To achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs), we need a concerted push to scale

In their recent opinion piece, Shameran Abed and Esther Duflo argue that “[e]xtreme poverty cannot be eradicated by relying on piecemeal development programming limited to the particular whims of different donors. Real progress on the 2030 Agenda requires a massive, concerted push to scale solutions that work.” We could not agree more. But policymakers and development practitioners require more specific guidance to on how such a “concerted push to scale” would work. We have some pragmatic suggestions.

We need a practical approach to achieve sustainable impact at scale

In a recent policy brief published by the Dag Hammarsköld Foundation and the United Nations, we note that so far, the common approach to achieving the SDGs has been to track progress on a global and country-by-country basis and to argue for policy change, for more investment, and more innovation. These are important elements of a strategy to achieve the SDGs, but what has been missing is to design, fund, and implement investment programs in a way that systematically and effectively supports the achievement of the SDGs.

Based on the experience with development programs that have successfully scaled and those that failed to scale, as distilled in the scaling principles of the international Scaling Community of Practice, we recommend that all projects and programs be designed and implemented to meet six key criteria:

  1. They define the development problem and long-term vision of scale to be attained and link it to the appropriate SDG target(s).
  2.  They explore the role of an intervention by assessing how it will address the problem support a scaling pathway, and consider alternative solutions.
  3.  They assess the intervention’s scalability in light of the enabling conditions for scaling, such as political support, policy reform, and available resources.
  4. They develop partnerships to support the achievement of scale by assuring the necessary technical and institutional capacity, funding, and political buy-in, as well as facilitating hand-off at the project end.
  5. They pay attention to sequencing, including proper piloting, continuity, and effective transitions, combining replication with policy/institutional reform, and adopting the appropriate sequencing of financing instruments.
  6. They monitor and evaluate progress along the scaling pathway and adapt as needed, ensuring a smooth transition from one project to the next and maintaining scaled-up impact.

Read the full article about advancing the SDGs by Erik Engberg and Johannes F. Linn at Brookings.