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Making it Big: Strategies for scaling social innovations

Author: Madeleine Gabriel at Nesta
Published Date: 15 July 2014

This Nesta report Making it Big: Strategies for Scaling Social Innovations aims to help social innovators consider the best options for scaling up their innovations.

Key findings:

  • Scaling isn’t for everyone.
  • Not all innovations are scalable, and scaling brings risks. But where social innovations have potential to benefit more people, we think innovators should at least consider whether and how their innovation can grow.
  • Social innovators have choices about routes to scale. Scaling is not just about growing organisations. It’s about growing a social innovation’s impact to match the level of need.
  • They've identified four routes that social innovators can take in order to scale up innovations, each based on a different style of working and different types of relationships with other organisations and individuals who’ll be fundamental to scaling.
  • In order to scale up, social innovators need to generate effective supply and demand, and be clear on what’s fixed and what’s flexible in their model, goals and aims.
  • Though rewarding, scaling up is likely to mean working in a different way. It requires distinct skills and competencies and forces organisations to change their cultures in ways that can at first be uncomfortable. 


Social innovations can be said to have scaled when their impact grows to match the level of need. This report lifts up the bonnet on some of the challenges and rewards social innovators face when considering scaling up, and argue that they should consider developing more deliberate scaling strategies.

Building on Nesta’s 2007 publication, In and Out of Sync, they suggest beyond staying small, there’s a strong case for scaling up where social innovations have potential to benefit a lot of people.

Taking on the perspective of social innovators, they chart the experiences of a number of social innovators’ routes to scale and look at the practical considerations they face in doing so. Rather than promoting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ scaling strategy, these scaling stories illustrate the importance of ‘identifying the core’ of a social innovation – allowing for the uniqueness and integrity of an innovation to be reflected in its pathway to making it big.

They'd like to test and develop these ideas with social innovators to learn more about what how scaling routes work in practice and would welcome feedback to develop and improve the framework over time.