< Back to all Learnings

Be a humble system player: don’t assume you have a solution that merits replication.

Be a humble system player: don’t assume you have a solution that merits replication.

The increased interest in child and youth mental health and wellbeing has spurred a proliferation of programs intended for schools. One of our observations during WellAhead’s research and design phase was the sheer number of initiatives in this space, and the limited collaboration and alignment between them. As a Foundation, we would often receive proposals from programs and initiatives presenting themselves as “the solution” to student wellbeing. In these applicants’ minds, all they needed was funding to disseminate their approach across all schools.

This replication model is the dominant approach to scaling, particularly in the education field. Referred to as scaling “out”, it assumes that increased impact comes from having more schools or educators adopt your work. While scaling out can serve to spread a useful and effective approach, it is not the only way to achieve impact. In fact, it can have the unintended negative consequence of increasing fragmentation: if everyone is focused on disseminating their own model, there can be little incentive to work with others.

Though we aimed to work a different way, there were definitely moments where we found ourselves falling into this same pattern. We had put so much effort into designing and delivering the social innovation lab-inspired process, that it seemed to be a waste not to find a way to offer it to more districts. Eventually, we began to think more broadly about ways we could increase our impact on the field, such as sharing key elements from our process with other initiatives working with schools, finding ways to collaborate with and work alongside other stakeholders, or mobilizing the knowledge from our learnings to influence policy change. These other types of scaling – scaling up and scaling deep – forced us to think beyond replication to consider how to infuse our work into mainstream.

Riddell, D., Moore, M. (2015) Scaling Out, Scaling Up, Scaling Deep: Advancing Systemic Social Innovation and the Learning Processes to Support it. The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.