By David P. M. Lam
How can the impact of sustainability and other initiatives be scaled or amplified to achieve transformative change?
There are hundreds of promising sustainability initiatives emerging around the world. A sustainability initiative is, for example, a local food initiative from citizens and farmers who promote healthy and organic food production and consumption. Another example is the installation of solar panels by a community to support the use of renewable energies. Such initiatives provide potential solutions for urgent sustainability problems, for instance, biodiversity loss, climate change, social injustice, and poverty in rural areas or cities.
This blog post is based on a review of the literature to understand how sustainability transformations research is currently conceptualizing the scaling or amplifying of impact from initiatives. Although our focus was on sustainability, the processes are likely to also be pertinent for other initiatives.
We synthesized eight processes that describe how initiatives can purposively amplify their impact: stabilizing, speeding up, growing, replicating, transferring, spreading, scaling up, and scaling deep.
- Stabilizing involves strengthening and more deeply embedding initiatives in their context, making them more resilient to up-coming challenges and ensuring that they last longer. This means that initiatives employ actions that capitalize on existing opportunities, increase the number of members, supporters, or users, and also professionalize their practice to ensure a lean procedure and clear communication of purpose and mission.
- Speeding up involves increasing the pace by which initiatives create impact or are brought to fruition. The aim is that initiatives create change faster, for example, by increasing the efficiency of organisational or implementation procedures to have more impact over time.
- Growing entails the expansion of the impact range. Here, an initiative works in the same way across a geographical location, organization, or sector. As a result of a growing process, an initiative covers more of its potential impact range by reaching out with its program, product, solution or service, or by opening affiliates which are dependent on the existing initiative.
- Replicating involves the copying of an initiative to a dissimilar context.
- Transferring involves taking an initiative and implementing a similar but independent one in a different place, adapted to the new but similar local context. In comparison to the growing process, a similar but independent initiative emerges.
- Spreading involves disseminating core principles and approaches to other places with a dissimilar context. In comparison to replicating, a similar but independent initiative emerges, that is informed by principles or approaches from an existing initiative.
- Scaling up aims to impact higher institutional levels by changing the rules or logics of incumbent regimes. This means codifying the impact of initiatives into law, policy, or institutions by, for instance, advocacy, lobbying, networking, or supporting alternative visions and discourses.
- Scaling deep addresses the change of values and mind-sets. This process aims to change people’s values, norms, and beliefs through the work of the initiative by fostering new mind-sets, changing perceptions, and introducing new ways of relating and knowing as well as new value systems.
To reduce the complexity of amplification processes, we aggregated the eight processes in three categories based on their underlying rationale:
- Amplifying within consists of processes that generally seek to increase the impact of one specific initiative.
- Amplifying out consists of processes that generally seek to increase the impact of initiatives by involving more people and places through a greater impact range and an increased number of initiatives.
- Amplifying beyond consists of processes that are different from the other categories in that they suggest a reconsideration of how initiatives create impact.
A typology combining the three categories and eight processes is illustrated in the figure below.
We hope that our typology of amplification processes will inform and encourage:
- researchers to study and support sustainability initiatives (eg., in transdisciplinary research settings),
- practitioners to use different strategies to increase their impact; and,
- policy makers to create laws that support the increase of impact.
What is your experience in increasing the impact of sustainability and other initiatives? How successful were these initiatives? What supported and hindered them?
To find out more:
Lam, D. P. M., Martín-López, B., Wiek, A., Bennett, E. M., Frantzeskaki, N., Horcea-Milcu, A. I. and Lang. D. J. (2020). Scaling the impact of sustainability initiatives: A typology of amplification processes. Urban Transformations, 2: 3 (Online – open access) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1186/s42854-020-00007-9
Biography: David P. M. Lam is the Scientific Director of the research project “tdAcademy – Platform for Transdisciplinary Research and Studies”. He works at the Institute for Sustainable Development and Learning at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany. His research focuses on (1) amplification processes to scale the impact of local initiatives that foster sustainability transformations, and (2) the role of different knowledge systems in transformative transdisciplinary research, such as the ones pertaining to indigenous peoples and local communities.