How to scale interventions with government: new research

To truly sustain impact at scale over the long-term, it is almost always essential to work with government.

However, our new report highlights just how challenging government adoption of programs can be, with few success stories and little data about what works.

What happens when a project ends?

With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Spring Impact undertook research into programs in Sub-Saharan African that had been scaled with government, including looking at what happened after the project ended.

We chose to focus on Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health (ASRH) programs, given this is a complex area that often relies on partnership between governments and international organizations. This also built on insights from Spring Impact’s long-term partnership with Marie Stopes Zambia.

Our research examined four relevant case studies from across Sub-Saharan Africa, that had successfully scaled through the public sector. But we found that a number of years after the project and funding officially ended, impact had not been sustained.

Why do programs fail to sustain their impact?

Combining the case study insights with extensive interviews and desktop research and analysis, the report sets out a number of reasons why this was the case.

These include program costs being too high to sustain within government budgets and a lack of support for transitioning to government systems.

Rather than focusing on political changes or funding availability, which often puts the blame at government’s door, we draw on Spring Impact’s practical experience of how organizations scale up, asking how they can change the way they design, plan for and work towards government adoption, to have a better chance of sustained impact.

Martha Paren, Director of Health at Spring Impact who led the research study said:

“From our extensive work with organizations and funders around the world, we have seen that conversations about scale and sustainability must go hand in hand. But too often sustainability, particularly when working government, remains a vague aspiration, with little interrogation of what can be done to more purposefully work towards this goal. We are grateful to the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its support of this research. We hope this study can help drive forward the conversation on the practical steps, and sometimes hard conversations, that need to be had to truly hold ourselves to account as a sector, as we work towards the goal of sustainable impact through government”

This research report is a major step forward in surfacing some of the barriers to sustainable scale that can hold interventions back

What can the sector learn?

Spring Impact proposes a number of practical recommendations for NGOs, governments and funders. These focus on the need to more purposefully plan for sustainability of impact.

Janet Holt, Program Officer at William and Flora Hewlett Foundation said:

“This research report is a major step forward in surfacing some of the barriers to sustainable scale that can hold interventions back. It includes important recommendations on what funders can do differently towards this goal, which provides much food for thought. While this research was approached through an ASRH lens, its conclusions can be applied to other programs in both the health and non-health sectors where NGOs and governments are working together to achieve sustainable scale.”

Accompanying the report, we have also published a ‘Government End Game Tool’, helping social impact organizations and their partners explore what government adoption really means for them in practice, and how to take steps towards it.

It challenges organisations to consider how the different components of their program will be funded and implemented in their ‘end game’, and the role they will play towards achieving that.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment. Some rights reserved.

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