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Ensuring that Good Programs Make a Strong Impact (Part 1 of 3)

(Part 1 of a three-part blog entry)

Getting to scale is a major goal of most initiatives both at JFF and across the country, but most of us still struggle with figuring out how to scale up what works and create real, sustainable, high-impact change. At the Achieving the Dream State Policy Meeting in Seattle, Washington on February 1st, Barbara Endel of JFF and Israel Mendoza, former State ABE Director in Washington, led a roundtable discussion on this topic, drawing on both theory and practice (in particular, how Washington has scaled up its Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST model). The conversation yielded a number of useful ways to think about how one can plan for scale, manage change, and build ownership.

Here’s a list of key considerations we came up with for planning for scale. (Later this week, we’ll share tips for managing change and building ownership.)

Planning for scale:

  • Start planning for scale as early as possible. Even with small pilots, you should have a theory of how you can get to scale.
  • Get a critical mass of colleges (or instructors) engaged from the start so that everyone can see how they might fit into the initiative.
  • Define the goals and underlying principles of your initiative. The underlying principles can be big themes, like poverty reduction, or closing the opportunity gap—this provides everyone involved a common sense of purpose.
  • Collect baseline data and use it to define the problem, evaluate your proposed solutions, and make the case for action.
  • Use data from pilots to identify the core program elements that are essential for success, and then require that all programs include these core elements. You can then allow colleges the autonomy to adapt the model to local conditions as long as they stick with the core.
  • Manage expectations. There will be a learning phase with any initiative—you won’t have all the answers right away.

Do you agree with these ideas? What strategies have you used to plan for scale?