The global community has set itself the challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 as a way to combat world poverty and hunger. In 2007, the halfway point, it is clear that many countries will not be able to meet the MDGs without undertaking significantly greater efforts. One constraint that needs to be overcome is that development interventions—projects, programs, policies—are all too often like small pebbles thrown into a big pond: they are limited in scale, short-lived, and therefore have little lasting impact. This may explain why so many studies have found that external aid has had weak or no development impact in the aggregate, even though many individual interventions have been successful in terms of their project- or program-specific goals.
Confronted with the challenge of meeting the MDGs, the development community has recently begun to focus on the need to scale up interventions. Scaling up means taking successful projects, programs, or policies and expanding, adapting, and sustaining them in different ways over time for greater development impact. This emphasis on scaling up has emerged from concern over how to deploy and absorb the substantially increased levels of official development assistance that were promised by the wealthy countries at recent G8 summits. A fragmented aid architecture complicates this task; multilateral, bilateral, and private aid entities have multiplied, leading to many more—but smaller— aid projects and programs and increasing transaction costs for recipient countries. In response, some aid donors have started to move from project to program support, and in the Paris Declaration, official donors committed themselves to work together for better coordinated aid delivery.
The current focus on scaling up is not entirely new, however. During the 1980s, as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) increasingly began to engage in development activities, scaling up emerged as a challenge. NGO interventions were (and are) typically small in scale and often apply new approaches. Therefore, the question of how to replicate and scale up successful models gained prominence even then, especially in connection with participatory and community development approaches. Indeed, the current interest among philanthropic foundations and NGOs in how to scale up their interventions is an echo of these earlier concerns.
In response to this increased focus on scaling up—and its increased urgency—this policy brief takes a comprehensive look at what the literature and experience have to say about whether and how to scale up development interventions.