A Funder’s Guide to Using Evidence of Program Effectiveness in Scale-Up Decisions

By Michael Bangser

Foundations and other private funders increasingly seek opportunities to “scale impact” — that is, to extend the benefits of cost-effective interventions to more people, either by expanding these efforts in their current locations or by replicating them in new locations. However, the effect that funders seek to have on vexing social problems, such as entrenched poverty, the educational achievement gap, and health disparities, will not materialize unless they can identify interventions that truly work and then support sustained, high-quality implementation of these interventions as they scale up.

There should be a high bar of reliable evidence to justify substantial scale-up because the stakes are high: Many lives will be affected, substantial funding is typically involved, and valuable resources can be wasted if funders back the wrong interventions. Nevertheless, funders often act without sufficient evidence to guide decisions on whether to invest in particular scale-up opportunities, as well as to confirm that the scale-ups they do support have been successful.

This Guide provides funders with practical advice on how to think about and use evidence of effectiveness when considering investments in scale-up opportunities. The Guide does not seek to turn private funders into evaluation experts or to delve into the methodological details of particular research approaches. Rather, the focus is on the right questions that funders should ask and the pitfalls they should avoid, including how to recognize the limitations of certain kinds of evidence. The Guide is divided into three sections:

Section I, Eight Key Questions to Ask Throughout the Scale-Up Process, presents what funders should look for to determine whether programs are effective. These questions provide the building blocks for the discussion in the following section.

Section II, Application of the Eight Questions to Scale-Up Decisions, shows how the questions apply to the different stages of a program’s evidence-building and scale-up.

Section III, Next Steps for the Field, highlights some remaining challenges for the field to consider in using evidence of effectiveness to guide scale-up decisions.

For more information about how MDRC can help you use evidence to make scale-up decisions, contact Rob Ivry, MDRC Senior Vice President, at [email protected].

Document Details

Publication Type
May 2014
Bangser, Michael. 2014. A Funder’s Guide to Using Evidence of Program Effectiveness in Scale-Up Decisions. New York: MDRC.