The Tavistock Institute, commissioned by BIG Lottery to evaluate the Realising Ambition programme, has just released a report highlighting an interesting creative tension between adaptation and fidelity when replicating successful projects- that is, taking a programme that has been shown to work in one place and delivering it in a new place or to a new target group. Realising Ambition sets out to do just that, specifically focussing on replicating projects that have been proven to help children and young people achieve their full potential and avoid pathways into crime. To achieve this, 25 projects under the Realising Ambition banner being delivered by a range of primarily voluntary and community organisations.
The appeal of delivering these types of projects is obvious. After all, if it’s worked before, odds seem good that it will work again. On the other hand, common sense dictates that the organisations large and small who undertake these projects will have to adjust them to account for the different people and places involved. The Tavistock report observes that in most cases replication requires a degree of adaptation with some ‘trial and error’ to make the project successful in a new context or with different target groups A balanced approach allows for the necessary adaptations to be made, which enable the project to be quickly introduced to a new audience or location.
Early findings show that a key factor for successful replication is the existence of strong relationships in the new location prior to the start of the project. This enables organisations to gear up quickly to recruit beneficiaries – one of the greatest challenges to Realising Ambition projects.
Perhaps then, logic would suggest that the larger organisations in the programme, with their existing reach and relationships, are better able to truly replicate in new areas. Intuition says that the smaller organisations, which tend to work within one geographical area will prosper more by focusing on scaling their interventions more incrementally, more locally, more slowly.
But herein lies the real innovation of this replication programme. One of the replication models used in Realising Ambition – that of remote team working – is not mentioned in the practice literature. Rather than franchising out to new area like a big organisation would, remote team working allows for a small splinter team to work in the physical location of the project, but still be very connected to the main organisation. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. And it has been borne of a smaller organisation within the programme. There are of course considerations of time, cost and effort to be factored in but it clearly is a model that enables smaller organisations to replicate their interventions without the need for the infrastructure enjoyed by the bigger players in the market.
Realising Ambition is offering a different dimension to the existing knowledge base on replication which, as Tavistock concludes, could be a major influencer for how BIG funds work in the future. Across all four of the nations within the UK, the programme represents an ambitious departure from the Big Lottery Fund’s dominant focus on funding innovation. It seeks to be a game-changer – a lever to facilitate the shift in context for commissioning in the UK, and to further support the case made by many, including the Graham Allen Review, for investing early in effective interventions. As such, we’re glad to be at the frontline, helping organisations large and small walk the tightrope of replication and innovation, as well as learning from their remarkable ability to adapt.