Scaling and scaling strategies

Ingrid Mulder, Maria Belén Buckenmayer, and Ryan J.A. Murphy

Delft University of Technology | Strategy & Design Consultancy | Memorial University

Scaling is a motif describing the proportionate growth of innovation. Over the past decade, scholars have adapted the original idea of scaling from business to differentiate different ways to scale that are more appropriate in the context of social innovation. Scaling is sometimes thought of as a panacea: it is the end result, purpose, or answer to what we are trying to achieve. However, scaling remains ill-defined in systems change: we do not have a commonly agreed-upon language for what we are scaling, where we are scaling, or how we are scaling change in social systems. Instead, systemic designers refer to a mix of jargon from (social) innovation, design, systemic change, and/or transition design. Although these fields share similar ambitions for scaling, we argue that systemic designers need advanced scaling strategies for systemic innovation. The complexity of issues addressed by systemic design requires a better understanding of how scaling systems change happens and demands building capabilities for designing for these different dimensions and directions of scale.

The context of the study is a Master-level course building the capacity designers need to understand when maturing systemic social innovations. Students demonstrated a richness in their scaling strategies distinguishing different dimensions and layers of scale. The current work unfolds dimensions of scaling and scaling strategies necessary for systemic scaling and elaborates upon a multi-level framework for scaling literacy. We conclude with a call for scaling literacy to further advance systemic design’s methodological practices and expand the capabilities and action repertoire of future generations of systemic designers.

KEYWORDS: design capabilities, design curricula, scaling literacy, scaling strategies, social innovation, systems change, systemic impact

Sketchnote by Patricia Kambitch | Playthink

Citation Data

Author(s): Ingrid Mulder, Maria Belén Buckenmayer, and Ryan J.A. Murphy
Year: 2022
Title: A Call for Scaling Literacy
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 076
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 24 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

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Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

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Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

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In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

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