Replicating social impact: Think big!

Projects that do good are worth spreading – and scaling. Imagine, after your return, inspired by your successful sea voyage, you think about how you can make still more passengers happy. Maybe you want to offer even more trips, to still more remote destinations. Or you might think of expanding the fleet and adding crew members, and thus start searching for new funding sources.

You may be in an analogous position with your project. For example, if you’ve determined through your impact analysis that your project is having a positive effect, replicating it – a so-called scaling – in other regions could also contribute to reaching more people and achieving still greater impact.

By sharing your project and its experiences with third parties, you can make a significant contribution to strengthening the non-profit sector! Today you invest – tomorrow you may benefit when others share their knowledge with you.

Two strong reasons to replicate effective projects:

  • You conserve resources: Continually redeveloping the same solution for the same problem costs resources that would be more beneficially invested elsewhere. By borrowing proven approaches, all parties avoid detours and save on project-development costs.
  • Together, you can achieve more: Implementing flagship projects at multiple locations, particularly in conjunction with partners, produces significant synergies and learning effects. In this way, the project becomes qualitatively more successful. And highly effective, adaptable projects are exactly what civil society needs!

If you’re contemplating project replication, you should first consider the following questions:

  • Demand: Is there a need for the project at other locations, as well as the willingness to invest money and time in the project?
  • Conviction and willingness: Are you yourself willing, and do you have the necessary experience, to transfer your project? Does your organization have sufficient human and financial resources for a transfer?
  • Successful model: Are you familiar with the most important factors driving the project’s success? Is your project concept simple and standardized enough that it can be realized by other people and in other regions? Can you convincingly (!) demonstrate the project’s efficacy and success?

The last question relates to the fact that every successful project is by no means suitable for replication. To determine whether and to what degree your project is ready to scale, you have to make use of your project’s logic model and consult your impact-analysis findings.

  • What problem do you want to solve?
  • How are you solving the problem with reference to the specific target group? What criteria are most important in achieving results within a certain target subgroup?
  • How can you demonstrate that the project would also be successful and effective elsewhere?
  • What are critical (location-related) success factors? What quality criteria must be in place in order to scale the project as effectively as possible?

Only when you’ve found credible answers to these questions will it be worthwhile to think about scaling up. Please note: Without a logic model, there can be no project transfer!


Brief digression: Collective impact

When people from several projects work together, something very valuable can be produced, for the participating partners as well as for the target groups and society as a whole. A requirement here is that the organizations act collectively – thus, not simply engaging in a minimum of cooperation, but working together with other actors to pro-actively remedy a social problem through a systematic approach that, where appropriate, reaches across sectors.

The collective-impact approach originates from the United States. It stems from the idea that complex societal tasks can be managed only if all system-relevant actors from the political, economic and civil society spheres work together.

The concept is based on actors from various areas creating networks and committing themselves to common goals in order to multiply impact by working together.

In other countries, too, there are today many successful local-level projects in which different actors act in concert, for example in the area of refugee assistance.


Replication methods

If the point is to reach as many people as possible with your project, a number of different paths can lead you to your goal. You can create a handbook and make it freely available on the internet, you can share the project with partners using cooperation agreements, or you can transfer it to other regions yourself.

The following questions will help you determine which strategy is right for you:

  • Are you willing to share your approach with others, and thus necessarily share control? Or is it important for you to retain full control over the project approach and its implementation?

  • How much time and money can you invest? Every project transfer has its costs: Handbooks must be written, new partners found and agreements negotiated. Even if the transfer costs can’t be calculated in euros and cents in advance, the question of how much funding you can make available for the project transfer may guide your decision.
  • Standards

    Conditions in other regions will probably differ from those at your original location. Consider carefully which quality standards are essential, and which are not.

    In general, the simpler and more standardized a project is, the more suitable it is for replication.

With the answers to these two questions, you can choose the appropriate replication strategy using the following matrix:

How to transfer a project with view on the dimensions

Note on terminology: “Knowledge transfer” and “cooperation through agreements” refer to the transfer of the project to others. By contrast, “capacity increase” and “strategic expansion” relate to replication by the originating organization.

We look here at the advantages and disadvantages of the individual methods in detail:

  • Knowledge transfer

    If you replicate your project through knowledge transfer, this means you make your project concept freely available to other organizations. These then independently implement the concept in similar form at their own locations, while you provide implementation advice only if necessary.

    This form of scaling is quite widespread in the non-profit sector. It is inexpensive, while enabling swift replication and an optimal ability to adapt the concept to local conditions. However, it offers the original project initiators little opportunity for control.

  • Cooperation through agreements

    You can also transfer your project by means of cooperation agreements. There are four types of agreements: Transfer within an organized network, license agreements, social franchise agreements and joint-venture agreements.

    The agreements govern rights and obligations for each party, including details on the provision of resources and know-how by the organization transferring the project, reporting obligations, licensing costs and quality standards for the party implementing the project.

    When cooperating on the basis of an agreement, the organization transferring the project can retain a stronger role in shaping the activities. However, the cooperation also demands standardized processes that are often costly and leave less room for adapting to local conditions.

  • Increasing capacities within a region

    Replicating a project doesn’t necessarily mean you have to transfer your approach to others. Maybe you want to increase the effectiveness of your project in a region where you’re already active, without also considering extra-regional replication.

    Many projects do just this: grow regionally – thus initially at one location – and optimize existing processes and structures so that more people can be reached with the same quantity of resources. If this works, it can serve as a prelude to expanding outside the region in a controlled manner. This approach offers a high degree of control, and retains the ability to shape the course of activities.

  • Strategic expansion

    In order to reach more people in other regions, you can also open branch offices of your organization at other locations.

    A strategic expansion of a project can also mean that you broaden your activities to include other target groups, or create additional offerings.

Regardless of which replication method you choose, one thing is essential: the attitude with which you go about it.



Scaling – a question of attitude

Replicating projects often also means having to be open, having to compromise with other actors, and not putting your own interests above the interests over others.

For example, a cooperative venture requires collaborative work oriented toward mutual benefit, keeping your own interest as well as that of the partner organization in mind – thus, each party’s wishes are taken appropriately into account without losing sight of the overall project objectives or critical quality standards.

Naturally, this is a balancing act that requires both high-quality project management and abundant diplomatic skill. However, it is equally true that successful cooperation contributes significantly to the reputation of all participating parties. Organizations that join with others in tackling complex projects raise their profile and make themselves appealing to potential funders.


  • Using a handbook to scale

    Word of YEA’s success is spreading, in part because successful solutions for tackling youth unemployment are also needed elsewhere. YEA is receiving more and more requests for cooperation.

    Together with the executive board, the project managers consider how to handle these requests. On the one hand, YEA should be offered independently in as many regions is possible. On the other, it is important to the executive board to secure the level of quality.

    Due to a lack of time and money, the board decides to write a detailed handbook that will help to disseminate the relevant knowledge. The results from the impact analysis are particularly helpful here, as the most important experiences and quality aspects are documented here.

    As a result, the YEA project is now offered by other organizations and at other locations. Once a year, all “franchise” partners meet with the YEA team to talk about their experiences. The knowledge is further documented and made available to all interested parties.