New solutions, at scale. We’re up for it. Are you?

New, better, lower cost solutions to big social challenges are urgently needed. Supporting an ageing population to thrive, keeping children safe, or equipping young people for the new world of work are not distant, future challenges. We need widespread, affordable, new and better solutions for whole populations now.

The problem is not a dearth of great ideas. The problem is our collective ability to transfer and grow great ideas from their birthplace. Ironically, this is not because great research or practice on how to take innovations to scale does not exist – it is because it is rarely applied.

Invites to ‘best practice’ conferences, investment in ‘What Works Centres’, and publications of great practice guides abound. There is consensus that we must get better at scaling solutions to social challenges that can improve outcomes and save money.

And yet the most common approaches to spreading great new solutions fly in the face of decades of research on what it takes to do so successfully.

Those conferences and publications suggest that if we could just get more people to read about or understand great new ideas, then they would adopt them. Not true. Seriously engaging adopters means helping them to make a case for change that will inspire their own communities, and to figure out the nuts and bolts of applying it in their area. Presentations and publications just don’t get people there.

Pilot programmes that are tested in one place and then ‘rolled out’ to others are flawed too. Getting potential adopters involved in testing and developing new ideas – to make them relevant to them, and to secure their buy-in at the same time, is key.

And expecting established organisations to make radical changes to their cultures, workforce and practice in order to adopt new solutions, is not always possible. Sometimes, organisations that are home to new solutions need to grow and replace them.

“Absorption of the research on scaling and diffusion, has led health and public service innovation programmes in different parts of the world to develop and use three powerful mechanisms that, particularly in concert, show considerable promise in increasing the rate of diffusion” David Albury

Over ten years Innovation Unit has been doing research, and learning from others about what it takes to scale innovation. We have applied what we know to help grow innovations across health care, children’s social care, education, and city government. There are three, core ideas that we want to share and apply more widely.

Grow ‘nested’ communities of innovation: plan for scale and growth from the birth of an innovation, creating tight networks of people who are trying to apply the innovation in their own context – who can learn with and challenge the innovators, and feel some ownership of it. Build networks around them of people who want to learn about it as it is developing – who go on the journey with you. Build networks around them of people who simply want to find out more. Smartly designed and facilitated, people graduate from one network to another.

Focus on generating demand: learn how to tell powerful stories about why this change is necessary to the people who will use, deliver and lead your innovation, and enabling them to become its advocates.

Create hard incentives for scale: from the offer of financial and practical support for adopters alongside innovators, to regulation that encourages the growth of strong, new innovative organisations, and the closure of others.

Right now we are working in the UK, Australia and internationally on:


In ELEVATE in Australia, schools across New South Wales are engaged in an ambitious community of practice to grow new models of learning that help high potential learners to flourish.

With the Bloomberg, European Mayor’s Challenge to help replicate the powerful work of its five winning cities from BioChar in Stockholm, to civic action in Athens.


Original research for the Health Foundation on the factors underpinning successful scale and spread in the NHS.

Learning with and from the NHS Innovation Accelerator fellows about their experience of scaling innovation in practice.


We are part of Spring Consortium, the delivery partner of the Department for Education, on their £200mn Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. Our expertise and experience are shaping how the programme will support successful innovation to scale.


Working to establish Extraordinary Learning Multi Academy Trust – a group of schools exploring new models of learning that will help all young people to thrive.

Bringing proven approaches to engaging some of the most disengaged young people in their learning to the UK through Big Picture Learning in Doncaster.

More information