What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

  • stevensugden
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What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

A quick search of the word 'Scale' on this Susana site reveals 10 pages of documents or comments where this over used word is mentioned, but in all this mass of information, I could not find one concise definition. Perhaps I didn't search hard enough. There is a general consensus within the sector that we have to achieve scale to address the needs of the 2.4 million, but without a clear understanding of what 'scale' means and what it looks like when we get there, our chances of reaching it are pretty slim. Without a definition we are in danger of lacking direction. We often talk about 'Working at Scale' , 'Scaling-up' and 'Going to Scale' and donors love using the phase 'Pilots never fail and never scale' without actually telling us what it means. Some academics would even say that if a term cannot be defined; it cannot exist.

There is a strong argument that if a sanitation initiative has no potential to scale; don't bother even starting, so answering this question is very important. Water For People has real ambitions for scale in all the countries where works and has developed a definition which attempts to be equally applicable to Kolkata slums as the sparsely populated areas of the Bolivian Alto. BIG NUMBERS are a pretty meaningless and an un-useful method of comparison. Does anybody else have a definition of 'Scale' ? Good or Bad? or has anyone else tried to tackle tying down this elusive term?
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Good question actually!

I guess there are two main "school of though" when it comes to "scale":

1. It only has potential to "scale" when it is more or less self-replicating, i.e. gets taken up by companies without much outside intervention and a market demand is either already there or starts to exists due to the improvements on the supply side.

2. It only has potential to "scale" when it can be implemented by large scale government structures (or large grass-roots organisations) with little top-level intervention or many qualified staff.

I guess in theory the first one is better (but not always applicable) while the second one is sort of the minimum goal (and often what institutional donors mean with "scale").

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  • Marijn Zandee
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Dear Steven,

Never ask what NGO jargon really means :).

I guess “scale” was initially short-hand for large-scale, which Merriam Webster (dictionary) defines as: “1. Involving many people or things 2. Covering a large area”. So far not much new in that it leaves open what constitutes many people or large area.

My personal take would be that “Scale” in the NGO sense means that the skills, behavior or technology introduced by a project is taken up by people who are not directly involved in the project. My understanding is that scale implies change by those from outside the project area or community, and continued growth.

I think Kris’ answer above is a good starting point on how “scale” could be achieved.

Regards

Marijn

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  • stevensugden
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Thanks,

I think the two routes suggested by Julius are the two main options, but there is also a third where a business like Lixil develops commercial product like the Sato-pan and uses national marketing strategies to get the product to the villages.

The first route depends of crowding-in which is the term given to copy-cat businesses starting up and entering the market and the second route involves having an enlightened government, whose efforts and interest drive improving sanitation, currently this is mainly aimed at ending open defection, which is great.

INGOs rolls for both routes is different. In the second route, the approach falls more in line with the traditional INGO tasks of advocacy and influence. With the first route, the INGO roll is in encouraging crowding-in, stop supporting individual businesses (which they often annoyingly refer to as being “our businesses”), and start supporting the development of the whole industry. I would argue that if an approach or business model has not been copied and has not seen any real evidence of crowding-in within three years of it reaching maturity , it is not going anywhere and will never scale. It either needs a major modification or abandoning.

The routes to scale and the constraints to scale are important separate debates which should be at the forefront of all our discussions. However, the first step in debate is to define what ‘Scale’ is so program designers know what to aim for and can develop better programs to achieve it. The definition needs to cover all routes.

To Water for People’s, Scale is not defined in terms of an absolute number of units built (e.g., 5,000 latrines), but instead scale relates to the characteristics of the ecosystem, business or government based, in which it operates. Scale has been achieved when,

• Demand increases without intensive promotion.
• The product’s or service’s cost decreases due to market competition or mass production.
• Growth occurs outside Water For People’s facilitation activities.
• Water For People’s implementation efficiencies are high and lead to low unit investment costs per latrine built or pit emptied. (We are building more and more for less and less)
• Product, service or approach delivery expands into new areas or all areas are covered.
• The central regulating authority actively controls any public health risks related to the service.

Thoughts?
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Minor nitpicking but I think the last 6 points rather define the "scale up" phase, rather that actual "achievement of scale".

However one can argue that "at scale" NGOs only play a very minor role and thus don't really need a definition for that.

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  • F H Mughal
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

World Bank President James Wolfensohn identifies scaling up as the key to increasing the impact of development throughout the developing world. “The major challenge we face,” Wolfensohn notes, is “turning what works for 1,000 people into a successful program for 10,000, then 10 million, then 100 million.” Scaling up is increasingly cited as a concern among decision-makers and practitioners working in virtually all sectors of development and in all regions of the globe. Elaborated most thoroughly in the development literature with reference to expanding the scope and influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Uvin et al., 1996 and 2000; Edwards and Hulme, 1992), scaling up has also been cited as a principal challenge for developing-country initiatives in agriculture (Faminow and Klein, 2001), HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment (DeJong, 2002), education (Healy and DeStefano, 1996; Elmore, 1996), nutrition and population (Pyle, 1981), irrigation (Pangare, 2001; Korten, 1980), and urban slum upgrading (Cohen, 1988; Kar and Phillips, 1998).

(Source: Taking Sustainable Rural Water Supply Services to Scale: A Discussion Paper; by Jennifer Davis and Parameswaran Iyer; Bank-Netherlands Water Partnership; Water and Sanitation Program)

F H Mughal

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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Hi Steve,

I think your definition is good. My thoughts for refinement:

-Point 1 and 3 are very similar, maybe you could combine them?
-Point 5, should expansion occur without any promotion, with minimal promotion?
-Also point 5, perhaps expansion should be into areas with a different scocio-economic / ethnic / religious profiles than the area where Water for People promoted the behavior/technology/product?

Regards
Marijn

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  • cecile
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Dear Steve,

WSUP makes an interesting distinction between scaling up and scaling out:

" When we talk about ‘getting to scale’, it’s useful to distinguish between scaling out (horizontal replication of approaches to reach more beneficiaries) and scaling up (vertical integration into policy, implying the development of supportive capacities and systems)."
Their approach is thoroughly described in their factsheet "Getting to scale in urban sanitation" in attachment.


Best regards,

Cécile

Cécile Laborderie
MAKATI Environnement

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  • F H Mughal
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Dear Ms. Cecile,

Thanks for sharing that informative flyer. I was not familiar with the term "scale out," probably because its use is not as widespread as the term "scale-up."

Is there a term "scale-down" used in sanitation?

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F H Mughal

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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Dear Mughal,

I have not heard of scaling "down". I my understanding it would mean that there is a setback or a decrease in access to sanitation (such as ODF villages going back to OD after certain period of time or school sanitation infrastructures being no longer operational).

Or do you mean scaling the activities "down" to a lower level (eg. municipal strategies, community organisations)? In this case I would still call this "scaling up", as it is targeting to improve the enabling environment and to integrate all actors (at higher and lower level of governance).

In fact, the terms "scaling up” could correspond to what Steve describes as "traditional INGO tasks of advocacy and influence" which is needed to enable the individual businesses to scale out (what Steve refers to crowding-in).

Both approaches are in of course complementary. If the government makes the presence of sanitary facilities in housing obligatory (construction, rental) and enforces the law (through incentives and control measures), then it paves the way for private sector's crowd-in.

Cécile Laborderie
MAKATI Environnement
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  • eshaylor
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

Thank you Steve this is my favourite soap box topic at the moment!

I have also noticed how casually the term scale up is used but with little follow up about its definition. I like Steve's definition and agree with the comments. What I think we miss is the reason behind the scale up. Yes we need to target those without sanitation, but if you are scaling up a business then your definition of scale should be based on a viable business model - in which case it is maxed out when you reach the numbers you can serve using that model, you can then have the WUSP concept of scale out.

The problem is NGOs want to help everyone and get carried away with making numbers look good in reports and to donors. This is where the current trend seems to come from to use the term scale without definition. In some of the smaller projects I have worked on we defined scale only in relation to our business model and not in terms of those benefiting from the services being provided, as Steve summarises, the environment in which change is happening.

So my thought is then if we accept something around Steve's definition how do we get this acceptable to donors or other people we report to (like the JMP) who want hard numbers not environmental conditions?

NB: The other definition issue I have is with the word systems - a lot of people use the word but dont define what they mean by systems thinking/approach, but that is a discussion for another thread...

Esther Shaylor
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  • alexandra85
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Re: What do you mean by the term 'Scale'?

It is very interesting to read this brainstorming session on the topic of “scale”, since it is the central focus of the project my colleague from Water Sector Trust Fund and I are working on in Kenya since 2011 ( UBSUP: Up-scaling Basic Sanitation for the Urban Poor )!! Thank you for the valuable insights, I would be very interested (for learning purpose) if someone would like to share a case study (with challenges, lessons learned, etc.) on the implementation of a project or activity at scale.

To contribute to Steve’s definition I would suggest to develop the bullet point no. 6 and emphasise on the vertical integration into policy that Cecile has mentioned. Not only describe the control and enforcement task from the regulating authority, but also the active role of the whole institutional framework in creating an enabling environment for the scaling-up of activities to take place. In other words, scaling-up works best if embedded in the national sector framework and backed by a political strategy.

In the context of Water and Sanitation, GIZ came up with their own definition for Scaling-up which is understood to be the process of reaching sustainable access to water supply and sanitation services at broad scale through transfer of tried-and-tested approaches or methods. Success is not only measured in terms of the number of beneficiaries. Scaling up efforts must meet the actual demands of the target group, provide an acceptable quality of services (in line with minimum standards) and, ultimately, have lasting economic, social and environmental impacts.

Drawing on the lessons learnt and success factors identified by different GIZ programmes around the world, the GIZ has identified six elements which need to be considered to institutionalise effective scaling up:
1. Policy and institutional framework
2. Implementing actors
3. Mode of financing
4. Access Information system
5. Access to Drinking Water Services
6. Access to Sanitation Services

I have actually tried to write a Wikipedia article on the topic of “Scaling-up Water and Sanitation” to make this wealth of information collected by GIZ available to a wider public, but the article still need massive editing: I have been advised to change the language and style which is not suitable for general public (too much technical jargon). If you have some spare time and would like to contribute to the article here is the link to the sandbox: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Alexandra.D/sandbox
This should NOT be a GIZ report, so don’t be afraid to touch the content, you are welcome to add, remove, change, correct, etc.

In addition, if you are interested, you can have a look at the video on the Up-scaling strategy that Water Sector Trust Fund utilises for the implementation of most of their activities in Kenya.

With french subtitles click here

Alexandra Dubois

Technical Advisor
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
Nairobi, Kenya
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