The Scaling Community of Practice (CoP) launched an action research initiative on mainstreaming scaling in funder organizations in January 2023. This initiative has three purposes: to inform the CoP members and the wider development community of the current state of support for and operationalization of scaling in a broad range of development funding agencies; to draw lessons for future efforts to mainstream the scaling agenda in the development funding community; and to promote more effective funder support for scaling by stakeholders in developing countries. (For further details about the Mainstreaming Initiative, see the Concept Note on the COP website). 

The Mainstreaming Initiative is jointly supported by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the Scaling Community of Practice (CoP). The study team consists of Richard Kohl (Lead Consultant and Project Co-Leader), Johannes Linn (Co-Chair of the Scaling CoP and Project Co-Leader), Larry Cooley (Co-Chair of the Scaling CoP), and Ezgi Yilmaz (Junior Consultant). MSI staff provide administrative and communications support, in particular Leah Sly and Gaby Montalvo.

The principal component of this research is a set of case studies of the efforts to mainstream scaling by selected funder organizations. These studies explore the extent and manner in which scaling has been mainstreamed, and the major drivers and obstacles. The case studies also aim to derive lessons to be learned from each donor’s experience, and, where they exist, their plans and/or recommendations for further strengthening the scaling focus. 

The present case study focuses on the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF). It was prepared by Johannes F. Linn, Co-Chair of the Scaling Community of Practice and SOFF Global Facilitator. The preparation of this case study was not financially supported by SOFF.



The cooperation of Markus Repnik, Lorena Santamaria, Michael Staudinger and Laura Tuck in sharing their insights on the origins and early stages of preparation of SOFF is gratefully acknowledged. They, as well as Mario Peiro Espi, also commented  on a draft of this paper. The author is solely responsible for the content of the paper.


Executive Summary

The Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) started operations in July 2022. It finances improved collection and sharing of the surface-based weather and climate observations in developing countries. These observations are critical for weather and climate analysis and prediction by the global weather centers, which in turn provides the foundation for regional and national weather and climate prediction. Accurate weather and climate prediction are essential for early warnings of natural disasters and have substantial benefits for agriculture, energy, transport, etc. Hence, global collection and sharing of weather data represents an important global public good.

Currently there are major gaps in global weather observations, especially in the developing countries. Investments in closing these gaps are estimated to have a 25:1 benefit-cost ratio. The members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) agreed in 2019 to establish a universal minimum standard of basic surface-based weather and climate observations – the Global Basic Observations Network (GBON). It came into force in January 2023. However, many developing countries, especially the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and many Lower Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), do not have the financial resources or technical capacity to deliver the observations that they are now committed to share. As of June 2023, these 109 countries generate and internationally exchange only 7 percent of the mandated GBON land surface data. Past efforts of international donors to provide financing for improved observation infrastructure was fragmented, one-off and unsustainable.

SOFF was established by WMO, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United National Environmental Program (UNEP) to provide financing and technical assistance to the developing countries’ national meteorological offices so that they can meet their GBON commitments, initially principally to SIDS and LDCs. SOFF is a “vertical fund”, which focuses narrowly on closing the GBON gap. At the same time, it is designed to cooperate closely with a great number of partners to ensure effective delivery of investment and advisory services and the effective utilization of observations in the provision of weather and climate-related services (for early warning, agriculture, energy, transport, etc.).

This case study explores whether the preparation of SOFF mainstreamed scaling into the design of this vertical fund, by assessing whether and how SOFF meets the eight scaling principles established by the Scaling Community of Practice.  This study finds that SOFF has a clear vision of scale; a well-designed scalable intervention that supports sustainable impact at scale; an array of critical actors coordinated by SOFF acting as an intermediary; a clear strategy for implementing the scaling pathway recognizing systemic constraints and opportunities; appropriate implementation modalities, including technical assistance, incentives and outreach, to create capacity demand and incentives; and an effective approach to monitoring results and evaluating design and implementation. The analysis concludes that SOFF mainstreamed scaling fully into its design, even though it was not prepared on the basis of an explicit scaling approach. 

The review finds that SOFF was designed to:

  1. contribute to the larger system of the global weather observations and prediction system and linked to a global standard (GBON);
  2. connect with a large number of essential partners and serving as an intermediary to coordinate the provision of finance, technical advice and linkage with downstream weather and climate services;
  3. combined funding with technical assistance at country level for the analysis of observations gaps, for investment in improved observation capacity, and for sustained operations and maintenance indefinitely beyond the investment phase, all with a sense of urgency while containing costs;
  4. monitor results by tracking the actual delivery of observational data by the weather stations and by evaluating the design and delivery of SOFF on an intermittent basis to allow for adjustments in the SOFF design as needed;
  5. raise the financial resources needed to finance SOFF activities on a sustained basis and intensively communicate with recipients, partners and other stakeholders to ensure demand and support; and
  6. allow scaling of SOFF beyond its initial principal focus on SIDS and LDCs to also support middle-income countries (MICs) and eventually also expand into other observation domains, including ocean observations, hydrological observations, and cryosphere observations.

The case study draws lessons from the preparation process for SOFF, which is relevant for the preparation of future new funds and for mainstreaming processes in existing funds, including the importance of 

  1. leaders and champions in the preparation and mainstreaming process;
  2. a convincing narrative of the value added of the scaling initiative;
  3. an effective organizational platform for the preparation of the new scaling initiative;
  4. clear terms of reference and processes and procedures for implementation; and
  5. wide and inclusive consultation and outreach to test and promote the initiative.

SOFF is a new facility. Only time will tell how effectively its scaling design will work in practice. This case study notes that there are potential challenges which SOFF may need to address if it is to effectively deliver on its scale goal. They include: successfully coordinating a large number of partners in a complex hydromet system; maintaining the focus of recipients and participating organizations on collecting and sharing observations; ensuring effective compliance with observation collection and sharing requirements after the investment phase; implementation of SOFF in fragile and conflict affected states; and mobilizing the financial resources required to deliver on its promise. An initial independent external review after 15 months of operations credits SOFF with a very effective start. This bodes well for SOFF’s future.

Finally, SOFF as a narrowly focused vertical fund aims to improve a particular aspect of a large system. Moreover, it has a limited time horizon (except, importantly, that it is designed to support sustainable functioning of the observations infrastructure in its target countries indefinitely). Its lessons therefore apply most directly to other similar vertical funds and initiatives aimed at improving specific aspects of a large system. But its lessons also carry over more generally into how scaling should be mainstreamed into the design and operation of funding organizations.


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