The Multiple Meanings of Scale: Implications for Researchers and Practitioners

Dr. Amy Koehler Catterson, Lead Researcher and Literacy Specialist at Alder, recently co-authored a paper reconceptualizing organizational scale with Dr. Richard Paquin Morel and Dr. Cynthia Coburn of Northwestern University and Dr. Jennifer Higgs of the University of California, Davis.

Abstract: Interest in the study of scale has grown over the past three decades, yet it still suffers from a lack of conceptual clarity. Despite attempts at conceptualizing scale, there is still wide diversity in how the term “scale” is used. These differences matter. They impact how scale is studied, the strategies used to achieve scale, and the lessons we can draw across studies of the scale of innovations. In this article, we argue that scale is a polysemic and dynamic phenomenon. There are multiple, legitimate definitions of scale, and such definitions can shift over time, depending on the goals and needs of reformers. Drawing upon an extensive review of the literature, we present a typology of scale comprising four predominant conceptualizations in the literature. We detail the conceptualizations and discuss the affordances and challenges of each. We conclude by offering implications of the polysemic, dynamic nature of scale for researchers and reformers. Presenting this typology, we aim to spark new conversations about scale and to help guide future scale research and practice.

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