SCALE+ | System-wide Collaborative Action for Livelihoods and Environment



SCALE+ offers a process for approaching development challenges from multidisciplinary perspectives and with stakeholders from multiple sectors. It can help project managers design and invest more efficiently in smart, enduring solutions to problems. Its purpose is to bring about broad and sustained collective impact1. Three principles are fundamental to SCALE+.

1. Apply a systems lens

Systems2 are made up of interdependent parts that continuously affect one another; systems are by nature dynamic rather than static. These related two features are common in ecological systems, market systems, social systems, corporations and even the average family. A system may be healthy or unhealthy: it may meet the varying needs of its different members or institutions, or it may exist in a state of dysfunction and harm. To change or transform a system requires more than action at a unilateral level, or even at several discrete points, because the whole functions as a web of mutual relationships.

SCALE+ is based on “systems thinking,”3 which embraces the need to understand how diverse forces and structures influence a complex development issue—so that committed groups can work effectively towards a commonly agreed-on objective.

2. Build social capital

Donor-funded projects are accountable for measuring sector-specific results. SCALE+ also specifies indicators to help evaluate progress toward improved stakeholder relationships and increased social capital. Social capital—or the strength of bonds within each group as well as the bridges to other groups within a defined network—is essential for stimulating collective action within a system and for sustaining that process over time4.

3. Facilitate locally-driven development

Virtually all development projects adhere (on paper) to the principle that local problems require locally-driven solutions. Nevertheless, most are driven by a technical assistance agenda designed and delivered by external experts. Likewise, the majority of development efforts aim to improve systems that often seem intractable. But the usual project model is to enter into formal partnership with a few congenial groups—not with the whole array of sometimes competing institutions and forces. SCALE+ begins with a mapping of the whole system and aims to engage local energy, local resources, local intelligence, and mutual accountability to analyze a problem and take action.

How do you use SCALE+?

SCALE+ consists of five elements. Some occur in sequence and some are supported continuously throughout
a project and beyond:

1. THINK SYSTEM or “apply a systems lense” to reach across sectors to engage as many actors and relationships in a system as possible.

2. MAP THE SYSTEM to define issues, geographies, and vertical and horizontal linkages among stakeholders.

3. INTEGRATE THE SYSTEM with all the stakeholders to build social capital and form stronger networks of people pursuing common goals and technical excellence.

4. TRANSFORM THE SYSTEM with evidence-based, adaptable technical assistance at key leverage points.

5. MEASURE RESULTS from the system continuously throughout the process to assess sector-specific impacts as well as the strength of social networks for improved decision making.

When do you use SCALE+?

Use SCALE+ to start at scale. The greatest challenge for many development efforts is to take the experiences of a pilot project and “scale up.” Instead of starting small, start at scale.

Use SCALE+ to ignite system-driven change; launch new processes of problem analysis; transform relationships; and sustain collective action over time. SCALE+ can be used at any time in a development program but is most effective when started from the beginning.

Where do you use SCALE+?

Use SCALE+ when seeking integrated, multidisciplinary solutions driven by engaged stakeholders. The size of the system you want to transform can be as large as a geographical region encompassing several countries or as small as a rural village.

SCALE+ has been applied in more than 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East within agriculture, health, tourism, education, fisheries, and economic development programs.

Who implements SCALE+?

FHI 360 facilitates the SCALE+ process in diverse contexts and with a myriad local partners, from government to the private sector and civil society including the media to marginalized groups who may be most affected by the dysfunctional effects of a system. These stakeholders are represented in any given “project” by a Cross-Sector Advisory Committee. Local ownership and energy are fundamental to SCALE+. FHI 360 acts as a neutral facilitator to engage the stakeholders in the initial steps of the consensus-based process, provide technical support to fill needs identified in concert with stakeholders, and lead participatory monitoring.


  1. Stanford Social Innovation Review, “… collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.” As defined by FSG, collective Impact “occurs when organizations from different sectors agree to solve a specific social problem using a common agenda, aligning their efforts, and using common measures of success.”
  2. Banathy (1997) defines a system as: a configuration of parts connected and joined together by a web of relationships.
  3. Systems thinking means the ability to see the synergy of the whole rather than just the separate elements of a system and to learn to reinforce or change whole system patterns. Many people have been trained to solve problems by breaking a complex system, such as an organization, into discrete parts and working to make each part perform as well as possible. However, the success of each piece does not add up to the success of the whole. Richard Daft (2008) The Leadership Experience. p. 141.
  4. World Bank: Social Capital and World Bank: Bonding vs. Bridging