Scaling better and faster: towards a new framework for international livestock research

By Saba Ermyas

Farmers benefit from ILRI Impact at Scale projects (photo credit: ILRI).

Have you heard the saying ‘pilots never fail, pilots never scale’? Unfortunately, research shows that this saying is true most of the time because few pilot projects successfully scale up to sustainable and long-term initiatives.

Increasingly, partners and investors of mission-oriented research institutes like the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) want these institutes to pilot as well as conduct research and then ensure that their successful pilots go to scale to achieve impact. Although there is not yet consensus on how to define ‘scaling’, or of how to ensure scaling is successful, new tools are being developed to guide thinking about scaling and ways to incorporate this work into project design.

To help get ILRI staff up to date on the latest thinking about scaling research, ILRI organized a ‘scaling workshop’ 12–13 Sep 2019 with three key goals:

  1. to highlight the importance of planning for impact early in the project development process
  2. to better understand the concept of scaling and recent thinking on scaling, and
  3. to provide ideas of how researchers can incorporate scaling elements into their proposals and projects.

Iain Wright, deputy director general of research at ILRI, who chaired the workshop, said, ‘It is timely to have this workshop now as ILRI gets ready to submit first drafts of a series of ‘Investing in Livestock—ILRI to 2025’ donor proposals by the end of this month.’

The workshop welcomed three external speakers: Larry Cooley, president emeritus of Management Systems International and curator of a global community of practice on scaling development outcomes; Lennart Woltering, scaling advisor at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), in Mexico, who also has a shared position with the German development agency GIZ; and Marc Schut, senior scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the knowledge, technology and innovation group at Wageningen University (WUR). Schut is based in Rwanda, where he leads innovation and scaling up activities under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. The three speakers reflected on the science of scaling up and a ‘Scaling Readiness’ tool. They shared how scaling up is implemented within their organizations and how ILRI can better embed scaling work into its projects.

Iddo Dror, leader of ILRI’s Impact at Scale program, presented ILRI’s proposed approach to scaling up and its implementing principles. ‘More than ever, ILRI researchers are thinking and acting on scaling. ILRI’s Impact at Scale program is working on a framework to enable ILRI and partners to scale better, quicker and in a more consistent manner across our entire program portfolio.’ He also shared key guiding principles that are embedded in ILRI’s scaling approach.

Presentations and video recordings of the event can be found in the links below, along with some other useful documents for further reading on ILRI’s scaling up approach.

Resources from the workshop

ILRI scaling workshop opening statements by Iain Wright

Scaling agricultural innovation by Larry Cooley

Related  video:

Scaling of agricultural innovations: the what, why and how of scaling by Lennart Woltering

Scaling of innovations presentation by Marc Schut

Scaling better together—an outline of ILRI’s approach to scaling presentation by Iddo Dror

Saba Ermyas is a communications officer in ILRI’s Impact at Scale program