Scaling Impact: Evaluating Scalability in the Adaptation Fund’s Portfolio

The scaling up of adaptation projects, programmes, and ambitions has been widely recognised as an essential part of tackling climate change and the devastating impacts it is causing or exacerbating for communities. While there is broad support for scaling up, there remains much to learn about if and how scaling up is happening in the adaptation context and how best the adaptation community can provide support.

With this background, we are excited to continue working with the Adaptation Fund and the AF-TERG to evaluate scalability within their portfolio, sharing our insights with the Adaptation Fund and feeding into the ongoing conversations on scaling up and replication within the adaptation space.

Scaling Up – How Does it Happen? 

As a broad concept, scaling up lacks a universal definition, but it is often related to ‘piloting’, ‘replication’, ‘uptake’, and ‘diffusion’. Turning small “pebbles in a pond into ripples of change” is a description that we resonate with; in the context of climate adaptation, it is about building on small-scale impact to reach the necessary scale required to address problems associated with climate change.

The process of scaling up is often tied to (social) innovation: a step that follows the successful piloting or trialling of an innovative product, concept, approach etc.’ The scaling up of innovation can happen in many ways, with three of the most common pathways being via:

  1. Mainstreaming: bringing innovation from the local level to the national level
  2. Scaling out (or horizontal scaling): replicating an innovation in a new geographical area
  3. Applying innovation to a different context or theme
Credit: Deiglmeier & Greco, 2018

Despite the broad consensus on scaling up climate change and development outcomes, there has been limited academic research on the processes that support (or hinder) the transitioning of a project from a pilot to being scaled up. The research that has been done so far has had a minimal influence on project design, as the problems with scaling up still plague the climate change development sector.

Barriers to Scaling up

Many of us will have been part of a pilot project that, even if successful, was never scaled up due to number of barriers preventing the transition. A key issue is that the process of scaling up is often left to happen spontaneously and not designed into the pilot, and as a result there is a lack of forward planning. Other barriers to scaling up pilot projects include:

  1. Reliance on external resources (funding and project management personnel)
  2. Fixed time horizons (little room for flexible management and unplanned learning)
  3. Pilot projects often operate in a vacuum (shielded from politics, markets and other external factors that would affect their functioning, suitability and long-term sustainability) (Woltering et al., 2019)

Despite these barriers, there is increasing recognition of the need to design projects with scale in mind, as well as recognition of the strong links between (social) innovation and scaling up. As such, several development actors have published guidance documents (GCF, Scaling Framework – IFAD), created tools and resources (Scaling Playbook – IDRC, Scaling up: How to get a Good Idea Up and Running – GIZ) and even published books (Scaling Impact – IDRC) to practically shape and support the scaling up of adaptation.

Scaling up and the Adaptation Fund 

With the worsening impacts of climate change over recent years, finance for climate adaptation has become an important focus. Within this landscape, the Adaptation Fund has become a key player in the provision and distribution of global adaptation finance while also occupying an important role in the wider adaptation community.

The Fund was established through decisions by the Parties to the UNFCCC to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The Fund supports country-driven projects and programmes, innovation, and global learning for effective adaptation.

The Fund’s activities are designed to build national and local adaptive capacities while reaching and engaging the most vulnerable groups and integrating gender consideration to provide equal opportunity to access and benefit from the Fund’s resources. They also aim to enhance synergies with other sources of climate finance while creating models for adaptation that can be replicated or scaled up.

The Adaptation Fund Technical Evaluation Reference Group (AF-TERG)

Comprised of independent evaluation experts, the AF-TERG is an independent evaluation advisory group established in 2018 to ensure the implementation of the Adaptation Fund’s evaluation framework.

With the global re-focusing on climate adaptation brought about by the recent IPCC Working Group 2 report and the rising number and intensity of climate-induced humanitarian disasters over the past few years, scaling up adaptation must be a global priority. We are happy to be collaborating with the AF-TERG for this next project to support the evaluation of scaling up/scalability in the Adaptation Fund’s portfolio. Through our work we will contribute and help to inform these important conversations around how to best scale up adaptation action.