Evidence review and briefing that considers the existing evidence on ‘How can small scale innovation be effectively scaled up to create large scale transformational change?’


The Scottish Government commissioned this review to consider the existing evidence on ‘How can small-scale innovation be effectively scaled up to create large scale transformational change?’

This review provides an accessible way to draw together broad findings and theory from across multiple fields and sectors. Since discussions on scaling-up or associated concepts may occur deep within an evaluation or review of a study, project, or innovation, an evidence review can collate broad learning points from across projects. It aims to draw together common themes and key learning points on strategy development and emergent issues across the literature that address ‘scaling-up’ innovations.

One straightforward concluding statement regarding the scaling-up of innovations could be that there is no clear, unmistakeable way to go about it; the process needs careful thought with due consideration of all elements and configurations particular to each situation.

‘Scaling-up’ is not an uncritical approach to finding an innovation that seems likely to work and transplanting it, nor is it the process of finding what research states and treating it as definitive. Indeed, much of the evidence warns of assuming an innovation is worthy of dissemination simply because it is ‘new’, a warning akin to Rogers’ ‘pro-innovation bias’ in which an innovation’s weaknesses or limits may not be recognised simply because of its status as an innovation.

This report has presented findings from multiple fields and countries to address the issue of scaling-up innovation for large-scale transformational change, using research questions asking:

  • what is meant by ‘scaling-up’
  • what is scaled-up and when?
  • what enables such scaling
  • what hinders it?
  • what mechanisms help the scaling-up be sustained?

The review was able to extract evidence relating to each question, and to go some way in providing insights about the facets of scaling-up innovation. However, there are no unequivocal answers. The overarching finding is well-expressed in the suggestion that when thinking about the scaling-up of innovations, it is essential to balance insights derived from studying ‘hard’ components (success metrics, commissioning plans) alongside the historical, economic, socio-cultural, and interpersonal influences that gave rise to them.

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Author: Kelly Shiell-Davis, Associate researcher, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh, and Alex Wright

Publication date: June 2015

Type of publication: Evidence review