Editorial by PPPLab’s Floortje Jacobs – Scaling impact through PPPs: from simplistic models to rich strategies

Scaling up, scaling out, scaling deep, scaling wide, scaling across, vertical scaling, horizontal scaling… There has been a lot of ‘buzz’ around scaling impact in international development. The concept has been brought to the forefront in the last decade, since development effectiveness has become a key priority for donors, governments and development agencies. Although there has been an evolution in the discussion on scaling, and many basic typologies have popped up in literature, more practical questions are still left unanswered. In reality, “scaling up is often attempted without proper guidance, preparation and tools, leading to a frustrating experience” (Binswanger-Mkhize et al. 2009). The basic typologies in literature seem to imply that scaling can be understood through simple models and linear, planable processes. But based on our first exploration of the topic, we as PPPLab like to strongly contradict that.

As a Lab, we are interested in how we can improve the scaling strategies of PPPs, and provide them with the proper guidance and tools to achieve more impact. PPPs are supposed to have a (special) role in scaling; by combining the expertise and capacities of different kinds of actors, the idea is that they can help creating breakthroughs on (tough) development issues like sanitation or greening value chains. We have therefore chosen to devote a study on scaling that deliberately tries to learn from theory and literature but also very much from practice; how are PPPs developing strategies to leverage budget and efforts to achieve more impact? How do they achieve success over time? And what is actually the role of PPPs in achieving scale? Do they indeed have a specific role, as is often assumed?

While we are currently in the middle of this study, it has become clear that scaling, as so many other processes in development, is NOT a linear process that can be planned step-by-step from the start. This has also to do with the fact that in development we focus on scaling impact, and not only a specific technical solution or a business model per se. Therefore, one key lesson is that scaling goes beyond simple ‘roll-out’ or ‘replication’. When one seeks to achieve significant levels of scale, one needs to address higher ‘system’ dimensions such as the financing landscape, the policy and regulatory environment, public awareness and support structures of the solution. Capacities need to be built in those dimensions to create the conditions and support necessary to scale. This makes scaling a matter of constant experimenting, adapting, and multiple interactions between actors at different system levels.

Take the example of a PPP in Kenya that aims to provide access to sanitation facilities for at least 40.000 poor households. Its strategy is to create an ‘environment’ for a local-market-based approach and its activities consist of creating demand for sanitation through large-scale awareness campaigns (provided by the Kenyan government); collaboration with financial institutions for loan products that make sanitation affordable for poor households; and collaboration with local entrepreneurs to set up a supply chain for the sanitation facilities. Thus,the PPP does not simply build a large number of sanitation facilities; instead, it aims to reach scale by collaborating and building capacities with several dimensions of the context or ‘system’, such as the financing environment, the regulatory environment and the (sanitation) market. It is expected that this approach will not only sustain scale, but might also lead to growing impact numbers beyond the project period.

We see that PPPs choose for a ‘repertoire’ of interventions, instead of focusing only on a business model (for example). Scaling, thus, is not a matter of rolling out, but a matter of building comprehensive, rich strategies that stimulate, enable and drive the use of that solution.

These preliminary findings naturally lead to questions on what this can imply for donors and practitioners. There is still a lot to explore around the ‘scaling buzz’. As PPPLab we are confident that we can make a meaningful contribution with our present study. We therefore like to cordially invite you to our next PPPCafé on the 26th of May in the New World Campus in The Hague. This session is part of our interactive study: we will discuss practical approaches and experiences on how PPPs can be instrumental in scaling development impact, and hope to do that with practical experiences and inputs from you. For more information, see the invitation in the newsletter or here.