Community members enjoying the evening time under solar powered streetlights at Nyabiheke refugee camp, Rwanda. Credit: Practical Action

What works best to bring about big change?

At Practical Action, we work with communities to tackle the urgent problems they face on the frontlines of poverty and climate change.

We collaborate with partners around the world to accelerate what works, so solutions that start small can bring about big change. But what approaches work best to achieve impact at scale? We convened an internal Impact Community of Practice involving colleagues from Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the UK to find out.

What does ‘impact at scale’ mean?

At Practical Action, we consider ‘impact’ as the ultimate positive changes that are brought about. But what do we mean when we add ‘at scale’? Many different organisations have sought to define ‘scale’ and after reviewing some of these, we generated a rough definition of ‘impact at scale’ as change that:

  • Reaches large number of people (at least thousands, perhaps tens of thousands).
  • Is lasting and widespread.
  • Aligns with the level of need.
  • Considers equity.

Our model for achieving impact at scale

We use a model that consists of three overlapping approaches, which we call ‘inspire, systems and landscape’.


We recognise that the reach of one organisation is limited so we aim to influence and inspire other actors to adopt evidence-based approaches to extend the benefits to more people. These actors include NGOs, governments, funders and businesses. We do this through the following three-stage process:

  • Demonstrate: we trial an approach to address a specific set of needs.
  • Learn: we learn from the trial and capture this learning.
  • Inspire: we share the approach, achievements and learning with others.


We analyse the social, economic and political systems in which we work to identify points where we can effectively bring about change that will trigger more widespread change across significant portions of the whole system. To do this, we work at local, national, regional and/or global levels.

Sometimes we focus on government policy and practice change, sometimes on incentives for the private sector within a market system, sometimes on mind-set and behavioural change.


This is a defined geography or ecosystem, such as a river basin, or a bounded administrative area, such as a city. Taking a landscape approach means working with all the stakeholders within a landscape to understand how different practices and economic activities affect them, the trade-offs therein and the resultant effects on communities living there. Strategies are then collaboratively developed and implemented to reconcile competing and/or conflicting practices.

Recommendations to achieve impact at scale

These proven approaches come from seven case-studies presented at the Impact Community of Practice. They are rarely used in isolation but are more commonly combined in various ways.

Analyse the current system, use a variety of tools and processes, and identify the system’s weaknesses and strengths.

  • Map stakeholders then identify who to work with to bring about change.
  • Identify where power sits in the system; seek to understand and align priorities.
  • Find ways to use a system’s existing strengths.
  • Do not attempt to address all identified weaknesses. Instead, deploy resources at opportune times to change critical parts.

Invest in building relationships of trust and developing strategic alliances.

  • Build alliances with local actors. Change is rarely achieved by working alone.
  • Work collaboratively with other actors to develop the new system. Ownership and sustainability will be strengthened if those responsible for the new system have a strong stake in its development.
  • Seek ways to include key decision-makers into programme structures. Invite them and other stakeholders to visit the work and see how it is making a difference.

Identify if and where there are evidence gaps. Then address these gaps, but remember that evidence on its own is never enough to bring about change.

  • Understand the evidence your targets require, including the type of evidence and the format that resonates most.
  • Often, a variety of evidence is effective; do not assume that formal written documents will work for everyone.
  • Share evidence through trusted networks and intermediaries..

Strong institutions are critical for landscape approaches.

  • Working with all key landscape actors requires trust, clear roles and responsibilities and a commitment to action.
  • Key decision-makers and powerful actors must be involved, including government representatives and community leaders.
  • Be patient. It may take time and focused attention to develop and strengthen institutions to function effectively.

Be deliberate about inclusion.

  • Do not assume that inclusion happens automatically. Deliberate, carefully developed strategies are needed to reach and benefit groups that have been marginalised.

Keep going!

  • Change often takes longer than the three to five years provided by a single project. A series of coordinated projects that together make up a programme is often required.
  • Working with a system is an ongoing process, not a one-off event. Keep reviewing and improving the approach as your understanding of the system deepens and as the system evolves. Ensure there is sufficient regular time and staff capacity for this ongoing work.

We hope that this blog and the accompanying paper from our Impact Community of Practice catalyses further discussion on how best to achieve impact at scale. Please have a read and send us feedback. We’re always keen to learn more.