What’s Next for SCALERS?

This piece was originally published on the blog Accelerating Achievement and is bring reprinted with permission. Accelerating Achievement features news and research from the Developmental Education Initiative, an effort by MDC, a nonprofit in Chapel Hill, N.C., to scale up effective remedial education practices at community colleges and states that were early participants in Achieving the Dream, a national community college reform effort. DEI is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation.

Guest Post: What’s Next for SCALERS?

Today’s post comes from Paul Bloom, Faculty Director and Adjunct Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and Marketing with the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Paul is also the creator of the SCALERS model. (Thanks, Paul!) Below, he shares the genesis of the model and his ideas for the next iteration of the work.

The idea of developing a model like SCALERS came to me a few years ago while reading the best-selling book, Made to Stick, written by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath. Among other things, they point out that acronyms can help ideas catch on and be remembered. I thought of my home discipline of marketing, a subject I taught for years and years, and how it has used the device of the “4P’s” (Product, Price, Place, and Promotion) to help students remember the essence of marketing. It occurred to me that the emerging field of social entrepreneurship needed a similar hook to help students and practitioners understand what it was all about.

As a newcomer to social entrepreneurship, I was struck by how possessed everyone was with the concept of “scaling.” Indeed, I have come to believe that more than anything else, what distinguishes social entrepreneurs from more conventional leaders of social-purpose organizations is the former groups’ obsession with scaling social impact. These folks want to change the world, not just run a sustainable and effective do-gooder organization. So whatever acronym or words I generated to help the field “stick” had to relate to the concept of scaling.

Fortunately, the letters of the acronym SCALERS suited what I was detecting from my own research and the research of others as the organizational capabilities that were the key drivers of successful scaling (i.e., Staffing, Communicating, Alliance-Building, Lobbying, Earnings-Generation, Replicating, and Stimulating Market Forces). I had to make some compromises – the word “Staffing” does not completely cover the range of human resource management capabilities that are needed for scaling, and “Lobbying” is just a portion of “Advocacy” (but the letter “A” was taken already). Nevertheless, I am very pleased by all the positive feedback and attention my original writing on the model has received (see Bloom and Chatterji, California Management Review, 2009 and Bloom and Smith, Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 2010).

Still, my thinking about scaling is evolving and there are aspects of the SCALERS model that I have modified since the earlier articles were published. I am currently putting the finishing touches on a short book that will introduce these modifications and also try to explain the model to a wider audience. As much as anything, the modified model stresses that what makes one capability or driver important in one specific situation may not be the case in other situations. The importance of any particular SCALER will depend on the resources the organization possesses as it starts its scaling and the theory of change on which the organization is building its initiatives. For example, if the organization is poorly endowed with certain types of human or financial resources, then the importance of building capabilities to improve those resources (i.e., Staffing, Earnings-Generation) should become even more important for scaling success. And if the organization is theorizing that desired social impacts will occur if it informs more people about a problem or if new regulations are introduced, then the importance of building capabilities in Communicating or Lobbying will become paramount. Conducting an honest assessment of your organization’s unique situation is necessary for getting the most out of the SCALERS model.