Journeys to Scale: The topic of scaling up is stepping out

Mark Roland

The last few years have seen a proliferation of analyses that aim to help practitioners decide whether programs should scale, and to identify those factors that enable successful scaling.  And while less has been written about scaling education programs than in other sectors, this is increasingly no longer the case. Take this year’s release of Millions Learning, a recently released report by the Brookings Institution that highlights a number of factors which can facilitate sustained efforts to improve learning. The report serves as a powerful call to action to support promising programs which hold the potential to effect wide-scale change.

The launch of Millions Leaning follows the development of a number of other complementary initiatives, including a recently established Community of Practice (COP), chaired by R4D, that brings together donor organizations, practitioners, and research institutes with a specific focus on scaling education. The group is working to facilitate information- and resource-sharing by synthesizing best practices and case studies and identifying gaps in knowledge and research. Global leaders are also using the COP as a forum for members to identify partnership opportunities and seek feedback from each other on scale-up efforts in education.

Building upon the momentum generated by these conversations, we are excited to share the release of Journeys to Scale this summer. This report represents one prong of a broader partnership between CEI and UNICEF to support promising innovations as they endeavor to test and grow their models. The partnership was formed in 2014 as response to the challenge of identifying, among a growing set of innovations, those which may lead to not only improvements in learning, but also large-scale systems change. Drawing from UNICEF programs and the 700+ innovations found in CEI, five programs were selected to receive technical and financial support.  These five programs range from a tablet-based mathematics program in Sudan to a novel literacy and learning program in Brazil.

Over the past year, as the five innovations attempt to grow their models, we have documented their respective journeys.  Because none of the programs have yet to achieve scale, and given the non-linear way in which scaling occurs, we don’t yet know how their stories end.  In accompanying them, however, we have learned a number of lessons, including about how they engender and maintain buy-in, the ways in which they adapt their models in response to exogenous conditions, and their attempts to secure long-term financing.   From an accelerated school readiness program in Ethiopia, we learned about the tradeoffs between the desire to leverage professed but potentially ephemeral government support and the deliberation required to to design a robust program. From a play-based early education program in Ghana, we learned about the link between staff culture and achievement of results and from a SMS-based initiative to collect data in rural Peru, we learned about the importance of including beneficiaries in program adaptation.

In short, the conversation about how to scale in education has never been louder, and we’re proud to be adding our own voice to the discussion.

Stay tuned to this space in the coming weeks for additional insights learned from the five promising programs with which we have been working with UNICEF over the last year.


Mark Roland is a Senior Program Officer at the Results for Development Institute (R4D), supporting R4D’s work in the education sector. He is currently supporting CEI's partnership with UNICEF evaluating the experiences of five promising programs seeking to bring their impact to scale. These findings will be presented in the upcoming publication, Journeys to Scale.

Photo Credits (Top to Bottom): EduTrac [3] ; Lively Minds [2]

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