Why is Scale Important?

Following a workshop co-hosted by Asia Clean Innovations and PublicAffairsAsia’s SharingValueAsia initiative, PAA and ACI summarised participants’ insight into the need to deliver programmes at scale and examine the tactics which should be deployed to achieve them

At the core of the workshop’s discussion was the question ‘Why is scale important?’.

Scale is important simply because the magnitude of the problems faced in areas such as poverty reduction, the environment, gender issues and healthcare require solutions at scale. By their nature they are often cross-border or not focused solely on one location.

Building programmes that are designed for scalability accordingly enhances the potential for impact. In areas such as the environment the nature of the problems we face injects an urgency that necessitates both scale and accelerated roll-out.

Creating common understanding about problems creates both broader awareness of the need to develop scalable solutions and engagement. Mindsets will need to be changed to develop strategies where people automatically think big. Building at scale also addresses corporations’ need to ensure their investment is strategic and long-term and thus meets business goals.

Building programmes with scale also requires partners to confront the possibility of failure at scale. It is important to encourage risk taking. This increases the need for due diligence and sophisticated stakeholder analysis. At its core, scale delivers one central business objective: to create an economy of scale that yields a higher return on investment. Small piecemeal projects are unlikely to offer the overall impact required to effect real change, and are by their nature likely to fizzle out when partners lose interest.

Five steps to scalable success in partnership:

  1. Choose the right partners with common objectives, are of a similar mindset, and who possess sectoral or mission alignments. Be prepared to work with new partners. Ensure you conduct a SWAT analysis of all constituent partners to make sure responsibilities and roles are allocated to those best positioned to drive them, which is in line with their core pre-existing service offering or expertise. Draw up legal agreements or memorandums of understanding ensuring each partner is committed to the programme, and fully understands what is expected of them.
  2. Keep the overall programme target simple, or at least be able to articulate and communicate it simply. Make sure the partnership, and the partners, are aligned to your core business or to their NGO terms of reference. Engage partners only after wide-ranging research. Also use resource to deliver communications, PR and marketing which, while often overlooked, can add impetus towards achieving projects with scale.
  3. Be persistent and focus on innovation at all stages in partnership negotiations. While the responsibilities are shared, ensure there is a project manager, or management group, to create a common direction and common benchmarks across the partner groups. Don’t be afraid to tackle conflict of interest or to hold partners to account for any disconnects between responsibilities allocated and duties discharged. Utilise new technologies which can be powerful accelerator and which can effectively scale-up opportunities.
  4. Build in scope for replicability as this is a driver for scale. Developing prototypes means they can be copied elsewhere – both across sectors and in different geographies where common problems exist. Establishing a suite of effective prototypes can be an effective starting point, particularly in large organisations which rely on significant degrees of autonomy in their in-country or local operations. Build in succession planning strategies to ensure the programme can continue to move forward even if a key partner disengages.
  5. Designing projects at scale requires partners to commit to, and learn from, sophisticated measurement strategies. Large projects must show commensurate impact, and should involve an economy of scale. The risk that large programmes can suffer from a dilution of quality needs to be addressed. So too does the simple fact that operating at scale can mean failing at scale. Be prepared to take calculated risks to achieve impact, but learn quickly from mistakes. Agree binding benchmarks and deploy commonly understood measurement approaches to ensure the programme is on track and meets its targets. Respond to this data by refining approaches or even rethinking the partnership’s operations and objectives where the need arises.