in favour of scaling (or not).

[Blanca Llorente, Fundacion Anaas]

  • One challenge in discussing justification is that we rarely reflect on scaling. Most of the effort is focused on the innovation – as if it were an end in itself. 
  • Developing a justification argument is fundamental when the intervention is likely to be unpopular (e.g. higher taxes as a means to change behaviour). 
  • Developing a strong argument requires a sound understanding of the multiple conflicts of interests of all the stakeholders involved. Researchers do not always consider these when they design the intervention.

[Petronella Chaminuka, Agricultural Research Council ]

  • There are no interventions without winners and losers. Scaling design must consider how to compensate losers of an intervention from the start.

[Ursula Harman, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú]

  • Scaling must inevitably lead to conflict. Innovations (like the introduction of a new technology to a fragile ecosystem or social setting) will not be necessarily welcomed by all. We must involve everyone in the development of the innovation and the scaling effort. This will help manage conflict. 

[Victoria Tinno, Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development]

  • Sometimes the justification for scale is a political commitment. For example, the promise of education for all drives scaling decisions.  

[Hayley Price-Kelly, IDRC]

  • When developing a justification whose arguments count? Justification (on any grounds) needs to be made by the intended beneficiaries of the scaling effort.

About the authors:

Enrique Mendizabal:  Founder, On Think Tanks

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

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