Scaling Impact

Developing strategies to enhance your impact

Successful community organizations that want to increase the impact of their work often think about scaling. Many want to extend their reach or to develop new offerings to complement their existing efforts. Some may want to expand their impact by changing parts of a system.  

Types of Scaling 

There are two main types of scaling and it is important to distinguish between them. 

Scaling “out” is the expansion of an existing program so that it reaches more people or regions. It can also include developing new programs to improve outcomes for the same beneficiaries. Examples of scaling out include: 

  • An organization replicating a successful school-based program across many different school boards.
  • A regional sustainability network that seeds similar networks in other communities.

Scaling “up” is influencing a broader system. It often focuses on some of the root causes of problems by directing efforts towards changing the system that created the social or environmental problem. An organization trying to scale up might build on its past success to work on influencing policy, curriculum, program, or legislative changes, to change widely held societal values and norms, or create ways of re-directing financial resources. 

Scaling up can take many forms. For example:

  • An organization that has exclusively provided personal support services for people with disabilities, can work to scale up its impact by trying to change cultural ideas about what it means to contribute and participate in society.
  • An environmental group that has been focused on creating urban green spaces, can scale up its impact by working with governments to create carbon pricing mechanisms, or changing national/provincial urban planning regulations. 

In some instances scaling out precedes and provides the platform for an organization to scale up. Scaling out allows organizations to build the in-depth knowledge and experience, the reputation, and the relationships that provide them with the capacity to execute a scaling up strategy. In other instances, an organization will focus on scaling out and consider partnering with others who will scale up. Both scaling up and scaling out strategies, or combinations of the two, can be effective approaches to creating positive change. 

Each organization needs to find its own unique strategy to achieve its goals. Developing and implementing a scaling strategy is a complex process: it is highly context specific, and can be challenging and time consuming. Scaling often requires organizational changes including new capacities, skills and resources, different relationships, and a willingness to “let go” of particular aspects of existing work and/or embrace an entirely new approach. 

In determining whether or not it is the right time to scale, organizations should consider at least two factors. First, do they have a successful approach that is ready to scale, and second, is their organization ready or even best placed to undertake a scaling strategy.

Content for this module has been developed by SiG@Waterloo.


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