Innovate Advance the Science of Scaling

An Economic Framework of Scaling

Economic models provide theoretical frameworks for understanding complex systems. We are proud to have developed one such model that helps enhance understanding of why promising interventions often fail to deliver the same effects when moved from a research setting to population-wide implementation.

Understanding why this phenomenon occurs is the first step in reversing the trend and ensuring that evidence-based programs and policies can benefit more people.

Our economic model of scaling was introduced in the 2017 paper, “What Can We Learn from Experiments? Understanding the Threats to the Scalability of Experimental Results,” by Omar Al-Ubaydli, John List, and Dana Suskind.

As explained in that paper, the authors use economic modeling to explore the changes in the magnitude of a theoretical intervention’s per-capita net treatment effect when it moves from a research setting to population-wide implementation. This allows them to identify the specific sources of the scale-up effect, which they sort into four key categories:

  1. Errors in Statistical Inference
  2. Properties of the population
  3. Properties of the situation
  4. Spillover and general equilibrium effects

You can read the original paper and related publications, which include detailed discussions of what this model reveals for researchers and policymakers, below.

Journal Article How can experiments play a greater role in public policy? Twelve proposals from an economic model of scaling

Leveraging the economic framework of Al-Ubaydli et al. (2019), we put forward 12 simple proposals, spanning researchers, policymakers, funders and stakeholders, which together tackle the most vexing scalability threats.

Journal Article Scaling for Economists: Lessons from the Non-Adherence Problem in the Medical Literature

Economists often conduct experiments that demonstrate the benefits to individuals of modifying their behavior, such as using a new production process at work or investing in energy saving technologies.

Journal Article What Can We Learn from Experiments? Understanding the Threats to the Scalability of Experimental Results

This paper provides an overview of the main reasons for a breakdown in scalability.

Working Paper The Science of Using Science: Towards an Understanding of the Threats to Scaling Experiments

This study provides a theoretical lens to deepen our understanding of the science of how to use science.

Video The Scale Up Effect

This animated video illustrates why an intervention might have less of an impact when it is scaled-up from a research setting to the real world.