For innovation on complex social problems, two different aspects of scale are important to consider:

SCALING OUT: Involves the replication of an innovation; working to make a good initiative happen in more places in order to increase and spread its impact on managing a problem. According to the diagram below, scaling out occurs at the same level of a system.

SCALING UP: Refers to increasing an innovation’s impact in the broader system in order to address the root causes of the problem. Quite often, to make this kind of transformative change in a broader system, the innovation looks different in order to have impact on a different scale. According to the diagram below, scaling up occurs across one or more levels of a system.

The diagram below describes how change efforts at different scales, require different responses.



When change happens in a connected way across scales, it becomes stronger and more effective.

You may either know or be an entrepreneur working for positive social change. Social entrepreneurs experiment with very effective social change projects or programs for the benefit of individual and/or communities. But when they begin to search for opportunities to increase their impact, they often hit significant barriers usually related to the idea of scale.

On the topic of scaling out, Steve Davis writes (in “Social Innovation: A Matter of Scale“):

“Identifying and scaling our best solutions has become the sector’s most important challenge. To meet that challenge, we can no longer evaluate programs simply based on how well they’ve performed in a given locality. Instead, we need to factor in their potential to achieve scale.”

The SiG partnership has focused mostly on scaling up; how we can influence the broadest scale in which system problems exist. Watch this video of Frances Westley speaking about the relationship between scale and social innovation. She and her team of student researchers explored a collection of case studies to share new ideas about how scaling up and out requires different strategies for different kinds of organizations.


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If you are interested in the original paper that this presentation is based on, you will find it below.


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The following paper takes a more in-depth look at the dynamics involved in scaling related to social innovation. At the same time, it differentiates between the popular terms of social entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and social innovation; an attempt to encourage clarity around language in this developing field.

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In the paper, the authors write about the interplay between agency and opportunity as a necessary component for scaling. Interested in hearing about a real world example? In this video, Al Etmanski talks about his experience with strategically scaling to significantly increase the impact of the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN).



Interview with Al Etmanski from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo.

As you learn about what it means to scale an idea or initiative, you’ll become familiar with the idea of working across scales and how that sort of dynamic can shift systems. The following paper explores important questions around whether networks help facilitate the bridging of innovations across scales in complex problem domains.

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A complete list of all SiG educational resources can be found in our publicly-available document library. We hope you’ve found this curated pathway to learning about scale helpful.