Scaling-up, for societal impact

In a previous post I wrote about my ambition to help to (better) focus innovation projects on promoting people’s wellbeing. In two earlier posts I advocated focusing on promoting wellbeing, and organizing collaborative innovation. Below I will advocate scaling-up innovation projects’ results.

First, let’s clarify what I mean with ‘scaling-up’.

Innovation projects typically deliver a prototype of a new product or service. Preferably a prototype implemented and tested in a realistic setting, e.g., in collaboration with a launching customer and with a group of users. In the case of an e-health service, this could involve a hospital department, and a group of doctors, nurses and patients, and their family members. A trial with such a prototype can impact the lives of, e.g., 100 patients during a period of several months.

In order to have significant impact in society, however, the project’s results need to be scaled-up. This would involve scaling-up the technology, e.g., by using larger servers or more robust protocols, scaling-up the number of users, e.g., by involving other hospital departments or other hospitals, and scaling-up the business model, e.g., by getting parties committed to deploying the new service in a sustainable way. The last point the trickiest.

Many projects were successful in delivering an interesting prototype. But one year later, nothing remained of that. When the project’s budget is spent, the project collapses. That should worry us. Especially when the project was (partly) funded with tax-payers’ money. Noblesse oblige. Researchers, policy makers, developers and designers should put more effort and creativity in scaling-up.

Now, how can this scaling-up be done, practically?

I think there are three key success factors for scaling-up: involving all relevant partners; focusing on practical situations; and covering social, organizational and business issues.

All the parties that will be needed for successful implementation and deployment of the project’s results (e.g., an e-health service) need to be involved during the development. Otherwise there will be a ‘not invented here’ syndrome: organizations that were not involved in the project will be unwilling or unable to do anything with the project’s results.

Second, the project would need to be based on a practical understanding of the problem. Therefore, project team members need to spend a significant amount of their time in practical situations, with future customers, with potential users. Such investments do pay-off, in terms of a better understanding of the problem and of possible solutions.

Third, the project should not only cover technological issues, but also social issues, e.g., the innovation’s impact in people’s daily lives, organizational issues, e.g., the integration with current processes or systems, and economic issues, e.g., fair ways of dividing costs (e.g., development) and benefits (e.g., reducing costs) between the partners involved.

In the case of a mobile app that promotes healthy life styles, e.g., it would be useful to create a ‘societal business model’, which includes not only financial costs and benefits, but also societal costs and benefits, such as reducing health care costs, and improved wellbeing and participation in society. Clarification of these societal benefits can help to motivate a (local) government or health insurance provider to participate in the project.

Do you know any examples of involving relevant partners, of focusing on practical situations, or of addressing social, organizational or business issues? What can we learn from those examples?


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