Ten essential steps for effective program replication

- Lucinda Garthwaite and Daniel Sewell, CMP Founders and Lead Partners

Replicating successful, existing programs, services, models and curricula is a time-honored strategy for increasing the impact of mission-driven organizations.   It’s a recycling strategy, putting to new use the creativity, energy and resources that went into developing the original success. 

Recently, there has been an uptick of interest in replication among funders, both private and governmental. The Serve America act of 2009, for example, authorized a new social innovation fund that would “invest in, replicate and expand” programs that had already proven successful.

So mission-driven organizations that have something that works have an opportunity right now to increase their impact and sustainability through replication, but that strategy isn’t as straightforward as it might appear. Simply transplanting a program to another site or space not only risks failure, it also misses an opportunity for the organization to fine-tune its impact.  A successful replication teaches us something and sustains itself. It expands the reach of the organization without substantially expanding the workload and resources necessary to support it.

Research and practice in the nonprofit sector offers a lot by way of wisdom about what it takes to successfully replicate programs, services, models and curricula in any mission-driven endeavor.  Our synthesis of that wisdom, as well as our own experience and observations, boils it down to ten steps:

ten replication steps

In order to give a replication effort the best chance of success, every one of those steps needs attending to.  Every step holds the potential for learning and refining your impact, and every step ignored can trip you up right away, or create an inevitable challenge that could derail the project altogether.   Some steps can be addressed at the same time, but generally, they build on one another.

Here is a brief introduction to each step in successful replication:

Step 1:  Define success

What are the results of this program model, service or curriculum?  How do you know it works?  What are the measurable outcomes and how do you measure them?  Remember that outcome measures take many shapes; data works for some, stories for others.

Step 2:  Learn what works

What are the aspects of the program, service, model or curriculum that produce the outcomes that define success?  

Step 3:  Learn how it works

How, exactly, does each aspect work?  What kinds of interactions happen between the organization and the people and groups with which it interacts?   What is the theory of change that underlies the program, service, model or curriculum?

Step 4:  Document how it works

Once you have answered the questions in the first three steps, record the answers. Write them down in clear language; use charts, graphics and stories to illustrate the answers. 

Step 5:  Revise artifacts

In systems thinking, the term artifact is often used as a catchall for things like policies, forms, and processes that enable the actual work of an organization.  Once you have learned what you need to learn, and written that down, go back to the artifacts you already have and revise them with the benefit of this new clarity.

Step 6:  Create processes to pass it on

Pass-it-on processes might include training, workshops, webinars, videos, or coaching.

Step 7:  Make ready the space for the replica

Examples of new spaces for replicas include a new or different site or campus, a new community or geographical location, or an online space. Regardless, the space needs to be prepared.  If the space involves people who are already there, and you are moving in, then building those relationships before the replication is launched is a deeply critical step. Community support – or lack of it --  has a tremendous impact of the success of replication efforts. Making space ready also includes addressing issues like infrastructure, access, and even attitudes.

Step 8:  Create structures

Structures include staffing, relationships, and communication patterns such as regular meetings.  Staffing is especially crucial; consistent or inconsistent capabilities on the part of staff in replication projects can make or break the effort.

Step 9:  Prepare to launch the replica

Launching a replication requires careful planning, with timelines, event-planning marketing materials, website revision, social media and integration with materials for the original program, service, model or curriculum.  The size of the replication project will determine how much effort and resource is required for this step.

Step 10:  Launch and evaluate

If you’ve worked through steps 1 – 9, this final step ought to be mostly a celebration – a launch event, the first day of a new program, the first incoming class.  Sometimes it’s just a website going live, and the staff high-fives.  In any case, plan to evaluate the launch itself right away.  What questions came up? What glitches began to show?  And plan to evaluate the replica as soon as it’s had a chance to succeed, based on what you learned in step 1. 

In future posts, we expand on these steps, offering practical information and specific ways to address each step. Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about replication, you might start with reading this report, Laying a solid foundation: Strategies for successful replication.