Scaling out research results for wider application and use is a goal of every research for development project in today’s CGIAR. It is also one of the most difficult things to achieve.
Scaling out was on the agenda of recent end-of-project workshops of the IFAD-financed MilkIT project (Enhancing dairy-based livelihoods in India and Tanzania through feed innovation and value chain development approaches).
Following internal reviews by the project team, on 11 December 2014, team members met with a few national partners in an ‘Outreach Meeting’ to share project lessons and findings.
At the end of the discussions (see key messages), participants listed out some of the critical success factors such a project needs to be able to scale out its results.
The suggestions shared by participants included:
- Have a scaling strategy that sets out the different types of outcomes and impacts and mechanisms to reach these.
- Ensure that the project has something successful and tangible to actually scale and make visible.
- Make successes visible through ‘noise’ – essentially promoting and talking about them. Ensure however that the noise ‘volume’ is proportional to the actual success.
- Beyond noise and volume, remember that ‘seeing is believing’; tangible visible evidence is much more convincing than ‘telling’ people about it.
- Don’t speak in ‘Chinese’ (unless the audience is in China) – make sure the messages are clear and can be understood by people expected to take decisions. Work with media.
- Involve different actors from the start of the project – so they are ‘insiders’ to the thinking and the results. Ensure that the ‘scaling partners’ are with you from the start.
- Organize regular stakeholder meetings or platforms where some of the different people involved can feed in their insights; making it more likely they will spread and take them up later!
- Build sustainability into the design of any platforms so their results can continue after projects end or evolve.
- Members of platforms need to ‘own’ the platform and be able to see interests in joining and participating clearly demonstrated.
- Expand from a few local ‘research’ sites and platforms via regional and national platforms – where they exist – where a lot of other actors are involved.
- Link research packages into whatever extension systems exist; working with them to ensure that knowledge reaches local and village communities.
- Have ‘exit’ strategies for a project that include passing on results or having work continue through others.
- Generally, projects like these come and go. Ensure that projects feed into bigger flows, acting as ‘tributaries’ into main rivers. Connect to main flows and channels and make sure your results are well-directed to reach the mainstream of thinking and action.
- Supporting and working through national and regional platforms and clusters (such as Maziwa Zaidi for dairy development in Tanzania) helps bring broader reach and continuation to project findings.
- Scaling ‘requires’ partnership. It’s important that partners are not just ‘involved’; they need to become ‘co-owners’ seeing benefits and especially the project and its activities as vehicles for their own success.
- Don’t chase all possible partners; you need the right partners.
- When engaging with partners, try to see into their heads; really knowing them and their desires.
- Farmers are important partners. Don’t only target ‘resource poor’ farmers as they face the greatest challenges to scale something out. Other farmers, with more resources perhaps, have more scope to scale.
While the notion of an ‘exit strategy’ was mentioned several times, what really came through instead was the need for an ‘entrance’ strategy in which project participants plan from the beginning saying where and to whom project results and approaches will be taken up. Gaining entrances into the workplans of others is perhaps more important that ensuring a tidy exit or closing of a project.
Project leader Alan Duncan: ‘Projects such as MilkIT place a lot of emphasis on developing participatory approaches that build engagement and ownership of the development process with key local actors. In MilkIT for example we spent a lot of time establishing local and regional innovation platforms that were then instrumental in bringing about changes in milk marketing and feeding practices. We also refined and applied tools such as FEAST that focus strongly on making sure that feed interventions develop from the bottom up and really address farmers’ core concerns.’
‘Working in innovation platform mode and applying participatory tools such as FEAST is not trivial – in fact it can sometimes be a struggle. It forces researchers and other actors to move out of their comfort zone and think through issues from a different perspective. However, this struggle is central to the successes that emerge. The struggle builds ownership and leads to solutions that fit the context.’
‘When it comes to scaling, the temptation is to attempt to scale out the successes rather than the processes (the struggle) that led to those successes. In my view, one key lesson that we need to internalize is that the struggle is important and that we need to scale out the struggle rather than the success. This is harder work but will be more effective in the long run.’
The conventional model is ‘success, scale, fail’. The new model is ‘struggle, success, scale the struggle’ – Alan Duncan
Read more about success, scaling and struggles in this blogpost by Owen Barder that stimulated Alan.