‘Journeys to Scale’ Tells of Five Promising Innovations; Offers Wide-Reaching Lessons

October 10, 2016   |   Brazil, Ethiopia, Ghana, Peru, Sudan

Washington, D.C. — October 10, 2016 —  A new joint report by R4D’s Center for Education Innovations (CEI) and UNICEF shares the story of five promising innovations as they attempt to scale and ultimately improve educational outcomes.

Journeys to Scale accompanies programs from Brazil, Ethiopia, Ghana, Peru, and Sudan, as they strive to increase their impact. Drawing from the challenges faced and strategies employed to overcome such hurdles, it lays out clear recommendations for implementers, donors, policymakers and researchers who want to support innovation.

The report comes on the heels of recent research by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, which found that 330 million primary and secondary school students do not achieve even the most basic learning outcomes of literacy and numeracy.

As the world grapples with this learning crisis, it is apparent that maintaining the status quo is not an option. Encouragingly, evidence of teachers, schools, and occasionally whole systems “beating the odds” by producing educational outcomes well beyond reasonable expectations does exist. However, to optimally leverage such innovations, successful practices must be identified, tested, scaled and documented so that others can learn from their experience.

This was the goal of CEI and UNICEF’s “Innovations in Education Initiative” — a comprehensive search and selection of promising ideas and practices in education. A total of 162 innovations were sourced from programs in the CEI database and UNICEF Education experts, with five named as finalists.

These five programs range in both form and function, from community-led school accountability mechanisms to novel pedagogical instructional techniques to play-based learning practices. However, they all hold the potential to complement effective existing practices, displace ineffective ones, and ultimately accelerate improvements in learning.

Documenting their journeys yielded a number of insights, which can be grouped into four categories:

  • Definition of scale: The five innovations challenged ideas about what it means to scale an innovation, highlighting the reality that scaling does not happen in a straightforward manner and that progress is often accompanied by setbacks.
  • Context: The case studies highlight the importance of designing an innovation with deliberate consideration of the environment in which it will reside, especially for technology-based programs. At the same time, the profiled innovations also underscore the truth that resources are finite and that customization comes at a cost.
  • Partnerships: The case studies also speak to the double-edged sword that is a partnership, challenging the sometimes held notion that the more partnerships, the better. Each of the five innovations benefited from collaboration with other partners — yet such alliances come at a cost, including dedicated personnel time to cultivate a shared sense of purpose and an agreed timeline to achieve results.
  • Strategic planning: The five profiled innovations showed mixed evidence of long-term planning. While we don’t know how the innovations’ journeys to scale will end, those that have adopted a long-term view by identifying sustainable sources of financing, adopting strategies to drive down unit costs, planning for scale from day one, and consistently evaluating their impact, appear to be better positioned to achieve long-term sustainability and handle unforeseen challenges.

In light of these findings, 10 priority actions emerge, oriented toward different, but equally important stakeholders who can support the scaling of innovations:

For Implementers:

  • Embed rapid experimentation into the program design and early phases
  • Be conscientious about listening to and designing for the users and beneficiaries
  • Don’t overlook the value of small, symbolic actions in maintaining buy-in

For Funders:

  • Provide flexible, multi-year funding
  • Support peer learning
  • Discuss non-financial contributions with project teams during early planning stages

For Policymakers:

  • Establish clear policy targets to galvanize good practice
  • Invest in rigorous fiscal space analyses before adopting or scaling an innovation

For Researchers:

  • Ensure that research on scaling can be accessed by innovators
  • Review the use of tools for assessing scalability and readiness to scale

Notably, these recommendations are not intended to be a definitive guide for scaling — to do so would fail to recognize the diversity of contexts in which innovations reside. Instead, they are meant to shed light on what it means to scale an innovation and inspire innovators in their own journeys.

Download the Journeys to Scale Executive Summary.

Download the full report., click here.

Read exclusive insights from the report authors.

For more information, contact Mark Roland or Juan Pablo Giraldo Ospino.

About the programs:

  • Palavra de Criança (Brazil): Promoting literacy and learning in rural Brazil with a comprehensive (six-pillared) approach that includes parental engagement, differentiated teaching and more.
  • Accelerated School Readiness (Ethiopia): Promoting primary readiness in Ethiopia with an accelerated program that focuses on pre-literacy, pre-numeracy and social skills for children who have not attended preschool and are about to enter grade one.
  • Lively Minds (Ghana): Improving early childhood development in rural Ghana by offering volunteer-led, play-based activities in Kindergarten classrooms to supplement the official curriculum.
  • EduTrac (Peru): Engaging local communities (using SMS messages) in the monitoring student and teacher attendance (as well as other indicators) to improve accountability for marginalized populations in rural Peru.
  • Can’t Wait to Learn (Sudan): Offering tablet-based, self-directed learning for out-of-school children in conflict-affected areas and children of nomadic families.

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