Course Detail

Scaling Social Innovation Search Lab (34722)

Course Description by Faculty

  • Hachikian, Christina
  • Content
    In the last decade, funders and practitioners alike have largely coalesced around the need for innovations to scale. However, actually determining what social innovations are effective, why they are effective, and how they can be scaled successfully to other markets and contexts is an enormous challenge for social sector institutions. In part, the challenges are practical. For example, funding institutions do not always allocate resources to organizations delivering scalable innovative solutions. At the same time, these challenges are also more theoretical, including questions such as how do we judge innovative solutions. And because social issues are complex and often interconnected, it can be hard to judge whether a solution that works in one community will work in a new communities or new beneficiaries. Students will confront these issues in this experience-based course working with a philanthropic organization.

    In teams of four to five, students will work on a project that will unpack these issues:

    (1.) Week 1-3 - Students will be given a deep dive into the academic and practical context of the various domain areas. During this time students will research and develop a point of view about the key needs/gaps within their specific subdomain.

    (2.) Week 2-4 – Students will be exposed to the key dimensions of scaling while also doing research on possible innovative approaches to addressing their focus area. The main dimensions of scaling about which students will learn are: various mechanisms for diffusion, role of fit and context, judging effectiveness, and assessing innovativeness in the context of investment.

    (3.) Week 4-7 – After identifying organizations/models/innovations in- or outside Chicago, students will assess and then narrow to a short list of viable options for scaling. This analysis will take into account the gaps in the current landscape.

    (4.) Week 8-10 – In the final phase of the course, students will develop, propose, and present to the philanthropic organization’s leadership (and possibly other experts) the best social innovation to address their subdomain. This proposal will suggest the best mechanism by which the innovation could be scaled (such as expansion of an existing organization, creation of a new organization, or adoption by an existing institution). The teams will be expected to defend their choice among these options. They will also provide a high-level analysis of key risks, costs, and possible next steps as part of the implementation.

    In addition to work on the project, there will be readings, class discussions, and guest speakers to address all aspects of scaling innovations.

    SPRING 2020: A few spots remain in the 2020 Spring offering of Scaling Social Innovation Search Lab. The client for Spring 2020 is a local arm of the Walton Personal Philanthropy Group. Student teams will focus on one of three issues: reducing ocean plastics, the role of arts in building empathy, and increasing demand for healthy food. Students will meet with clients via Zoom calls and have group meetings and class discussions virtually. If you are interested in this course, please email Professor Hachikian @

  • Prerequisites
    None. Application only: strict.
  • Grades
    No auditors.
    • No auditors

  • Syllabus
  • Spring 2020Section: 34722-81W 6:00PM-9:00PMLocation: TBD
Description and/or course criteria last updated: March 18 2020