Leaders of social change and innovation often struggle to expand their impact on social systems, and funders of such change are increasingly concerned with the scale and positive impact of their investments. The AD learning group was effectively an “educational intervention”, one that focused on peer-based learning and application, in an environment that created trust and respect among participants. The outcome though was far greater, and included a cohort of social change leaders who supported and learned from each other over many years. The AD learning group was successful not only in improving individual and organizational efforts to accelerate impact, but also in catalyzing a field of practice in Canada that focused on generating new social innovations, and scaling and deepening the impact of those innovative initiatives. More than a decade later, there are many lessons learned about both the experiences of practitioners who attempt to scale innovative initiatives, and about how to design learning communities for social change.
In 1998, the Montreal-based J.W. McConnell Family Foundation pursued a deliberate granting strategy known as Applied Dissemination with the intention of reframing approaches to replicating successful projects. A few years later, the Foundation began convening its grantees receiving funding from the Applied Dissemination (AD) program, in an effort to build their capacity to accelerate the impacts of their initiatives, develop a stronger understanding of the complex systems in which they worked, and to collectively begin to address some of Canada’s most intractable social problems. Part one of this report distills important lessons from a decade of practice in accelerating impact and scaling social innovations, including the strategies used to achieve success. Part two summarizes insights from this cohort of social innovators about the design elements involved in the applied, peer-based learning process and how that ultimately built their personal and organizational capacity. This successful initiative was not without challenges though, and these are also detailed in the report.