Overcoming constraints of scaling: critical and empirical perspectives on agricultural innovation scaling
Scaling is a ubiquitous concept in agricultural research in the global south as donors require their research grantees to prove that their results can be scaled to impact upon the livelihoods of a large number of beneficiaries. Recent studies on scaling have brought critical perspectives to the rather technocratic tendencies in the agricultural innovations scaling literature. Drawing on theoretical debates on spatial strategies and practical experience of agricultural innovation scaling in Ethiopia, this paper adds to the current debate on what constitutes scaling and how to overcome critical scaling constraints. The data for the paper came from a qualitative assessment using focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and document analysis on scaling work done in Ethiopia by a USAID-funded research for development project. The paper concludes with four broad lessons for the current understating of agricultural innovation scaling. First, scaling of agricultural innovations requires a balanced focus on technical requirements and associated social dynamics surrounding scaling targets, actors involved and their social relations. Second, appreciating the social dynamics of scaling emphasizes the fact that scaling is more complex than a linear rolling out of innovations towards diffusion. Third, scaling may not be strictly planned; instead, it might be an extension of the innovation generation process that relies heavily on both new and long-term relationships with key partners, trust, and continuous reflection and learning. Fourth, the overall implication of the above three conclusions is that scaling strategies need to be flexible, stepwise, and reflective. Despite the promises of flourishing scaling frameworks, scaling strategies it would appear from the Africa RISING experience that, if real impact is to be achieved, approaches will be required to be flexible enough to manage the social, processual and emergent nature of the practice of scaling.