Ensuring impact and delivery

Scaling readiness: A scientific approach to scaling innovations

  • October 16, 2020

Scaling innovations is one of the biggest challenges facing research and development organizations. The international community invests significant resources in the design and testing of innovations to overcome challenges such as food insecurity, malnutrition, and environmental degradation. Many of those innovations start as an idea that is then developed in a laboratory and finally tested with end-users. Although initial results and testing are often promising, few lead to real impact at scale.

For the past three years, a group of dedicated scientists representing IITA, Wageningen University, and other CGIAR centers have worked on designing and testing of scaling readiness as an integral part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB). During this period, scaling readiness was tested and used in more than 20 projects in 25 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General, Partnerships for Delivery, giving a talk during the P4D Retreat in Benin.

What is scaling readiness?

Scaling readiness is an approach that translates state-of-the-art innovation science into a practical tool that guides research-for-development teams and organizations in making scaling work. Through 5 simple steps (Fig. 1), it encourages project teams to critically reflect how ‘ready’ innovations are for scaling and what appropriate actions could accelerate or enhance scaling. It provides scientific tools to support decision making on what scaling bottlenecks address what could be the most cost-effective scaling strategy and which partners to engage. Scaling readiness uses metrics and indicators that are also being used by NASA and the EU; similar approaches are being used in the R4D sector by, for example, GIZ, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and CGIAR Systems Organization.


Steps of scaling readiness

Fig. 1. Five Steps of Scaling Readiness to develop, implement, and monitor scaling strategies in projects. The arrows indicate the iterative process that Scaling Readiness supports, from (1) Characterizing innovations and interventions and scaling context, (2) Diagnosing bottlenecks for scaling, (3) Strategizing on ways to overcome bottlenecks, (4) Agreeing with stakeholders on the strategy and action plan, and (5) Navigating scaling strategy implementation. Once a bottleneck is adequately addressed, a new cycle of Scaling Readiness assessment and bottleneck identification is triggered

Through its standardized data collection and analysis approach, Scaling Readiness can be used to monitor a portfolio of innovation and scaling investments. It also supports prioritization, and decisions on advancing those innovations that can achieve societal outcomes at scale in the most resource-efficient way.

How does Scaling Readiness work?

Innovations scale as part of packages, which are context-specific. The stylized example in Figure 2 shows that a new seed variety can only be of use for farmers when there are novel seed quality assurance policies, certified seed multipliers, seed producers business models, etc. If any of these enabling conditions is absent, then the new seed variety will not end up in the hands of farmers and will not improve livelihoods at scale.


Fig. 2. A stylized example of an innovation package (with 8 innovations) that has been assessed for innovation readiness (y-axis) and innovation use (x-axis) specific to space, time, and project goals.

Scaling readiness unpacks innovations and scores their readiness and use. This enables the identification of scaling bottlenecks and supports decision making on which activities and partnerships are required to overcome the bottleneck. The example presented in Figure 2. shows that the bottleneck is the low readiness and use of the novel seed quality assurance policy. This provides a basis for the development, implementation, and monitoring of a scaling strategy to overcome the bottleneck.

Use of Scaling Readiness in IITA

At the moment, several IITA projects actively use Scaling Readiness, including AKILIMO, TRICOT, and Cassava Flash Dryer, all funded through the CGIAR RTB Scaling Fund. One of the projects that has pioneered the use of Scaling Readiness in IITA is the Cassava Peel Project that converts wet cassava peels into energy-rich, high-quality animal feed.

“As project leader and scaling champion of the Cassava Peel Project, I knew that the technology we had developed was ready to go to scale. By using Scaling Readiness, the project team became much more aware of the non-technological innovations required for the cassava peel innovation to scale (Fig. 3.). We started paying much more attention to our partnerships, user perceptions, and produce pricing. We realized that the biggest bottleneck was lack of a market for cassava-based animal feed, which then formed the heart of our scaling strategy,” says Dr Iheanacho Okike, IITA Cassava Peel Scaling Champion.

The project partnered with the IITA Cassava Seed Tracker team to develop a Cassava Peel Tracker which allows entrepreneurs to locate the cassava processing centers nearest to them, along with the amount of peel for sale each day.


figure 3

Fig. 3. Simplified representation of the Cassava Peel project’s Innovation Package with the technological innovation at the center (in brown) and the non-technological innovations in blue lettering.

Bridging IITA’s research and delivery divisions

 Scaling readiness has not gone unnoticed in IITA and on several occasions the IITA leadership has been exposed to the approach. In 2019, during a strategic retreat in Benin, IITA scientists, directors, and managers of the Partnerships for Delivery (P4D) Directorate, including Business Incubator Platform (BIP) and Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) learnt how Scaling Readiness could support their units and directorate in better strategy development and decision-making. Scaling readiness can form the bridge between IITA R4D and P4D where increasing the readiness and quality of innovations forms the heart of R4D, and increasing the use of innovations forms the heart of P4D.

Scaling readiness has been firmly embraced by the P4D Directorate. Deputy Director General for P4D Dr Kenton Dashiell explains: “We have found that Scaling Readiness is an excellent model for P4D projects and can help us to be more efficient and impactful in our work. Scaling readiness can support us to better write our proposals, connect with the best donors, and manage the work we are doing.”


Authors: Marc Schut, Murat Sartas, Pieter Pypers, Iheanacho Okike, Bernard Vanlauwe and Kenton Dashiel


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