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How to Scale Up: Notes on a Hierarchy from California

Howard, Jeanette 4/16/2012

Scale up. Leverage. Amplify. Broaden our constituency. Think about people. Network socially. Get hip. From strategic plans to global challenges and global solutions, these are the beacons currently guiding the Conservancy’s work. We are constantly asked to consider how our work fits into THE big picture.

If the biggest challenge we do indeed face in the environmental community is accommodating an additional three billion people on the planet, we certainly do need to scale up and/or build a bigger house. We’ve hired social scientists and economists to help us value nature for people and develop social objectives and indicators. But who are our “scaler uppers,” our leverage engineers? What are the mechanisms to make our work bigger? What levers do we pull to catalyze and leverage our efforts? There’s little guidance about how to scale up, except to work at larger/whole ecosystem scales — in other words, to scale up. But how?
In California, we — like the rest of the Conservancy — are trying to figure out what scaling up looks like as we focus our work around six initiatives: salmon, water, renewable energy, migratory birds, groundfish and climate change. In talking with colleagues around the state, we have come up with three, maybe four, scaling-up mechanisms:
1. Replication – through partner engagements, we replicate methods, solutions, and best management practices to impact bigger geographies;
2. Policy – use policy levers (government, funding campaigns etc.) to forge broadscale changes;
3. Market mechanisms – utilize the economic market to generate change (e.g., the Forest Stewardship Council);
4. Industry standards and practices – influence industry to adopt standards and practices that benefit people and nature.
Here in California, we see our on-the-ground projects as the foundation for scaling up our conservation efforts via the above mechanisms. To better understand how our on-the-ground assets can be amplified, we’ve been thinking about our projects as phases in a hierarchy as follows:
This hierarchy suggests that not all projects, not all ideas and methods, are at the phase where scaling up is appropriate — for example, an undemonstrated idea with no data to support it. But when projects are ready to be amplified, we need to have mechanisms available to us to take the projects, ideas and methods to scale. Simple, yes. But it’s helped us with our thinking and strategic planning for our statewide initiatives.
Examples of this scaling-up hierarchy within our salmon initiative are shown in the following table:
As the table suggests, most projects (when and if ready to “amplify”) will use a combination of replication and policy mechanisms to scale up. We haven’t quite cracked the market-mechanism or industry-practices lever yet.
Only one project within our salmon initiative is currently ready for scaling up/ amplification: accelerating the pace of habitat enhancement projects to prevent the extinction of coho salmon in California coastal watersheds. Our on-the-ground work in the Garcia River demonstrated an efficient and less expensive way to conduct instream woody habitat restoration that can be replicated across the region. However, we discovered that a critical bottleneck to replicating and amplifying the more efficient method is the onerous permitting process landowners must go through to conduct restoration work. Our science, policy and project staff worked together to define the problem and determine the best course of action for removing that bottleneck — in this case, through legislation. CA State Assembly Bill 1961 (Huffman) is currently working its way through the Legislature to improve the permitting process for restoration projects in coastal California streams. If passed, the bill will allow the state to tap into new collaborative habitat restoration efforts with concerned private landowners, local agencies and NGOs, and will provide a mechanism for scaling up much needed restoration work in this industrial-timber-dominated landscape.
This project is a good example of how an idea that was incubated five years ago went through development and then demonstrated a solution to a critical limiting factor for the rearing life stage of coho salmon. By thinking through the scaling up process, we were able to identify a mechanism for amplification and act on that. The bill was approved on a unanimous vote (on April 11) by the California State Assembly’s Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee, a rare phenomenon in California politics. The next step is the appropriations committee in June, so there is still much work to be done. But we are getting close to a real world example of how to scale up.
Staff working on the salmon initiative will continue to think in this way. They will seek to demonstrate solutions to critical, common bottlenecks that threaten salmon and trout populations through our on-the-ground projects. Then they will work over the coming years to export/scale up those solutions through partner, agency and policymaker engagement.
But tackling the scaling-up problem still won’t make me hipper. How ‘bout if I promise to stop wearing pleated pants, socks with sandals, and fleece while dining out? Or how ‘bout changing our name from The Nature Conservancy to nature.org? We own nature — well at least the URL. Isn’t that still hip?

By Jeanette Howard, associate director of science, The Nature Conservancy in California

Image credit: Dominic’s pics/Flickr.