What We’re Reading: Scaling Up Excellence

Another book that helped us think about design question #3 – “What is the optimal fidelity for scale?” – is Scaling Up Excellence, by Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao.

“The first major business book devoted to this universal and vexing challenge” – Amazon

The authors walk us through decades of case studies on how various companies and initiatives found the right place on the continuum of customization versus replication as they scaled.



My favorite part? This little bit of wisdom:

“Organizations that scale well are filled with people who talk and act as if they are in the middle of a manageable mess.”

The wall of crazy is slowly taking over

Well hey… if office space is a reflection of this sentiment, then maybe the Accelerator is well on its way!

messy office
What exactly were we thinking?

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 learning – How do we prototype what CARE does best?

*Reposted with updated links*

If you were able to watch our introduction video, you know that one of our hypotheses for why it takes the development sector a long time to scale is that we’re often using our project cycles to test new adaptations of our innovations.  When we launch a “pilot,” that can mean waiting for two-three years to get feedback and course correct at the midterm evaluation.

While we might need to wait until the midterm to start getting hard data on impact, we don’t need to wait several years to get valuable feedback.   Why design and launch a full solution, when you can run rapid tests on prototypes first?

[Photo credit: GRID Impact. Designers from Grameen Foundation test paper prototypes in Uganda]
So in our human-centered design lab, we’re thinking about how to prototype versus pilot and how this can give us just one new tool to move faster.


GRID explains how all this works in one fantastic graph

One aspect that is taking us some time to get our heads around – how do you prototype anything that’s not a product, such as services or systems?  It’s still early days for applying HCD to international development, but here are some examples we love!

Sanitation: GRID Impact started off our lab with a deep dive into how they applied HCD and prototyping to increase the use of sanitation facilities (GRID +  Sanergy  +  DIFD  + Populist)

Family planning: The “Divine Divas” –  Prototyping a pop nail salon experience, peer-to-peer learning and service delivery for sexual and reproductive health services for adolescent girls in Zambia (Marie Stopes International + Ideo + The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation)

Prototyping nail salon experiences with teens. Read more at: http://stories.hewlett.org/designs_for_a_better_world Photo credit: IDEO

Governance and accountability: Making All Voices Count, an organization that works on issues of governance and accountability by enabling citizen engagement,  used human-centered design for the development of their stakeholder engagement strategy.  Their prototyping process included creating 12 “user archetypes” and using story-boarding and role playing to prototype potential ways to engage citizens.

Agriculture:  Juhudi Kilimo was interested in providing farmers with more in-depth technical training and assistance, so they prototyped both training videos utilizing actual farmers telling their stories and a mobile helpline (Juhudi Kilimo + Ideo)

Photo Credit: IDEO.org Read all about it here: http://www.wassermanfoundation.org/news/designing-better-training-for-farmers/

Health Systems: The Backpack Plus project used the physical object of a backpack as a starting point for designing systems to support and empower community health workers. (USAID + Frog  + UNICEF + MDG Health Alliance + Save the Children)

Photo Credit: UNICEF Read more at: http://www.unicefstories.org/model/chwbackpackplus/