PPPLab in action, second PPPCafé: PPPs as an instrument for scale?

Last Thursday, PPPLab organized the second edition of the PPPCafé at the New World Campus in The Hague. The PPPCafé is an interactive afternoon during which PPP practitioners, researchers and policy makers come together to discuss different questions around PPPs in an informal way.

For the second of our quarterly PPPCafés we explored the theme “scaling”. Lately, there has been a lot of ‘buzz’ around scaling impact in international development. But besides some basic typologies and models, the more practical questions are still left unanswered in literature. Based on preliminary findings of PPPLab’s scaling study, we discussed more practical approaches and experiences on how PPPs can be instrumental in scaling development impact.

Jan Ubels from SNV opened the café by sharing some of PPPLab’s preliminary research outcomes of the scaling study. Besides a literature review, this research has been based on interviews with PPPs to also learn from practical scaling approaches. Remarkably, what came out from these interviews is that what is scaled is usually not a specific (technical) solution per se, but usually a set of organizational or transactional arrangements that stimulate, enable and propel the adoption, use, management of such a solution. For example, both PPPs in agriculture and PPPs in water use demand creation and/or awareness raising for a solution, they design financial arrangements for the solution to become affordable, they try to embed the solution in local contexts, etc. Moreover, these PPPs both aimed to scale horizontally (a larger population) as well as vertically (embedding the solution in higher regulatory environments). It was remarkable to see these similarities between PPPs in very different sectors.

As a next step, common ‘ingredients’ of scaling strategies were identified and presented. Almost all scaling efforts consist of ‘building blocks’ which can roughly be classified in 10 categories: technology, business models, financing, market development, coordination & platforms, lobby & advocacy, awareness & demand, knowledge, IT/data. These ingredients or building blocks resonated with the audience; most participants could identify with a number of these ingredients for their own PPPs. At the same time, this thinking model also raised questions; if these are really ‘the’ ingredients to scale, what would be the right sequencing of these ingredients? And does that mean scaling is plannable?

These questions were taken forward to the next round of discussion in a World Café setting. The participants were divided into three groups and at each table a different topic was discussed, namely 1) The functions of PPPs in scaling 2) The roles of NGOs and the private sector in scaling 3) Planning for scale. The discussions were open and critical, and experiences and observations from various partnerships were shared. One of the main conclusions was that PPPs, by combining interests and expertise, are indeed a suitable instrument for scaling efforts. However, this is because PPPs bring together stakeholders that can bring about changes in ‘the rules of the game’ or the system; thinking of PPPs as (ending) projects will probably NOT stimulate scaling. This, in turn, raised questions on what kind of financing/facilities could be conducive to scaling efforts. Although there was no ‘final answer’, everyone left the room with new insights and food for thought on the potential role of PPPs in scaling. To be continued by our Scaling research team!