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Scaling Science

October 2, 2019

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 southern perspectives on scaling

IDRC’s understanding of scaling science is based on experience. We continue to promote ongoing dialogue and learning about scaling to inform this evolving understanding—particularly learning from southern perspectives.

A collage of the people involved in scaling X change.

To support this, IDRC launched the scalingXchange—convening researchers from across disciplines and sectors to share experiences, identify opportunities for enhanced support and collaboration, and explore areas for future research on scaling.

Learn more about the scalingXchange.