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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Over the years one of the most common areas I've been requested to help with is scaling, and having advised nearly 40 Ashoka Fellows and numerous other impact projects, I was asked by Ashoka's Globalizer team to develop a toolkit for scaling social impact based on the frameworks I'd built for assessing, planning, designing and implementing scale for projects around the world.

While there are plenty of reports, articles and case studies on how different organisations have scaled, we have no practical frameworks specifically designing to guide scaling in the social sector, so it seemed like a worthwhile endeavour. I've therefore put together a step by step guide that leads you through the journey of scaling, from taking the initial decision all the way through to implementation.

Scaling vs. Growth

Scaling essentially refers to a form of growth. However, there is an important distinction.

Growing typically involves adding resources at around the same rate as adding impact or revenue. The implications are primarily operational. If you've already increased reach to more people, more cities or even more countries, but your operating costs have gone up in a generally correlated way, then what you've really done is grown rather than scaled.

Scaling differs in that it involves adding impact at an exponential rate while adding resources at only an incremental rate. Although scaling is also commonly approached from an operational perspective, it typically has significant implications for design, not only in terms of the solution being scaled, but also for the way it is delivered.

In a sector where resources are scarce and very large numbers of people are affected by social issues, it is rarely practical to increase resources at the same rate as reach of impact. Hence why the sector focuses on scaling rather than growth, and why this framework does the same.

Growth is typically the first stage on the path to scaling. Once you've developed and proven a solution, then the next stage is to grow your reach in a direct and controlled manner in order to understand the process as well as the transferability of your solution.

Only when you've grown to a stable operational size and have understood what does and doesn't work in terms of both impact and operation, should you really start to think about scaling. This isn't necessarily what all organisations do, and many have scaled without taking this position, but the result is typically messier, less impactful and harder work than expected.

Scaling Challenges

Scaling is a critical shift in your ability to make a difference, and one that has significant implications for your organisation. There is a current trend towards rushing into scale, with a focus on quick wins, but this is a misleading and high risk approach in terms of both impact and organisational stability. Planning to scale should not be taken lightly, and it is important to put the right foundations in place if you want to ensure your ability to generate impact on a large scale without putting your organisation or the outcome at risk of failure.

The general assumption is that the main barrier to scaling lies with access to funding, when in fact financing challenges are often just a symptomatic outcome of underlying readiness and scalability issues.

There are actually five key reasons why organisations struggle to address the real scale of need around the world.
  1. Lack of outcome oriented purpose with poor problem definition, which leads to failures in design and decision making
  2. Inapplicable/Non-scalable impact methodology (solution), which limits the flexibility needed to address the varying needs of new environments and demographics 
  3. Non-systematic approaches to set-up and implementation, which limits replicability and decreases both efficiency and effectiveness
  4. Inflexible organisational design and lack of operational readiness, which limits ability to deliver at scale
  5. Poor implementation planning, and hence inadequate cost modelling, leading to challenges with raising funds or finance.
The goal of the PATRI framework is to help you scale your impact more effectively while avoiding these pitfalls. 

The PATRI Framework for Scaling Social Impact

At its highest level, the Framework consists of a corresponding set of five key questions that will help you scale successfully
  1. Is your goal valid and well defined? (Purpose)
  2. Is your design applicable at scale? (Applicability)
  3. Is your model systematised and transferable? (Transferability)
  4. Is your organisation ready to scale? (Applicability)
  5. Is your implementation planning robust? (Implementation)
These questions form the core components that give the Framework its name
  1. P = Purpose
  2. A = Applicability
  3. T = Transferability
  4. R = Readiness
  5. I = Implementation


The result is a quality improvement and risk management approach to scaling that should help you on two fronts
  1. Improve ability to address or eradicate issues on a large scale/systemic level
  2. Reduce risk of mission drift/organisational failures caused by overstretching
The 5 components can be applied to any scaling context, and the Framework breaks down into detailed step by step decision-tree infographics. Even if you choose not to explore the detail, simply ensuring that you have these five pieces reasonably well considered should be enough to improve your likelihood of scaling successfully.

If you aren't sure quite how to do this yourself, then each of the main Framework questions has been further broken down into more detailed questions, instructions and guidelines. These will lead you through a journey that covers the most important factors you will need to consider and evaluate when scaling.

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