The question of how to scale up—taking a successful program, project, or policy and growing it to expand its reach and therefore its impact—has been an important one when thinking about systems change. It is a key component in efforts to make sustainable, positive social gains; a subject highly relevant to the afterschool field. Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, the study, “Strategies to Scale Up Social Programs: Pathways, Partnerships and Fidelity,” takes a close look at the strategic decisions made by 45 programs—ranging in focus from education to the environment—that helped them expand their reach and bring their services to a greater number of people. Key takeaways from the report include:
Pathways, partnerships, and fidelity. The three interrelated strategic choices common to scale up efforts are:
- Pathways – the decision of how to scale
- Partnerships – whom to partner with and how
- Fidelity – how a scale up effort does or does not change or adapt as new partners or communities implement the scale up
Partnerships are critical in scaling up efforts. While funders were identified as core partners by almost all of the programs included in the study, partnerships provided scaling up efforts more than funding. From consultation expertise to volunteers and from infrastructure to implementation, the programs reviewed relied on the support of their partners.
Find the right balance. Finding the right balance between program fidelity and adaptation can help ensure that the scaling up effort is meeting the needs of the community while at the same time maintaining its effectiveness.
What does this look like?
A number of afterschool programs and their scaling up efforts were included among the 45 programs examined, including Girls on the Run, Higher Achievement, and WINGS. The report features several strategies programs employed in their scaling up efforts—here’s a summary of one effort in particular:
WINGS, an afterschool program focused on helping to build students’ social and emotional learning skills, started small. Founded by Ginny Deerin, whose goal was to help kids develop the skills to be healthy, happy, and confident teens, WINGS used a branching pathway in its scaling up approach. In a branching pathway, a lead partner organization increases its capacity to offer its program at new locations and/or to new groups—in WINGS’ case, expansion was made possible through foundation support, including multi-year grants from The Wallace Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.
WINGS employs a “careful process of identifying their expansion sites” to decide if a site is ready. Milestones such as the creation of a regional advisory board and a funding commitment from a mix of groups including schools, foundations, and individuals help mark the progress of a site. WINGS also closely monitors the fidelity of implementation and outcomes at each of its new sites. The schools in which the programs operate are the program’s biggest partners, as well as local organizations, like Junior Achievement, that offer afterschool enrichment activities.
Over the course of a decade, the program has expanded from one initial school to serving 11 schools in three states, reaching more than 1,600 kids a day.
To learn more, you can find the full report on The Wallace Foundation’s website. If you are an organization looking for in-depth information that details how effective social programs have successfully scaled up, this report a must-read.