Scaling Sustainability and Social Economy Innovations

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= "We have collected a range of analytical and descriptive understandings of how ideas and practices get scaled".


Mike Gismondi et al.:

"Meeting sustainability challenges requires proven innovations to be systematically advanced. We cannot expect innovations to spread on their own as there are a lot of factors to consider; political landscapes, socio-technical regimes, cultural narratives, and patterns of lifestyles, to name a few. The diffusion and scaling of proven innovations must be actively sought out.

Conventionally, scaling is a deeply mechanical, profit driven, and typically centralized concept that reflects 20th century Fordism (i.e. standardization). Within BALTA, we have broken down conventional industrial notions of scaling to better reflect the characteristics of the social economy with the aim to build a heuristic for the discussion of this central feature within our project. When we talk about scaling, we discuss it in light of our ultimate interest in how the social economy contributes to sustainability transitions to a steady state economy and how we can scale or diffuse the essence of already proven innovations to make these transitions. It is not a question of how to replicate innovation models, but how to translate these innovation concepts to new contexts that involves some sort of adaptation or reinvention of the innovation.

Unlike the private sector which controls knowledge of its innovation through copyright and legal patents, knowledge in the social economy is open and shared and these characteristics must be reinforced when deciding on specific strategies for increasing scale of impact. Traditionally scaling out meant increasing organizational size, however, Waitzer and Paul (2011) argue a new paradigm has emerged that focuses on scaling social impact via some sort of collaboration and the use of networks without necessarily increasing size of the organization behind it. The scaling lens is shifting “from enterprise to ecosystem” (Elkington and Hartigan, 2008) to create mission focused ecosystems (a similar distinction can be found in the NGO literature (Uvin et al., 2000)). This shift is occurring because the social economy is in a central position to share information that the private economy cannot. As we can see, the characteristics of the social economy imply a more organic approach to reaching scale over more mechanical Fordist notions that have been more prevalent in the past.


"In BALTA we have identified four ways of understanding the process of spreading knowledge. These are: scaling up, out, down and deep. When discussing scaling up, it typically refers to increasing the reach and impact of the particular innovation but still working from the existing context. It presumes an innovation has already rooted and proved itself and now must institutionalize and overcome overarching pressures at the regime level, i.e. the locus of established practices and associated rules that stabilize existing systems. For instance, creating a system for the mobilization and structuring of financing focused on expanding the application of the CLT model in a particular jurisdiction (county, province etc.). Second, there is scaling out, which refers to the process of spreading or diffusing a particular innovation. It entails the engagement of new collaborators and stakeholders to introduce and establish the innovation on the ground in the new setting, i.e. the CLT innovation travelling from the US to the UK, a process described in the Resilience Imperative book and then brought back to Vancouver and being introduced/explored in Prince George and Victoria. Third, there is the more straightforward concept of scaling down, which is to decrease the extent of unsustainable practices, i.e. Carbon descent policy incentives.

Finally, there is scaling deep, which means dedicating time and resources to improve the effectiveness of the innovation to address changes in structures and systems. Scaling deep recognizes social structures and cultural meaning, their influence on blocking or enabling change and how various elements in a structure must be engaged in order to alter or transform the ways in which deeper systems drive unsustainable practices. These elements include power and material resources, formal laws and codes and rules, but also what sociologists describe as the informal rules of social life such as customary ways of doing things; meanings and metaphors or narratives that legitimate current practice and conventions. Change involves engaging the cultural schemas that infuse or underpin unsustainable structures or practices. This entails the recognition of innovation as a process, not specifically an outcome. An example of scaling deep is Climate Smart’s (Appendix 2, p. 25) enhancement of the carbon accounting process through the creation of their user friendly online software. This development was co-constructed with the partners, put control of measurement of change into hands of the individual firm, and identified other elements of work process they wished to value and preserve or change, which secured the sustainability and resilience of the Climate Smart mission in the individual business. As a result, this “scaling deep” played a role in diffusion of the new ways of energy provision and managing greenhouse gases."


  • Report: BALTA SIS Project. Conceptual framework and lenses. Mike Gismondi et al. Balta, 2013