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Scaling Science


Why scaling science?

For IDRC, “scaling impact” implies optimizing results in ways that will matter to people and our planet. By critically reflecting on how we can make the most of our investments in research and scale impact, we have learned that there is no single approach or method to make this happen. 

Scaling science is borne of the belief that we can be more systematic and scientific about the way we scale, and that by doing so we increase the likelihood that our research will effect meaningful change. Scaling science is about scaling the positive impacts of innovation while carefully studying how scaling unfolds. 

IDRC did not invent the scaling science concept; it is a description of the creativity and imagination of the innovators we have worked with and our reflections on their work. 

Understanding scaling in research for development 

To inform our understanding of scaling in research for development, IDRC explored the work of researchers who aimed to produce impacts at scale. This led to IDRC’s approach to scaling as a means to achieve impact that matters, and an important challenge to the predominant more-is-better paradigm of scaling. Learn more about scaling for meaningful change in several open access formats: 

Book cover of farmlands for scaling impact

An open access book, Scaling Impact: Innovation for the Public Good by Robert McLean and John Gargani (Routledge/IDRC, 2019). View the video of the book’s launch at the Center for Global Development (2020) 

Our post on the LSE Impact Blog, “Scaling what works doesn’t work: we need to scale impact instead” by Robert McLean, John Gargani and Dena Lomofsky (2020) 

People gathering for protection under umbrellas

A feature article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Scaling Science” by John Gargani and Robert McLean (SSIR, 2017) 

Report on discussions of the issue of scale and scaling during a meeting of international partners at the American Evaluation Association national conference in Atlanta, Georgia (IDRC, 2016) 

Guidance for researchers who aim to scale impact 

Successful scaling requires ongoing attention — from the framing of a research project, through its implementation, to its reporting, sharing, and beyond. The Scaling Playbook draws on lessons from scaling science to guide researchers through considerations that can help them to put their scaling intentions into action.

Cover of the Scaling Playbook

Find out how to incorporate scaling science into a research project in The Scaling Playbook: A Practical Guide for Researchers by Hayley Price-Kelly, Leonie van Haeren and Robert McLean (IDRC, 2020).

Evaluating the results of IDRC’s efforts to scale impact

a three dimensional block of boxes and squares

Scaling was a key objective in IDRC’s 2015–2020 strategic plan. An evaluation of IDRC’s scaling strategy will assess how, and how well, IDRC has acted on its intention to scale. The evaluation will also draw out lessons to inform future work, considering experiences and perspectives of the global research community.

Read more about the evaluation and its results. 

Continued learning from Global South perspectives: the scalingXchange

IDRC launched the scalingXchange to convene a group of “Scaling Advisors”—researchers and innovators from the Global South with experience scaling impact. Over the course of 2021-22, with facilitation from On Think Tanks, the Scaling Advisors contributed to structured dialogue about how funders and development agencies can support a principles-based approach to scaling impact.

A collage of the people involved in scaling X change.

The Advisors translated the lessons that emerged into a list of eight concrete actions that funders and development agencies can take to improve support for scaling impact.

Read the eight actions and learn more about the scalingXchange: