By: Eric Beugnot, Agence Française de Développement
As part of the innovation team in AFD, the French Development Agency, I have been thinking about how we can strengthen scaling efforts for sustainable impact. Whilst my work informs my opinions, those expressed below are my own.
The idea of having a community for scaling from the Global South such as the group of authors of the Call to Action from the Global South on Scaling Impact is great and useful and can help donors in their emergent efforts to scale their activities, moving beyond their traditional project approach.
I agree with all eight actions of the Call, but it is Action 2, ‘broaden your understanding of participatory approaches’, on which I mainly want to focus my intervention.
Donors, bilateral as well as multilateral, are often constrained by accountability for delivering the maximum aid in the minimum time. Unfortunately, we are in a world that gives preference to the short term, even if, in the long run, the impact could be optimized if a scaling approach were taken. Pursuing a broad vision, assessing the drivers and obstacles to scaling, and finding partners to address them in a systemic approach is more expensive (both in time consumption and operating costs) than doing what donors have always done – projects where the intervention is well accepted, with a local partner they have confidence in, with the minimum risk for quick results. Expanding 'who defines and contributes to impact at optimal scale' (Action 2) can help us to move away from the status quo.
When donors work with researchers from the Global South, the perimeter is often limited for the reasons explained above. We need to explore how this relationship can be strengthened to alleviate the burden of appraising scaling by sharing the exploration of scaling opportunities at the beginning of a project – firstly, by broadening the vision of needs through adaptation to the local context, as it is a kind of market study (who is interested in scaling, and who isn't). Local knowledge on the ground is essential, but donors usually deal with local consultants rather than researchers because it is easier to contract. Secondly, we need to work out how researchers can be included in assessing the feasibility of scaling. What research specialties are available for the purpose (such as economics, sociology, or institutional issues)? Is conducting research to inform scaling efforts compatible with the researcher’s objectives (which may be more scientific or less operational than the donor’s vision), and how can they be compensated? Lastly, from my experience, donor communication is weak at the beginning of a project outside the usual contacts such as local administrators, public companies or dedicated, well-known NGOs. Better communication on both sides can help. If donors announce a project in a limited area, a community of researchers can tell them how they can help them to do better (mindful of Action 1).
For donors, an association with researchers is intellectually attractive, but the obstacles above have to be concretely addressed. From my personal point of view, investments in the science of scaling (Action 8) must be very practical:
- Conduct a geographical inventory to understand where in the world there are communities of researchers ready to work on scaling and in what domains;
- Explore the different means of communication between donors and researchers;
- Address the contractual obstacles to collaboration; and
- Share success stories to inspire new ones.
My hope is that over the coming months and years, we will see a shift in methodology and the mobilisation of multiple actors (donors, the private sector and others) towards a shared vision for scaling impact. The practical actions within the Call to Action can help us to achieve this.