Exchange Publishes Literature Review on Scaling Social Impact

Cathy Clark, CASE at Duke
Posted: June 14, 2012

As the social sector evolves, one thing that is becoming increasingly clear is the critical role that knowledge plays in helping advance progress towards social solutions. Practitioners struggle with finding the best approaches to scale and accessing capital for scaling. Grantmakers and investors struggle with how to identify the most promising innovations, models, and organizations, and how best to support a multi-sector set of actors throughout the scaling process.

Forums like the Social Impact Exchange conference, which is currently underway in New York, provide a unique opportunity for the various stakeholders engaged in scaling social impact to learn from each other and offer different perspectives to the challenges that we collectively face. One of the main goals of the Exchange is to consistently aggregate and disseminate knowledge on scaling. In addition to the annual conference, the Knowledge Working Group of the Exchange plays a central role in facilitating this knowledge building work for the sector. As the Working Group noted last year, the developing set of materials written about experience relating to scaling impact is varied and rich; and much of the literature over the last 10-20 years has been built up by practitioners actually experimenting to see what works. Funders have been integrally involved in a lot of this experimentation as well, however those resources are not always easy to find.

Recognizing that the knowledge needs to reach beyond the practitioners and that it can provide valuable insights for funders as well, the Exchange has published a new report on resources that are helpful to funders who want to support scale. The report, "Scaling Social Impact: A Literature Toolkit for Funders” aims to highlight some of the most relevant knowledge available to date for funders pursuing grantmaking strategies around scaling impact, and to shine a light on what still needs to be studied and explored.

The report lays out a framework for the evolution of a scaling initiative and directs funders to specific resources that provide guidance for supporting scale at each stage of the process. From collective impact strategies and social impact bonds, to key tools and frameworks and detailed case studies revealing lessons from years of experimentation, there is something in this review for every funder interested in scaling social impact. 

We’re grateful for support from our colleagues at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations(GEO) and their “Scaling What Works” initiative for the opportunity to be part of a research collaborative and conduct this literature review.  GEO will be folding the report into a larger research report later this year, and we’re excited to see what lessons and themes emerge from a diverse collaboration into the issues of scaling impact.

The literature on scaling has come a long way since CASE at Duke University first started tackling this issue 10 years ago. Our report is a compendium of the main findings of that work relevant to funders through May 2012 and is designed in a way to make it easy for funders to quickly scan abstracts of major works and link directly to key pieces, many of which are also available on the Exchange’s online Knowledge Center. 

To learn more about our findings, access links and abstracts for some important works on scaling, or to see what is still missing from the literature, download the full report here. We’re excited to hear from you about how we can continue to build knowledge, and the literature that documents it, together.

Cathy Clark is an Adjunct Associate Professor at CASE at Duke University in the Fuqua School of Business.