Scaling Social Innovation

From Randomized Controlled Trials to innovative qualitative approaches, Blueprint partners with governments, nonprofits and social innovators to grow programs in the service of all Canadians.

March 10, 2023

What is Scaling?

Scaling a program refers to increasing its delivery to reach and serve more people. A program can grow by expanding to new locations, increasing target populations and/or offering new services. Social innovations have successfully scaled when their reach and impact grow to match the level of need.

While the definition of scaling is relatively simple, the process is inherently complex. Scaling social innovations is almost always a non-linear, multi-step process that tends to happen over a number of years—if it happens at all. This means many governments, policymakers and service providers are perennially contending with the symptoms of “pilotitis” where we have many encouraging early-stage program without the strategy or support to help them grow.

To date, there is no “playbook” outlining how to overcome the challenges associated with scaling programs. But working in partnership with ten organizations in the Scaling Up Skills Development Portfolio, Blueprint is building one. Our scaling playbook is a groundbreaking way of using evidence to understand how a program can continuously learn, grow and adapt to deepen its reach and impact.

From Evidence to Impact

To support the scaling up of promising programs, Blueprint developed a novel approach to evidence generation that fits within the stages of the innovation cycle . By understanding a program’s stage of development, we can determine the most appropriate tools to advance it to the next stage. This helps us strengthen each intervention, assess whether its costs are commensurate with its benefits and systematically address the broader question of what role this intervention could play in solving  Canada’s most pressing skills challenges.

Our evidence-generation approach emphasizes continuous learning, identifying challenges and iterating new solutions with an eye towards scale.

In a well-functioning innovation ecosystem, projects move along the innovation cycle starting with needs assessment, conceptualization and design and then delivery, testing and iteration. For those interventions that are proven to work, the goal is to expand to meet the need at scale and create system changes to institutionalize the innovation.

Most of the programs Blueprint  to scale are in the testing and iteration phase of the cycle. Within that phase, there are three steps of delivery maturity: pilot, iteration and model stabilization.

Delivery & Iteration

While presented as three progressive phases, the actual path an intervention takes will likely be much more iterative. Some interventions in the pilot stage may not move forward to the iteration stage but rather will require going back to the drawing board. Similarly, some interventions in the iteration phase will require a series of rapid learning and continuous improvement cycles before they are ready for the model stabilization phase. And of course, even interventions that reach the model stabilization phase will need to continuously learn and adapt to new needs such as changing demographics, employer expectations and/or labour market conditions.

Aligning scaling journeys with the innovation cycle also offers an opportunity to disrupt the current “one study at a time” approach in favour of continuous evidence generation and program improvement that builds the quality and quantity of evidence needed to help promising solutions. By doing so, programs improve in real time through an integral element of scaling: continuous learning. For successful scaling, organizations and policymakers need to commit to cycles of ongoing improvement, combining flexibility with fortitude.

Learn more about Blueprint's scaling work specific to the skills training content, in Scaling to Meet the Needs of Canadians.