Micro, Mezzo and Macro Dimensions of Scaling

The goal of the Scaling Innovation for Sustainability (SIS) Project is to study the scaling up and scaling out of innovations that re-localize the economy and strengthen the resilience and sustainability of communities and regions. The MMM research cluster members will engage in an analysis of existing theory, practices and research findings – by BALTA and other researchers – in order to design a multi-level perspective research framework that effectively identifies key features (organizational forms, structures, practices, intermediaries,  networks, and policy) that could be used to accelerate and increase the geographic and social range of social innovation for sustainability in four key areas of the social economy / sustainability convergence (food, housing, energy, finance).

In doing this, a priority focus will be the relationship of climate change and peak oil, and the changes they are bringing, to consideration of the transition to sustainability.

We are proposing to explore the conditions under which it is possible to replicate and scale out the good ideas/practices happening in one geographic location or sector of the social economy and to extend their impact to other locations, contexts or sectors. What happens when we add new intermediaries, communities of knowledge, government or private partners? As niche initiators lose control of their ideas and pragmatic systems builders take over, is the original solution compromised to achieve scale?  What tensions or contradictions arise when  we scale up a niche initiative from a local organization or neighbourhood into a municipal or regional level project? Does increasing distance from original place of an innovation (where trust and communication is high, etc.) make it harder to achieve larger scale collaboration? What happens to the innovations as we essentially create new meta-networks to diffuse or extend them to region, province or nation? Do only some elements find their way to higher scales? Is that okay? Are there unintended consequences or negative impacts caused by the scaling process that feedback in ways that constrain innovation?

Our work will include reviewing research findings that examine scaling up and scaling out of social innovation for sustainability in our four key sectors in a low growth context. We need to develop common definitions and understandings of key terms, and identify indicators or rubrics for measures of scaling, low growth, low carbon, social justice, up versus out, and more.  We also need to examine ways and means by which key elements of mostly place-based social innovation used in one sector could be used in novel ways to address a problem or challenge faced by another sector (for example, could the land trust models used for conservation and community housing be used for a community energy project?). Can we adapt solutions from one sector to different sustainability problems?

Is Network development a more relevant means of scaling up innovation given contemporary tendencies of globalization? How does it differ from the kinds of project replication and scaling described above? In a network are there distinct ways of defining and  organizing mezzo level activities upwards or downwards?

We know that context is crucial. Is scaling sustainability and social economy innovation more complex than other kinds of social innovation scaling? Much theory of diffusion of innovation focuses on a single technological system (horses replaced by cars). Does the complexity of sustainability transitions require a differ kind of thinking about scaling up? Does the ‘application’ of a social innovation alter scaling?

See the draft discussion paper and plan for the work of this research cluster.

Research Cluster 3 on Micro,Mezzo and Macro Dimensions of Scaling has the following members:


Mike Gismondi, Athabasca University

John Restakis, B.C. Co-operative Association


Debra Davidson, Environmental Research and Studies Centre, University of Alberta

Angela Espinosa, Hull University Business School (UK)

Josh Evans, Athabasca University

Seth Leon, Alberta Community and Cooperative Association

Will Low, Royal Roads University

Julie MacArthur, University of Auckland

Ed Mayo , Co-operatives U.K.

Byron Miller , Sustainable Calgary Society

Robin Murray, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

Mike Toye, Canadian Community Economic Development Network

Jon Walker, Marsden and Slaithwaite Transition Town (UK)

Laure Waridel,  Trudeau Scholar, Graduate Institute of International Studies and the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

Participating for specific discussions

Pat Conaty, University of Salford and new economics foundation

Tim Jenkins, new economics foundation (UK)

Mike Lewis, Canadian Centre for Community Renewal

One response to “Micro, Mezzo and Macro Dimensions of Scaling

  1. It has taken decades of public awareness programmes and educational literature to make people start to take responsibility for the environmental disasters that have been caused by lack of waste management and recycling.

    Many households now have a specific bin for rubbish and at least one
    more for recycling, in some progressive areas separate bins for
    paper, glass and plastic is common. Cadmium, which is often used in batteries, is another pollutant that puts the environment
    at risk.

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