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Scaling EdTech for literacy: perspectives from researchers, funders, and implementers

Thu, April 18, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hyatt Regency, Street (Level 0), Regency B

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Begun in 2011, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) launched a series of competitions that leverage science and technology to source, test, and disseminate scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade learners in developing countries. For its second round of funding, ACR GCD provided grants to 12 innovators to test technology-based pilot projects and funded an external research organization to evaluate the effectiveness of projects in reaching their intended student learning outcomes. Additionally, ACR GCD partners wanted to understand the potential for scale-up of the grantee projects and tasked the external research organization with operationalizing the concept of scalability into their research design.

Scale-up, which can be defined as to expand, replicate, adapt, and sustain a successful project in a new geographic area and to reach more beneficiaries over time (Cooley and Linn 2014, 2), and scalability is often referenced as a key indicator for projects. Nevertheless, the qualities that make a project suitable for scale-up and the specific pathways for scale-up are less concrete. This is particularly problematic when considering that scaled, impactful projects are critical for sustainable educational improvements. One author notes, “a key constraint that needs to be overcome is that development interventions—projects, programs, policies—are all too often like small pebbles thrown into a big pond: they are limited in scale, short-lived, and therefore without lasting impact” (Hartmann and Linn 2008, 2). Determining whether a project should scale up can be measured in a variety of different ways, and many cross-sectoral frameworks and assessment tools exist to determine viability of scale-up and sustainability (see Cooley et al. 2012; Anandajayasekeram 2016; Kohl and Foy 2018). In addition to the complexity surrounding measurement of scalability, the paths to scale may also be hard to define. Hartmann and Linn (2008) describe three different organizational paths to scale – 1.) expansion, which includes scaling up a pilot within the organization that developed it; 2.) replication, which refers to scaling up by different organizations than the one that developed the pilot; and 3.) spontaneous diffusion, in which the spread of good ideas or practices occurs organically rather than through defined pathways. Others describe collaboration, in which the organization that originated an idea continues to play a partial, but functional, role as an intervention scales; vertical scaling up, in which a formal government adopts and institutionalizes an intervention; and functional scaling up, which describes the continued testing and addition of components as an intervention is scaled (Cooley et al. 2012, 9; Anandajayasekeram 2016, 13). What is evident, however, is that scalability – and sustainability of scale – should be considered from the outset of project design.

This panel will provide a deep-dive into the concept of scalability, the measurement of scalability, and pathways to scale – from researcher, funder, and implementer perspectives. The first panel presentation will discuss how a framework for measuring scalability for the ACR GCD pilot projects was developed, how data was collected and analyzed, and learnings from the process of operationalizing scalability into research design. The second panel presentation will discuss, from a funder perspective, the holistic scalability learnings across and within projects. The second panelist will also discuss challenges and recommendations and for other funders and decision-makers who are considering making scalability a criterion on which funding decisions are made. The third panel will discuss experiences from the implementer perspective related to how scalability was considered in the initial project design, how scalability assessment results informed their understanding of the efficacy of their project, and the specific pathways to scale pursued after and as a result of their scalability assessment. Overall, this panel will seek to provide researchers, funders, and practitioners with useful information on how they can operationalize the concept of scalability into their requests for proposals, assessment design, and project models. It will also propose to broaden the conversation around what we should consider when selecting and assessing pilot projects to best ensure that efficacy, scalability, and sustainability are all integrated into a project’s design.

Anandajayasekeram, Ponniah. 2016. Scaling Up and Scalability: Concepts, Frameworks, and Assessment. Pretoria: Vuna.

Cooley, Larry and Johannes F. Linn. 2014. Taking Innovations to Scale: Methods, Applications and Lessons. Washington: Results for Development.

Cooley. Larry, Rajani Ved, and Kate Fehlenberg. 2012. Scaling Up – From Vision to Large-Scale Change. Washington: Management Systems International.

Hartmann, Arntraud and Johannes F. Linn. 2008. Scaling Up: A Framework and Lessons for Development Effectiveness from Literature and Practice. Washington: Brookings Institution

Kohl, Dr. Richard and Colm Foy. 2018. Guide to the Agricultural Scalability Assessment Tool. Washington: United States Agency for International Development.

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