Why keep it simple in a complex world?

In order scale, your solution must be simple. But the world we live in is not simple, it’s complex. Development sector practitioners strive to design holistic interventions and models that address the real-world needs of program participants. How do we address this tension?

In their series on scaling social impact, Apolitical captured this fantastic analogy from Karen Levy, Director of Global Innovation at Evidence Action:

” There is a tendency in the development industry to try and approach problems from a holistic perspective. But when you talk that way, it becomes very hard to find an entry point. Yes, everything is connected; yes, everything is complicated — but if you let that be the framework through which you start, you won’t get anywhere.

That’s why the world is scattered with pilot projects. Lovely pilot projects that are trying to deal with holistic issues, but are never going to get beyond 50 schools or 50 villages. If you look at the things that have achieved massive scale, they are well-defined interventions — or at least started that way.

I always tell people: don’t try and paint the masterpiece — do one layer, and do it well, then do another on top of that. Just creating or strengthening a platform to deliver something simply but well gives you the opportunity to build other stuff on top of it.

Check out the rest of the interview here:

“The world is scattered with pilot projects trying to work holistically”

Key to scaling – Is your core obvious?

We’re big fans of Apolitical’s blog series on scaling social impact!  One of the hidden but crucial concepts the series surfaces is understanding what is core, or “fixed” and a non-negotiable element of your innovation:

“For one, it’s not always clear whether or how something is working. Impact evaluation is growing, but billions of dollars of policy expenditure remain inadequately unevaluated. And, even when impact is proven, it’s not always clear what exactly is responsible. Scaling up often requires paring down a program to its essentials — and for this you need to know what can and cannot be compromised.”

In Scale X Design, we emphasize learning and documenting “fixed” vs. “flexible” elements of your model. That’s the easy part. The tough part is testing, learning and iterating and managing this knowledge across loosely connected practitioners.

Read more here:

How to scale up social impact — the challenge of the 21st century

What’s in it for your scalers?

It’s great to see cohort 2 alumni,  #A-CARD, has just published a blog in FinDev gateway: https://findevgateway.org/blog/2018/dec/agriculture

In their lessons learned, the team cites how we had to learn the hard way about incentivizing our scalers – loan officers!

“The introduction of the A-Card has not been without its challenges. We have found that microfinance institutes (MFIs) sometimes experience a conflict of interest between offering A-Card and microfinance loans. Since MFIs earn only a 1 percent profit on A-Card and a 25 percent profit on standard loans, they have more incentive to push standard products on customers instead of offering the A-Card. To avoid this, the team is experimenting with individual local market actors like input retailers or Local Service Providers as a banking agent for this pilot.

Another lesson learned from the A-Card is that local bank staff didn’t have incentives to sell this product because it was not tied to their performance goals. We are currently working with banks to develop new incentive structures to overcome this.”

The motivations and “what’s in it for me?” perspective of our scalers – the people that we rely on to implement, promote and expand our innovation solution – are often the most overlooked!  A-CARD’s incredible impact on farmers won’t matter if loan officers don’t promote the solution.

Photo credit: Akram Ali, CARE Bangladesh

What We’re Reading: Enough Innovation Already!

In a recent SSIR article, Kevin Starr of Mulago Foundation and Greg Coussa of Spring Impact (an SxD partner) remind us that,

“The most urgent challenge in the social sector is not innovation, but replication. No idea will drive big impact at scale unless organizations—a lot of them—replicate it. And there are plenty of high-impact ideas awaiting high-quality replication. More than a few of them are backed by randomized controlled trial (RCT) results and all that stuff. It turns out that replication matters even more than innovation when it comes to impact at scale.”

Great argument! As a well as a very well articulated comment in response:

“USAID spends <5% on traditional R+D (i.e. new vaccines, etc) and <1% on grand challenges (i.e. Saving Lives at Birth, etc). I believe USAID and other donors need to be working with more non-traditional partners, not fewer, and encouraging new ways of doing business, not the same. It’s anecdotal, cynical and overly simplistic articles like this about “innovation” (whee!) vs. “scale” (the people who really “get it”) that exacerbate this mis-perception. The fact that “innovation” gets outsized attention relative to its actual spend and focus in global health and development certainly doesn’t mean we should do less of it.  If done right, innovation should always be a healthy part of a strategic investment portfolio (likely more than the current 1-5%) if we want any hope of meeting the SDGs. The status quo isn’t gonna get us there.”

Read the full commentary here.

In their book Innovation and Scaling for Impact, Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair make a similar argument: Don’t innovate if you haven’t figured out how to scale!

CARE’s Impact Magazine Special Edition

The spring edition of CARE’s Impact Magazine is out and all about Scale x Design!

Take a look at this special issue, which features an in-depth look at the Scale x Design Accelerator & Challenge, Cohort 1 spotlights, Chrysalis – the parent of both our Different Cup of Tea and Broadening gender teams, as well as other stories of Innovation at CARE.

Click the cover to read the new issue:

What we’re listening to: USAID’s 2nd Episode of the Learning Lab Podcast asks us to “Stop, Collaborate and Listen”

In their second podcast, the USAID Learning Lab team focuses on the “C” in USAID’s Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) Framework. Good collaboration can be difficult to visualize and is often misinterpreted as an impediment to progress and decision making. The Learning Lab does a great job here demonstrating why collaboration and good collaboration-nurturing techniques (including human-centered design), can elevate all aspects of your work!

Utilizing case studies, they highlight Search for Common Ground and their use of human-centered design in workshop facilitation, Grassroots Soccer using “digital storytelling to build bridges between women in South Africa” and USAID’s own collaborative process among stakeholders in Guatemala. Plus listen till the end to learn why Jazz music is the perfect example of collaboration.