Scaling Readiness: reaping the benefits from innovations

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Even the greatest innovations in agricultural research must be evaluated for their ability to have impact at scale.  Without the right scaling strategy and partnerships, many innovations fall into the ‘pilot project trap’ and fail to achieve global impact. 

To improve the likelihood that innovations can contribute to impact at scale, CGIAR and Wageningen University researchers developed an approach called Scaling Readiness. The approach provides evidence-based step-by-step guidance for projects to achieve their ambitions and take innovations to scale.  At a program or organizational level, it supports innovation portfolio management, resource mobilization, and prioritization of investment. 

Scaling Readiness builds on the principles of technology readiness, developed by NASA and commonly used by multinationals and development donors to stage-gate innovations for profit and impact. Through Scling Readiness, the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) invested in tailoring this way of thinking to support the scaling of agricultural research innovations.

The approach encourages critical reflection: How ready are innovations for scaling? What are key bottlenecks? What kinds of investments and partnerships could speed up or enhance scaling? This moves away from simplistic, ineffective approaches to adoption and dissemination, and embraces innovation and scaling science in a hands-on and action-oriented way.  

Scaling Readiness provides evidence-based step-by-step guidance for organizations, projects, and programs to achieve their ambitions and take innovations to scale

 Scaling Readiness uses a standardized approach to assess and support the scaling of innovations. It starts by identifying ‘core’ innovations with high potential for impact, as well as ‘complementary’ innovations needed to help them achieve impact at scale. Through an evidence-based assessment, it identifies critical bottlenecks in bringing these ‘innovation packages’ to scale, revealing any elements that may limit or prevent other, apparently ‘scaling ready’, elements from achieving their potential. This provides a solid starting point for developing scaling strategies.

Research-for-development interventions can use Scaling Readiness to set priorities and make decisions that ensure success and impact, while making efficient use of money, time, and other scarce resources. Project teams can use it to take innovations to scale, maximizing returns on investment, and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Many organizations, including CGIAR, struggle with scaling and achieving impact for their innovations. Scaling Readiness offers an evidence-based approach to improve the readiness and use of innovations, and prioritize those with the highest potential for impact.

The key principles of Scaling Readiness are now being embraced and integrated into management systems for projects, portfolios, and performance by CGIAR Centers such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), as well as the CGIAR System Management Office and external agencies such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).  

The key principles of Scaling Readiness are now being embraced and integrated into management systems for projects, portfolios, and performance by CGIAR and external agencies

 Between 2018 and 2020, the CGIAR RTB Scaling Fund used Scaling Readiness to identify, fund, and support the scaling of eight innovation packages worth a total of $8 million, aimed at increasing food security, household income, and nutrition at scale for more than half a million beneficiaries. Components of Scaling Readiness have already been used in 26 countries, supporting innovation and scaling within eight agricultural sub-sectors, and supporting 14 interventions through projects representing an overall investment of $44 million. 


Header photo: Dr Abebe Menkir, maize breeder and fall armyworm specialist with IITA and MAIZE, together with Bello Abu Bakkar, maize farmer and president of the Nigerian Maize Association. Photo by C. de Bode/CGIAR

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