What We’re Learning: What do legos have to do with scaling solutions?

In our Design for Scale lab, design question #3 asks us: “What’s our optimal fidelity for scale?”

What is fidelity? Very simply, it’s the degree of exactness with which something is copied and reproduced.

Why is it important?

Well, in some fields it’s both easy and critical that that the fidelity of an intervention is high. For example, when you’re sick and you take a pill you’re taking the same pill that others who share your diagnosis will take. The dose, timing and other instructions that you receive must be followed in order to get positive results.

Designing an intervention that should be replicated with high fidelity is both necessary and relatively straightforward for many fields. What about development? As we scale, we know that we can’t simply take our exact model and apply it to new geographies, new demographics and new sectors. We know that it won’t work if we don’t adapt.

Conversely, adapt too much or let the model be watered down and we may not be able to get them same positive impact we did in our pilot or the early stages of our programs.

David Butler, VP for Innovation at Coca-Cola, helps one of the world’s largest companies design for scale using a simple framework of determining what elements are “fixed” and which are “flexible.”

Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility (and How You Can Too)


To break it down for us, he uses the analogy of lego bricks. The whole video is great, but for the part on legos start at the 8 minute, 30 second mark and end at 13 minutes, 50 seconds.

What We’re Reading: “The Doer and the Payer”

Development projects often have an end goal of perhaps being picked up by the local government. Or, perhaps the goal is for activities to be sustained by the local community. Historically, much of our focus was placed on sustaining the results of a particular project, but not necessarily the scalability of our work.

So two simple but often unasked questions, then, are: if this model goes to scale (nationally or globally), who will replicate it and who will pay for that replication?

In our lab on Designing for Scale, we’re thinking about five key design questions. Question #2 is “Who is the doer and who is the payer at scale?” – a question inspired by the Mulago Foundation and a fantastically simple article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

The question is particularly powerful, because there are actually very few options.  Who might be the “doer?”  You have three options:


And while it might seem that there’s a dizzying array of confusing funding sources for our “payers,” which are NGOs, government or business, at the end of the day, there are really only three sources of funding:

  • Private philanthropy: From large foundations to individual donors
  • Taxes: Whether that’s funding huge bilateral donors or direct government service delivery
  • The Market: Which could encompass customers and investors, but ultimately it will be revenue generation through customers that will support the scaling of market based approaches


Why is this design question helpful?  Sometimes we have an idea of the doer and the payer from the beginning, but often we’re very narrowly focused on “proving” the efficacy of the innovation first and worrying about scale later.

Why do we need to determine this from the beginning?

Knowing who we think is eventually going to adapt and replicate our model will help us design for the user.  When we think about going to scale, our user actually becomes the organization or individual who will actually be doing the scaling. Will it be an NGO worker, a government staff person or an entrepreneur who will be replicating our model? We need to know that information so we design with them in mind.

Depending on who we expect to replicate, we can consider from the beginning what type of evidence we’d like to generate. Historically, we’ve been more focused on proving impact. However, if we identify that we want to be scaling through government or the private sector, evidence around cost-effectiveness or profitability may be more critical to understand how feasible it is to scale the innovation.

Finally, we need to have the relevant stakeholders for scale with us from the beginning. If we aren’t clear up front on our goal for scale, how do we know if we’ve identified and are working with the right stakeholders?

What We’re Learning: What’s our Value Proposition?

As we work through our Design for Scale lab, we’re tackling five key design questions – starting with question #1: What’s the value proposition of our innovation?

Very simply, the value proposition of your innovation is the benefit your solution provides combined with why it’s better than anything else that exists! The tricky part about value proposition is that it’s not defined by us. It’s defined by our user.

value propositionOf course, we always start implementation thinking that we know what the value proposition is for our end user. However, a key step in identifying our value proposition is being prepared to be wrong or not understand the full story.  We need to be prepared to learn from our users and pay careful attention to unexpected results. At the beginning stages of an innovation it is critical to use qualitative methods that can capture unexpected value that the innovation has.

A second way we can learn about our value proposition is to look for viral replication and sharing. To see people who are replicating or copying our work without prompting or incentive tells us we’ve found an area with a strong value proposition.

Once we’ve identified a value proposition, we need to be able to articulate it!

We’re loving the simple formats from these excellent blog posts: Proven Templates for Creating Value Propositions that Work and Three More Proven Value Proposition Templates that Work