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4. Scaling Up

4. Scaling Up

Scaling your collaboration up is all about how maintain the momentum of your collaboration through time, and learn as you go.

Working under conditions of uncertainty

When you are creating something new, you are almost by definition working in a highly uncertain context. Collaboration is often called for to deal with complexity, because it seems like the only possible way to navigate the many considerations of 'wicked problems' and 'grand challenges'.

The counterweight to this is that, by involving more people, you tend to slow things down. Collaboration and inclusiveness start to look like necessary evils rather than benefits.

To translate the potential energy of collaboration into forward momentum, a structured approach is called for. The groups needs to go on a shared journey of learning and adaptation. Our approach provides a means for achieving this.

Capability building and action learning

Any attempt to scale collaboration for a new purpose, or in a new context, will require the development of new capabilities. The capabilities required cannot be known, however, until the journey is already underway. Thus the only way to effectively build scalable collaboration capability is through action learning - trying to collaborate with increasing numbers to achieve big outcomes.

Continuous learning and collaboration cycle

By looking at your process as a series of cycles, rather than a linear plan, you give yourself the chance to learn and adapt.

We use the following simplified cycle when seeking a collaborative approach. It's possible to formulate a more precise process, more attuned to your unique context, but this one provides a starting point that covers the salient elements.

Staring with people is important in collaboration, to ensure alignment of culture, values and strategy. The product serves to test the consonance of the group, to see if they are able to achieve impact together. The Impact step provides and opportunity to assess the product, learn from the experience, reflect, and move on to a next cycle.

A series of manageable experiments

One way to understand the structure of a cycle is to frame it as a kind of scientific experiment. Based on their ideas of what they want to achieve, and what they think might work, the group designs the simplest possible plan that will help them test and validate their thinking.

At it's simplest, experiment design is about planning something - anticipating what might happen - and then capturing the results afterwards. The following template, based on the Lean Startup method, provides one way to structure a more robust experiment.

Planning the experiment

Experiment components description
Strategic benefit How will this experiement benefit our overall vision and strategy?
Hypothesis What are we precisely trying to find out in this experiment? Frame it as an IF, THEN statement.
Assumptions What are the biggest unknowns in our plan? How can this experiment be used to shed light on these?
Learning Goals What specific questions are we trying to answer in this experiment? There can be several
Expected Data What does it look like to get answers to our learning goals? How is the data structured? What kind of answers do we anticipate? Provide examples.
Product & Activities What specifically are we going to build in this cycle? What supporting activities will we need to undertake.


Capturing the results

Whatever happens, it's critical to capture your learnings. The simplest thing to do is to capture some dot points against each of the elements in your experiment design.

Then, use these to inform the design of the following experiments.

The role of Strategy and Evaluation Frameworks

A strategy is essentially a story about the future, that the group uses to coordinate their activities in the moment.

Making your strategy explict - e.g. in a document - helps collaborators absorb the story so that they can effectively deliver on the intent of each cycle. The more they can hold the elements of the strategy in their head, the more they can adjustr their actions moment-to-moment. The Evaluation Framework is a key aspect of the strategy which helps translate the parts of the strategic story into measurable changes in the world.

Critically, both strategy and evaluation are subject to change in any cycle. This is a key activity in the people phase, to reevaluate all of our assumptions and rethink the story we want to tell.

Use a 'rolling plan' to balance planning and adaptability

Fashionable innovation methodologies trumpet adaptability at all costs. For contexts with larger numbers of stakeholders, and multiple cross-impacts to consider, a higher degree of certainty in the outcome can be warranted.

A 'rolling plan' approach helps balance these two.

The current cycle should be the only cycle in which there is full certainty. By taking time to imagine what might happen in future cycles, however, it can help to inform the content of the current cycle.

In this model, the content of each cycle can be understood as follows:


When scaling a collaboration through this method, it can be helpful to think in terms of cohorts: different groups, types of people, or participant segments that you intend to bring into your collaboration.

As each new group will create dissonance in your collaboration, and will introduce new logistical challenges related to scaling, it helps to sequence your engagement with them. This gives you a chance to solidify your collaboration before attempting to induct a new cohort.

For each cohort, consider a 'trigger' that will give you the confidence to move on to the next cohort. Have you reached at least 50% of the target members of your cohort? Has your current cohort now contributed a significant amount value to the collaboration? Is your current core of collaborators able to handle the current rate of induction?