Creating A Long Term Impact Scale Sustainability And Spread

Karon Shaiva

Our sector is obsessed with scale and sustainability and there is a reason for it. The magnitude of the problem facing the world is such that incremental change may not be enough. We need to not just move the needle on various development indicators but literally push it, and for this, the canvas is indeed vast, hence Scale. On the other hand,society stays stubbornly inequitable at multiple levels and any gain made by different initiatives can quickly fall apart if not persisted. So, to overcome systemic barriers, we need change that is Sustainable.

In my previous article, I had written on Real World Partnerships and the need for collaborative efforts to create a multiplier effect. Collective impact is the result of using market-based solutions and forging partnerships based on shared-value drivers. This article is a continuation of that concept and the ‘Theory of Change’ we need to apply in terms of sustainable implementation at scale. This I will attempt to explain on the basis of the I*5 Process (Inform, Interface, Interact, Integrate, Impact) as given below.

I*5 & the Phases of Development Activities

Process of Impact & Theory of Change

Need – Access Markets – Build Capacity – Create Alliances– Deliver Solutions

Historically, programmes were designed by evaluating the needs of a community and then integrating strategies to bring about changeas indicated by the dashed line in the I*5 process above. This works very well for small interventions. However, as the canvas widens,there is a need to include two very essential phases–Communication & Advocacy and Stakeholder Engagement.

Communication & Advocacy – The more information gathered prior to start of the programme and the more that is disseminated goes towards advocating the need for it. For a programme to be successful, more and more people need to know about it – why is it being done, what is it about and how are you going about it? Creating awareness brings in greater buy-in from the community. Behaviour Change Communication used in sanitation projects is just one good example of the role of appropriate information and interface with the community prior to building sanitation blocks or individual toilets.

“When we undertake impact assessments of community interventions, we see that there are still many NGOs who have not identified their Theory of Change and in some cases, do not even know about the concept.Most explain it as intuitive and common sense. While this may hold true for basic parameters, innovation demands documentation and clarity”

Stakeholder Engagement – As aprogramme scales, there is always aconstraint in the form of resources, be it manpower, money or material.Overcoming this organically is a huge challenge, if not time consuming. Interacting closely with internal and external stakeholders can result insignificant benefits for all – a win-win proposition that reduces duplication of efforts and leverages capacities and resources. As in the sanitation example provided above, unless we involve the women of a household to push for toilets, or interact with men to explain government schemes, you may not get their interest. Further, working with the Panchayat to push for all community members (and not only a specific caste or class) to get toilets, as open defecation by even a few can spell disaster for everyone, everywhere, are critical engagement factors. Again, this needs tobe prior to the main activity of buildingthe toilets. To complete the Sanitation example; after the project is completed, it is vital to evaluate the output (toilets), outcomes (usage) and impact (health) indicators to establish the success of the intervention. Learnings and insights can be used to scale the projects, improve, strategise and replicate.

The I*5 Process may seem to be linear,but in reality, it is a spiral. You can start with the Evaluation & Strategy phase, gain information that needs to be communicated and move to bring in news take holders as you scale. Alternatively, you can engage with multiple stakeholders to assess and evaluate strategies for social development that can be piloted. The learnings and insights can then be used to create even more sustainable programmes that can be scaled for impact. Indeed, the starting point can be anywhere on that spiral: Inform–Interface–Interact–Integrate–Impact. The only pre-requisite is following the process thereafter. Key information that is identified needs to be shared through various interfaces. This should culminate in interactions that strengthen the programme by integrating the needs of the community to create impact.

Theory of Change

When we undertake impact assessments of community interventions, we see that there are still many NGOs who have not identified their Theory of Change and in some cases, do not even know about the concept. Most explain it as intuitive and common sense. While this may hold true for basic parameters, innovation demands documentation and clarity. Hence, it is recommended that Corporates and NGOs alike understand the specific dimensions of their programmes and use the Theory of Change as a tool to ensure that they not only are clear about what they seek to achieve but, can also design their Log Frame to quantitatively measure success against output, outcome and impact indicators. While evaluating a programme, it is important to gauge its ‘direct’ contribution to creating impact. Can the change be completely or partially attributed to the programme or are there extraneous factors and actors who have also been responsible for the change? This is a major point of contention and unless looked at objectively, based on evidence; can be a subject of intense debate.

Why are Models Important?

While scale and sustainability are elemental for long term impact, research has proved that Spread has created even greater change. This is where templates become meaningful when sharing learnings and experiences. Models are important not just because it is easier to explain and grasp, but more notably, it helps to replicate programmes based on them, faster. Models also assist in identifying anomalies and context of implementation. Scale becomes the heavy elephant unable to dance to changing music while Spread is nimble enough to meet the needs of dynamic times and circumstances.

Hence, though the sector will continue to remain focused on scale and sustainability, there is a growing tribe of donors, supporters and investors that understand the basic need of a key ingredient to equitable and widespread development … Replicability or Spread.

Karon Shaiva is Founder and Chief Impact Officer of Idobro, a social enterprise that seeks to measure and multiply the impact on women, social and green issues. She can be reached at

As we follow the I*5 Process, we identify the activities that are required to implement the process along with the output and outcomes that can be expected in a systematic manner
Process Inform Interface Interact Integrate Impact
Activities Research to collate information to ensure relevance and authenticity of approach. Plan communication campaigns based on key messages and develop collateral accordingly Selection of various channels by which information can be carried to various stakeholders, based on specific needs and consistency of reach to build visibility Appropriate forums are selected for exchanges with target audience/ stakeholders as wellas to foster capacity. Create linkages to an eco-system of partners that will help scale the project Application of strategies that meet the real need of the target groups. Additionally, relevant activities are undertaken to facilitate change Assessment of the initiative for learnings and insights that feed in to further decision making
Output Communication & Advocacy Events & Training Evaluation & Strategy
Outcome Awareness Engagement Intervention