Systemic perspectives on scaling agricultural innovations. A review

Seerp Wigboldus*, Laurens Klerkx, Cees Leeuwis, Marc Schut, Sander Muilerman, Henk Jochemsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Agricultural production involves the scaling of agricultural innovations such as disease-resistant and drought-tolerant maize varieties, zero-tillage techniques, permaculture cultivation practices based on perennial crops and automated milking systems. Scaling agricultural innovations should take into account complex interactions between biophysical, social, economic and institutional factors. Actual methods of scaling are rather empirical and based on the premise of ‘find out what works in one place and do more of the same, in another place’. These methods thus do not sufficiently take into account complex realities beyond the concepts of innovation transfer, dissemination, diffusion and adoption. As a consequence, scaling initiatives often do not produce the desired effect. They may produce undesirable effects in the form of negative spill-overs or unanticipated side effects such as environmental degradation, bad labour conditions of farm workers and loss of control of farming communities over access to genetic resources. Therefore, here, we conceptualise scaling processes as an integral part of a systemic approach to innovation, to anticipate on the possible consequences of scaling efforts. We propose a method that connects the heuristic framework of the multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions (MLP) to a philosophical ‘modal aspects’ framework, with the objective of elucidating the connectedness between technologies, processes and practices. The resultant framework, the PRactice-Oriented Multi-level perspective on Innovation and Scaling (PROMIS), can inform research and policymakers on the complex dynamics involved in scaling. This is illustrated in relation to three cases in which the framework was applied: scaling agro-ecological practices in Nicaragua, farmer field schools on cocoa cultivation in Cameroon and ‘green rubber’ cultivation in Southwest China.

Original languageEnglish
Article number46
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Adoption of innovations
  • Diffusion of innovations
  • Innovation systems
  • Outscaling
  • Responsible innovation
  • Sustainability transitions
  • Systemic analysis
  • Technology transfer
  • Upscaling

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