Video: Why 'scaling by subtraction' makes sense for development

Watch the full video here. Via YouTube.

The project approach to development has a range of benefits. But it also comes with challenges, especially around how to achieve scale and ensure sustainability.

Larry Cooley, president emeritus and senior adviser at Management Systems International, has been investigating best practices for achieving large system change for the past 20 years. This has led to the creation of a community of practice for development practitioners focusing on the issue of scale and how to bring it about.

According to Cooley, the key to successful projects is making sure interventions fit into “the two platforms that can deliver sustainably at scale: governments and markets.” The only way a project can reach its full potential is by reducing complexity and thinking through all of the changes required to integrate an improvement into these larger, preexisting structures, he says.

In this video opinion piece, Cooley shares his insights on successfully designing for scale, arguing for a more streamlined approach that puts “scaling by subtraction” at its core.

To find out more about the Scaling Up Community of Practice, email

Take a closer look at what it takes to achieve scale in the nutrition sector.

Explore the series.
The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Naomi Mihara

    Naomi Mihara is a Video Journalist for Devex, based in Barcelona. She has a background in journalism and international development, having previously worked as an assistant correspondent for Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and as a communications officer for the International Organization for Migration in Southeast Asia. She holds a master's degree in multimedia journalism from Bournemouth University.