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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Trauma Systems Therapy Training: What Social Services Needs to be Utilizing, But Isn’t

Children in foster care are exposed to many adverse experiences and are heavily impacted by their trauma. As discussed in my previous posts, trauma affects kids, leads to behavioral problems, and can result both in school discipline and in parents failing to understand the source of misbehavior- which results in placement instability. A foster care system that incorporates policy and training meant to deal with the effects of trauma can better support youth and improve their life outcomes.

In an attempt to reduce placement instability and promote the child’s well-being researchers and people involved in foster care have begun to move toward an approach of trauma-informed care. In this post, I will explain why California should use the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AEC) Trauma Systems Therapy for Foster Care curriculum to implement a standardized system of trauma training throughout the child welfare system. I will do this by examining recent actions by the California legislature and demonstrating why using the AEC materials is the best approach we currently have available.

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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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Why are we Failing in Scaling Up our Successful Pilot Projects?

My name is Dayaar Singla and I am an international exchange student from India’s National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University of Law, Hyderabad. My interest in this course was piqued by Prof. Ball’s description of how this is a “class as a think-tank”. Further, it is extremely interesting for me to study the Foster Care System in California as the entire concept is extremely alien for someone from India. This helps me in providing an outsider’s perspective to the class discussions.

In my understanding, resolution of any policy issue follows a 4 step process which can be shown as:

While my colleagues will be working on identifying the various problems that exist with the Foster Care System in California and attempt to propose solutions to rectify some of them, I due to my lack of understanding of the US socio-cultural and political system have decided to look at a broader problem that policymakers seem to be facing. In a number of social programs, we seem to be coming across the replication crisis which has been previously documented in scientific research. While some solutions proposed at Stage II seem to give successful results when they are tested in a pilot project, policymakers seem to be failing in being able to replicate the results when these projects are scaled up.

Over the series of my blog posts, I will first be introducing the replication crisis, as has been observed in other fields; then I will analyze successful pilot projects which failed to replicate their success when they were scaled up and attempt to draw out the commonalities between them. Finally, I will try to provide best practices that might help policymakers in designing pilot projects which eliminate some of the commonly observed factors leading to their failure on being scaled up.