Civil society organisations and innovators are rightly concerned with scaling their interventions to reach more people. In the socioeconomic development sector, terms like scaling up, out and deep are commonplace. But depending on who you speak to you may get a nuanced interpretation of each term. For instance, ‘scaling up’ typically refers to output, but it could also mean impacting laws and policies. ‘Scaling out’ generally refers to replicating projects in different settings, in so doing impacting a greater number of people. And, the term ‘scaling deep’ refers to the quality of the intervention or its rootedness in culture and practices.
Clearly, experts have varying opinions on the topic. Lately, researchers supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) are questioning our inherent assumptions about scaling, and are forcing us to think about whether ‘bigger is always better’. Their approach known as ‘Scaling Science’ is understood as a justified and coordinated focus on impact at optimal scale, and it may already be part of your work in one way or another.
There are different ways to think about scale and it’s useful to think about the topic with a specific real-world challenge in mind. The food system is an ideal example. We all need nutritious food to live healthy lives so it stands to reason that the topic of scale and food are inextricably linked. But the global network of diverse businesses, growers and suppliers has scaled in such a way that it’s had negative consequences for people and the environment. More than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the way we produce, process and package foods, according to a study backed by the United Nations.
In this Best Bites podcast, we explore different ways to scale by looking at interventions to promote sustainable food systems. We speak to Scott Drimie who has been part of the leadership collective of the Southern Africa Food Lab since its inception and is also an adjunct professor at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Global Health.