Courtesy of Fares Khalil

By Fares Georges Khalil, HundrED

The process of scaling up education innovations is of increasing importance to both practitioners and researchers who are interested in education transformation. Without scale, it would be difficult to achieve the SDG 4 goals related to attaining inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

To this end, promising education initiatives are crucial as they aim to improve the relevance and quality of education and to enhance the accessibility and parity of learning opportunities. These innovations are often based on important advances in pedagogical sciences and include new approaches that leverage teacher experiences and new technologies. Identifying and supporting the global scaling of these promising innovative ideas is therefore a worthy endeavor – an inspired mission that education stakeholders such as HundrED have embraced.

However, research on scaling education innovations suggests that there is ambiguity and a lack of consensus on how to approach scaling. This includes varying understandings of which dimensions of scaling are most relevant (Morel et al., 2019). Some research recommends a quantitative approach to gather evidence on the scalability potential of an intervention using, for example, random controlled trials with a heterogeneous set of implementation sites (Lee and Krajcik, 2012). Yet a purely quantitative route has garnered criticism from scholars and practitioners who point to the importance of addressing complexity and nuance by taking a multidimensional view of scaling. For example, scaling can be approached as depth (deep and meaningful improvement of practice), sustainability (ensuring practices are continuously improved), and shifts in ownership (giving ownership of the program and authority to improve it to the adopting sites) (Coburn, 2003).

HundrED’s recent position paper The Messy Middle adopts a multidimensional conceptualization which includes scaling out (reaching more people in more places), scaling deep (changing people’s ways of thinking and talking, and changing behavior on a collective level), and scaling up (changing laws and policies) (Moore et al., 2005). Where these approaches connect is in developing a balanced centricity focused on the impact of an innovation – not just the innovation itself – and within the social system where it is embedded. Therefore, the emphasis is on the interactions and integration of an innovation with the everyday practices and lived realities of students and educators, as well as with the local institutional context encompassing administrators, existing norms and values, policies, and so forth.

Using a multiple case approach, and leaning on Rogers’s theory of innovation diffusion, The Messy Middle shows that equal consideration should be given to the innovation itself, the process of communication and decision-making, and the unpredictability of transference and interaction with social systems (i.e. the mess in the middle). In that, HundrED’s paper underlines the importance of co-creation and empowering key stakeholder agency such as by involving teachers and parents in the implementation and adaptation process.

Building on this, we find in the scaling literature the concept of evolution which adds a recursive relationship from the adopting sites back to the innovators which creates “a designers and adopters community of practice” that continuously shapes the innovation (Mickelsson, 2018).

The concept of fidelity should be emphasized here as local adaptation needs to retain the core elements of an innovation. Lethal mutations which compromise core principles are to be avoided (Mickelsson, 2018). This hints at a scaling paradox where local adaptability and flexibility need to be present simultaneously alongside fidelity for successful scaling.

For example, the messy middle reveals frequent tensions between the designers of innovations and implementers when it comes to distinguishing the elements of an innovation that are core to its success and those that may be altered or stripped away. Here again, learnings from HundrED’s paper tell the story of co-creation, participation, and flexibility as per the innovation case of Teaching at the Right Level (TARL), implemented by TaRL Africa:

“Flexible adaptation and co-creation: the TaRL model includes the core components of methodology (grouping by learning levels measured through simple assessments), materials (suitable by levels and context), measurement (assessments), monitoring (mentoring, review and support to teachers), and resources (funding and human resources); yet the details of these components can be adjusted to match the context of where the implementation is taking place. For example, some TaRL programmes are led by volunteers, some take place after-school, and some are run by government teachers during school hours. As governments implement the model they are encouraged from the beginning to co-create and adjust the programs to their context.” (p. 50)

In addition to participation and support from teachers, which are vital to implementation sustainability, findings also show the importance of garnering middle-level buy-in (for e.g., from pedagogical experts and mid-level decision-makers) who may act as champions and enthusiastic intermediaries between teachers and the district. The theme of intermediation can be extended to other meso-level actors who help relay between ecosystem stakeholders as featured in other practice oriented works such as MSI’s scaling up framework (Cooley and Kohl, 2006).

Indeed, third parties and other influential stakeholders can act as important facilitators, for example by helping innovators and implementers navigate complexity and determine which pathways to prioritize on their scaling journeys – from ideation through implementation and towards systems change.

HundrED’s paper shows some of the diverse paths to implementation that different innovations have taken. For example, Speed School and Second Chance, initiatives from West Africa offering accelerated learning to help out-of-school students catch up and transition into conventional classrooms in government schools, are operated by philanthropic organizations Geneva Global and Luminos Fund, respectively, acting as both implementers and change agents. The scaling journeys started at the national as well as regional levels of the system. And middle- level officials were also instrumental in supporting the program’s scaling, as were the teachers and the provision of teacher training at the classroom level.

Moreover, through partnering with the Ethiopian government, implementing with local civil society organizations, and encouraging teacher engagement and peer-to-peer influence, deep scaling ensued with the changing of mindsets around teaching and teacher training. Scaling up was also driven by working with governments to create new training policies, curricula, and

Another example is Slam Out Loud, an Indian innovation that uses the power of performance and visual arts to build SEL and creative skills. Here, discussions began at the middle layer of the national education system in Finland with pedagogical experts mediating between the Helsinki Education Division director and the teachers. Key for scaling deep and scaling up were the mindset changes of teachers and decision-makers around the use of meditation techniques and new approaches to special needs and student well-being. This was facilitated by HundrED acting as a change agent for this implementation. The key takeaway from this is that regardless of a top down or bottom up orientation on the path to scaling, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees implementation success or sustainability of an innovation. But by drawing learnings from different implementation and scaling projects, a scale-as-learning philosophy (Mickelsson et al., 2018) cultivates a learning mindset so that knowledge is built cumulatively with every scaling experience from the different international projects in diverse contexts.

HundrED’s paper highlights the significance of nurturing trust through collaboration and co-design with teachers and other key stakeholders. It also stresses the importance of addressing multiple levels of the ecosystem simultaneously and including the middle layers where change agents like intermediating organizations and administrators can greatly aid in increasing policy-maker and teacher engagement. Lastly, while navigating the messy middle, it is important to remember that flexibility and experimentation are essential to explore and test different routes to

This spirit of experimentation and scale-as-learning will be embodied within the new HundrED Implementation Center, and the implementation-scaling journey will be studied more closely and systematically to drive continuous knowledge in the community.


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Cooley, L. and Kohn, R., Scaling Up – from Vision to Large-scale Change, A Management Framework for Practitioners, Management Systems International, 2006,

​Lee, O. and Krajcik, J., Large-Scale Interventions in Science Education for Diverse Student Groups in Varied Educational Settings, JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING, vol. 49, no. 3, pp.271–80, accessed October 19, 2023, from, 2012. DOI: 10.1002/tea.21009

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​Mickelsson, M., Kronlid, D. O. and Lotz-Sisitka, H., Consider the Unexpected: Scaling ESD as a Matter of Learning, Environmental Education Research, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 135–50, accessed October 19, 2023, from, January 2, 2019. DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2018.1429572

Moore, M.-L.; Riddell, D.; Vocisano, D. Scaling out, Scaling up, Scaling Deep: Strategies of Non-Profits in Advancing Systemic Social Innovation. J. Corp. Citizsh. 2015, 58, 67–85.

​Morel, R. P., Coburn, C., Catterson, A. K. and Higgs, J., The Multiple Meanings of Scale: Implications for Researchers and Practitioners, Educational Researcher, vol. 48, no. 6, pp. 369–77, accessed October 19, 2023, from
articles.149, June 27, 2019. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X19860531



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