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Why Intentional Planning is Needed for Scaling

November 10, 2023

Why is it important to focus on implementation practices for scaling?

Have you ever been involved in implementing an intervention that has been supported with implementation practices to reach fidelity, with the team thinking that you are all set to scale implementation to the next level? This approach when trying to scale does not support effective implementation and, let’s face it – probably leads to frustration for practitioners actually doing the work! Scaling requires an intentional and systematic approach to implementation. Let’s explore some steps implementation teams need to engage in to effectively scale implementation.    

What is scaling?

Scaling is expanding implementation of a program or practice beyond the setting where we have implemented it with fidelity. This could be either “scaling up” or “scaling out” (Aarons et al., 2017). Scaling up is when implementation is expanded to a similar population to increase the number receiving the intervention, such as implementing a third-grade math program in one to two other schools to expand to all the schools within a community cluster. Scaling out refers to expanding implementation to new populations, such as moving an intervention to new grade levels or schools across the state. Whether you are “scaling up” or “scaling out,” implementation teams need to engage in purposeful planning to promote implementation with fidelity.

What role do implementation teams take in scaling?

As implementation shifts to scaling, implementation teams continue to be charged with “making it happen.” Implementation teams are dually charged with developing structures and practices to support scaling while continuing to support current implementation to maintain fidelity. Implementation teams need to consider how they are linked across the system and determine if this structure needs to be adapted to maintain an aligned and linked teaming structure for scaling. When expanding implementation to new grades or new schools, or even new districts, implementation teams need to examine who is on the team to determine if additional members need to be added to existing teams or if new teams need to be created. A key component to support a linked teaming structure is communication. Communication protocols should be revisited to include those involved in scaling to establish effective communication loops to share information, address barriers, and support stage-based planning for scaling.

Why is stage-based planning important in scaling?  

Implementation does not follow a straight path moving from one stage to the next and often requires revisiting stages as circumstances change. In planning for scale, implementation teams will need to engage in activities within exploration and installation to build an effective roadmap to guide implementation practices for scaling.  

A key activity in exploration is evaluating an organization’s needs and determining an evidence-based intervention to implement, considering fit and feasibility of implementation. In scaling, this needs to be revisited. The implementation team needs to consider how the intervention will fit with the needs of students and within different contexts and identify potential barriers to implementation. Capacity should also be examined as the capacity to implement the program or practice in new settings may be significantly different from those included in initial implementation. 

Installation activities focus on planning and building the infrastructure to implement the evidence-based intervention. Whether you are “scaling up” or “scaling out,” implementation is expanding which equates to the need for the infrastructure to expand in equal measure to match implementation. Focusing on infrastructure supports the organization’s capacity to effectively implement the intervention with fidelity.  

Why focus on building capacity when scaling?

Focusing on capacity draws the implementation team’s attention to individual, leadership, organizational, and system needs to implement and scale the intervention with fidelity to ultimately impact student outcomes. Implementation teams can build on the processes and supports the organization developed for current implementation to build capacity for scaling. The decision of who will be next to implement will drive the need to provide training for practitioners and leaders to build capacity prior to implementing the intervention and the need to provide continued coaching to build competence and confidence in practice once implementation begins. Other organizational resources may need to be allocated to support training and hire additional coaches and purchase materials or additional curriculum support. The implementation team also needs to evaluate the capacity of the current data system as well as the capacity to collect, analyze, and use the data to support administrative and data system needs across the system in scaling. 

Leadership is needed at all levels of the system to engage with implementation teams in planning and as practices are implemented in scaling. Leaders provide support to practitioners and can work to remove barriers impacting their ability to implement with fidelity. Communication is key to making this happen! In scaling, system capacity to engage new leaders needs to be addressed to ensure effective communication with ongoing feedback loops is established to support scaling implementation with fidelity in new contexts. 

Why does context matter in scaling?

To address the importance of context, think back to the definition of scaling – moving implementation beyond the current setting where you have implemented with fidelity. Context includes the characteristics and circumstances that are active and unique within which implementation occurs (Pfadenhauer et al., 2017). Context matters whether you are scaling up to a similar setting or scaling out to diverse settings. Each new setting has factors that will impact implementation. One factor to consider is how the intervention will fit and align with other priorities or initiatives already in place. Having well-defined core components for the intervention, implementation teams with leadership can develop implementation plans to maintain the core elements, while determining what adaptations can and need to be made to support implementation within the context. 

Context is also important in the engagement of critical perspectives. Implementation teams need to ensure that leaders, practitioners, community partners, and those with lived experiences have opportunities to engage in communication and problem-solving relative to their implementation context. Collaborators and champions will need to be identified to support scaling the intervention to new settings and across the system.  

Planning for scaling takes time

Scaling of implementation requires intentional systematic planning, regardless of whether you are “scaling up” or “scaling out.” Planning and developing capacity for scaling takes time; start early! Implementation teams can build on implementation strengths and lessons learned through initial implementation to develop effective scaling plans responsive to the context to improve student outcomes.

Related Resources

Visit the NIRN AI Hub for additional resources on scaling and effective implementation practices.  


Aarons, G.A., Sklar, M., Mustanski, B., Benbow, N., & Hendricks Brown, C. (2017). “Scaling-out” evidence-based interventions to new populations or new health care delivery systems. Journal of Implementation Science, 12(111). doi:10.1186/s13012-017-0640-6

Chambers, D.A., Glasgow, R.E., & Stange, K. (2013). The dynamic sustainability framework: Addressing the paradox of sustainment amid ongoing change. Implementation Science, 8(117).  

Coburn, C. E. (2003). Rethinking scaling: Moving beyond numbers to deep and lasting change. Education Researcher, 32(6), 3-12.  

Fixsen, D., Blasé, K., Metz, A., & Van Dyke, M. (2013). Statewide implementation of evidence-based programs. Exceptional Children, 79(2), 213-230.

Pfadenhauer, L.M., Gerhardus, A., Mozygemba, K., Lysdahl, K.B., Booth, A., Hofman, B., et al. (2017). Making sense of complexity in context and implementation: The Context and Implementation of Complex Interventions (CICI) Framework. Implementation Science, 12(21). doi:10.1186/s13012-017-0552-5