Desperately seeking scale as 'pilots to nowhere' on the rise

    Larry Cooley (MSI): "Pilots to nowhere" on the rise in recent years

    What’s the difference between a pilot project and a small development project with no chance of operating at a larger scale?

    In too many cases there is no difference at all, according to Larry Cooley, president of Management Systems International, who has tried to understand what attributes make some projects scalable and others destined to stay small.

    The international development community is bent on innovation. Donors have created new platforms — with rhetoric more reminiscent of Silicon Valley than Washington, D.C. — to source new ideas from unconventional partners and apply them to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

    Larry Cooley (MSI): The one thing that will limit pilots from achieving scale

    But in many ways, the aid community has struggled to put in place the incentives and funding time horizons necessary to encourage projects that can transition to delivery at a very large scale.

    In fact, the problem of “pilots to nowhere” — small projects that are billed as trials for something larger, but which never make that transition — has gotten worse, Cooley told Devex Senior Reporter Michael Igoe during a video interview.

    Click on the above clips to learn more about how the MSI chief and his team have identified several characteristics that can make the difference between pilot projects that can go to scale and those likely to get derailed by some common “poison pills” of project design.

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    About the author

    • Michael Igoe

      Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.