The Conundrums of Scaling Up

This post is part of the series of posts where I explore the question “Why does a pilot project succeed, but the following implementations fail?” In my previous post, I looked at how even successful social impact pilot projects fail to show similar results on being replicated due to various factors. I also hinted at pilot projects’ added complexity: while experiments only need to be replicated, pilot projects also need to be scaled up. In this post, I will deal with three essential aspects of scaling up that need to be accounted for: (1) the manner in which we define scaling up and its impact on funding; (2) the locational peculiarities of certain projects and finally, (3) the economics of demand and supply in scaling up.

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The Replication Crisis Is Not Just About Science

Hey Dayaar isn’t replication crisis about that thing in science? What’s that doing on our blog about improving the foster care system? Who even cares if science cannot replicate its experiments? Didn’t you take up law because you don’t even understand science?*

As I mentioned in my introductory post, policy solutions to rectify any problem or improve a system are generally tested through pilot projects. Pilot projects are preliminary studies designed to reveal whether a new idea is feasible or not. The aim behind these projects is to evaluate the solution’s feasibility, time, cost, adverse events et al before scaling them up. It is a small-scale experiment that, with a limited investment of resources, can test the potential of a proposed solution toward solving a problem. The policy solutions that my colleagues would suggest to improve the foster care system would possibly also go through pilot project studies to test their success in dealing with the problem before they are adopted on a wider scale.

However, it turns out that replicating successful pilot projects is not easy and getting sustained results beyond smaller pilot programs is rather difficult. The complexity of replicating is further stacked as we are not just hoping to replicate them and get similar positive results but we are also looking to scale them up. In other words, we could say, scaling up pilot projects has quite a replication crisis of its own.

In this series of posts, we are looking at social innovation pilot projects. Social Innovation has been defined (pdf) as a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, or sustainable than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole, rather than to private individuals.

In this post, I discuss the various factors that play into why we are sometimes unable to replicate the pilot projects.

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